The Ontario college strike enters its fifth week after the College Employer Council walked out of talks with the faculty union and forced a November 14-16 vote. I fear Council revealed its true intentions in this round of bargaining -- and this reason should be the primary reason faculty votes "No."
From the beginning, Council's communications -- outsourced to a "discreet" PR consultant -- have been paternalistic in tone. This is a horrible management style in general, and especially so when those managed are experts in their respective fields.
This suggests that union concerns about academic freedom are far more important than they might seem -- with consequences that should scare faculty and students alike.
Colleges should be collegial
Council is resisting the hiring of more full-time faculty. This is not just a monetary issue -- it is a control issue.
Full-time faculty have the time, experience and desire to play an equal role in program and collegiate governance. Full-time faculty often possess terminal degrees in their field, with an increasing number holding PhDs. In their professional practice, they have firsthand experience with collegial governance, and rightly expect this to be the norm in their faculty careers.
Sadly, the reality is that faculty are managed in a top-down manner by an administrative layer that is growing in size and complexity. Many administrators have generic management backgrounds, with little to no experience or training in pedagogy or higher education management. Worse, that layer seems increasingly intent on reminding us who's the boss.
This is evident in Council's behaviour in bargaining. The union has made many concrete proposals, and has deferred many issues to a ministry-organized task force in the interest of compromise. In response, Council has repeated the same monetary-focused offer -- and for the final vote, adding poison pills that made it worse.
Cutting off debate by walking out of talks has been Council's go-to tactic at all stages. When the going gets tough, Council channels the spirit of Eric Cartman and leaves the room, saying, "Screw you guys, we're going home."
This is not only a repudiation of collegial governance, it is insulting to a dedicated, intelligent workforce that only wants what's best for students. We are eager to work with administration on key issues. We are far less keen to be forced to work under them.
Intelligent workers who can easily do the same job as the boss won't accept fiat authority -- nor should they.
College teaching should not be a minimum wage job
Over the last 10 years, full-time hiring has stagnated, growing less than student enrollment or administration hiring rates. The use of part-time instructors has increased to the point that many college programs are taught primarily by part-timers, paid at abysmal levels.
This is not just a monetary issue -- it is a control issue.
Council deceptively suggests that part-time faculty make $154 per hour. I know zero people who make that. The average is closer to $90 to $100 per hour, with some making $60 per hour or less.
Still, sounds nice -- until you realize that is for in-class hours only. Preparation for classes, answering emails, evaluating assignments, helping students with accessibility needs, handling plagiarism concerns, attending faculty meetings, mentoring students outside of class… all of this and more are essential to do the job right. And none of it is compensated for in contract.
If a part-time faculty does four-plus hours of "extra" work per teaching hour, a $60 per hour rate drops below minimum wage -- for a job that one hopes is being done by an expert in their field!
Part-time faculty speak out about this at their own peril. Part-time contracts are precarious in nature, renewing every semester. They can just as easily not be renewed -- so the short-term interest of part-time faculty is to shut up.
Worse, Council's final offer deliberately frames part-time roles as distinct, in an attempt to protect them from incoming Bill 148 provisions for fair pay for equal work.
The results of this are disastrous. In my program, we run three web design courses from beginner to advanced levels. We have had 19 people teach these courses over the last seven years. As program co-ordinator, I started asking people what they make -- the most I've seen anyone paid for these courses is $4,200. I've routinely seen contracts at $3,000 or less.
The best of my part-time colleagues rise to the occasion admirably, but they get burnt out with the workload -- especially given the pay. More than half of the 19 quit, with fair pay being a major concern. The worst quit in ways that cause significant headaches for students and administration alike.
No one in HR bothered to conduct exit interviews. I have. Their concerns are real, serious, and easily resolved in a new contract that treats part-time folk fairly.
Council has offered less than nothing on this matter, which is why I have supported this strike.
Beyond sympathy with my part-time colleagues, this directly affects my job as program co-ordinator. I'm often asked to recommend people to fill part-time vacancies. I've run out of people qualified enough to do the work. Whole sections of my professional network, I wouldn't even bother to ask. They laugh at the pay -- to my face.
I'm tired of being laughed at.
Just who is Council anyway?
OPSEU is negotiating with an entity known as the College Employment Council -- a non-profit corporation run by the 24 colleges, which acts as the bargaining agent as determined by provincial law.
This is simply a control issue — and control by the wrong people.
Council's bargaining team are not experts in college teaching. On perusing the bargaining team's LinkedIn profiles, I sincerely believe at 12 years full-time, I have more in-class teaching experience than the whole Council team put together. If true, this is insanely wrong. It's hard to figure out because Council is a case study in obtuseness. Their website is designed not to be explored or to inform. Indeed, trying to find out the identities of the bargaining team. was a challenge. And during this strike, Council's telephone number was scrubbed. They really don't want to be talked to. Why?
Council's team does have some higher education management experience -- but with a strong lean towards HR -- including CEO Don Sinclair, whose resume shows no direct interaction with education delivery as either instructor or academic dean. Three of nine bargaining team members are full-time employees of the Council, and four of nine listed having ties to Hicks Morley, the CEC's legal team. Such a group isn't hearing about contemporary conditions or the challenges facing part-time faculty labour. Yet somehow, by law, they are in charge. Why?
More problematic is their choice to hire communications out to David Scott. There are 24 colleges, all of which have public relations teams. In this strike, all non-union managers and support staff are still on the job and being paid. CEC should be able to assemble an all-star team of the best and brightest across the province. Instead they hired out. Why?
And why DS Consulting? Mr. Scott has another day job -- VP at Broad Reach Communications. Broad Reach has top-tier clients, including in the Ontario public service. Yet we're being talked at by this company. A key word from this site is "discreet". This contract -- which I suspect is rather substantial -- was routed underground to a company that keeps its relationships secret.
The more one looks into Council and how it has handled this crisis, the more one wonders why they're in charge of this process at all.
Papa don't preach: Vote NO
All that is a matter for later discussion -- in the meantime, it is imperative that faculty vote "No." Metro News/Toronto Star called management's forced vote a "hail Mary pass."
We must ensure that pass lands untouched, if not intercepted outright.
The ministry's welcome offer for a task force on precarious labour, pay equity, and academic governance guarantees this conversation will continue, and I look forward to participating in it. This strike has strengthened my resolve to fight for what is right for students and faculty alike.
But that means standing up to demand students and faculty are treated with respect. And that means voting "No", now. I would far rather strip money out of an unaccountable and paternalistic Council and pay our part-time faculty a fair wage. So would our students.
I hope this week ends with faculty voting a strong "No", kicking this back to the table or to arbitration -- which given Council's petulant attitude, seems more likely.
And I hope our students get a fair refund for this nonsense. They deserve compensation for their stress and the likelihood they'll be in class up to spring break because of Council's deliberate deferral techniques.
Colleges have been profiting on not paying full-time/part-time faculty salaries for four weeks. Senior administrators are still being paid -- and they shouldn't profit from this.
And Council shouldn't be paid at all unless they're at the bargaining table.
Michael Jones is a professor in the Communication, Culture, Information and Technology program, offered jointly with the University of Toronto Mississauga. He has served as CCIT program co-ordinator since 2008. Michael recently received his PhD from the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, was ABD at Cornell University, and has earned a master's degree from Simon Fraser University and a bachelor's degree from Queen's University.
Photo: OPSEU Social Media Outreach
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