Private = harassment / public = fair comment

The following news item was circulated this morning in the Academica Top 10:

CapilanoU removes instructor’s sculpture from campus, alleging harassment

Capilano University has removed from campus a sculpture that it says is “intended to belittle and humiliate” its President, Kris Bulcroft. However, the CapilanoU instructor who created the statue says that his work is being held hostage. George Rammell created the 2-metre caricature of Bulcroft draped in the American flag and holding her poodle to protest cuts to several programs at the institution. He says the sculpture, entitled Blathering on in Krisendom, is satire “in the tradition of the way the British satirized Margaret Thatcher.” But Jane Shackell, Board Chair at CapilanoU, said in a statement that “the effigy has been used in a manner amounting to workplace harassment of an individual employee.” Rammell had installed his sculpture at the university’s studio art gallery before it was removed. The administration has offered to return the sculpture to Rammell on the condition it “not be returned to campus.” Globe and Mail | Georgia Straight | North Shore News

I do not know anything about this situation other than what is included here, but one thing stands out: the university president, certainly on her own campus, is a public figure. As such, satiric references to her are fair comment. “Harassment of an individual employee” does not come into it. She’s the president, she made unpopular decisions, the community responds. Take it on the chin, President Bulcroft, and move on.

[I wonder if Rammell takes commissions?]


Open Letter to New Brunswick DNR Minister Paul Robichaud

Dear Minister Robichaud:

We in the academic community of New Brunswick are deeply concerned about recent announcements and actions by the provincial government regarding forest policy in the province. Specifically, we believe there has been a lack of proper consultation and transparent consideration of scientific evidence regarding: (i) the proposed Strategy for Crown Lands Forest Management that seeks to increase wood supply by approximately 20% for softwoods; and (ii) the JDI agreement (contract) that commits the province to provide JDI with specific wood supply quantities over the next 25 years. Continue reading

So anyone out there

who pays attention to universities in Canada knows that UNB is undergoing a rolling series of motions of non-confidence in the upper management: four faculties and counting. The New Brunswick newspaper is in an uproar. Someone, somewhere, called in the cavalry. And UNB president H.E.A. “Eddy” Campbell has embarked on a gruelling campaign to win hearts and minds.

Here’s my thing: the main difficulty, as I see it, is that President Campbell implies that the problem, the only problem, is communication and if they — the employer — just communicated better with us — the employees — we —the employees — would be less discontent. He does not appear to have considered that our disagreement might not be with not being told what is going on, but rather, with what is going on itself. He doesn’t need to talk to us more; he needs to listen to us, even a little bit. We don’t want to hear more about our employer’s plans to turn UNB into Walmart U or a Center of Excellence for the New Brunswick Economic Sacrifice Zone; we want them to stop all that before it’s too late and to listen to us for a change. We have our own ideas about what we should do.

Which, as far as many of us are concerned, is almost anything other than what our employer is currently doing.

It has gone well beyond a problem with communication.

At no point has President Campbell mentioned university governance. And that, really, is the only issue. If governance at UNB was working as it should, the adamintine lack of transparency, the colourful Powerpoint budgets, the secreted millions, and the slow, inexorable elimination of the academic staff would be addressed. They would have a forum in which to be addressed. A forum, not an echo chamber.

We don’t have “questions,” to quote President Campbell. We already have a pretty clear sense of what is going on, indeed a better sense than our employer if some of their public statements are any indication.

As should be clear from the many responses.

“Administration,” “management,” or something else?

Along with other right-thinking people, I have always believed that one should call a person or group whatever they tell you they want to be called. It’s not always straightforward or easy, and one will make mistakes. Those names may change, and the rest of us must gamely try to keep up. But as a fundamental principle of respect, society ought to acknowledge the right of groups and individuals to name themselves.

What, then, to call those people over in the administrative offices?** For decades, centuries even here at UNB, they have been “the administration.” However, they refer to themselves, with characteristic flair, as the “University Management Committee” or UMC, and who are the rest of us to argue? As it turns out, we probably should argue. Whatever they call themselves reflects their vision of the university and the way they intend to interact with the rest of us.

The issue recurred just now while reading a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education about the pernicious belief that students are “customers”:

Education is created, not consumed, but we cannot expect students to believe that when every message from academe itself tells them that they can just buy it.

In addition, any short-term power that students gain over their professors by introducing a controlling commercial metaphor into the classroom dynamic is more than mitigated by the losses. Faculty members respond to the student-as-consumer by teaching defensively, fearing the management that we formerly referred to as administration. But administrators administrate on behalf of the faculty. Employees delivering customer service get managed. [emphasis added]

This passing reference to administration cum management caught my attention. “[A]dministrators administrate on behalf of the faculty. Employees delivering customer service get managed.” Well I know which sounds better to me and it is not the UMC.

Our collective agreements call us “the union” and them “UNB”, which has always rankled with me as I was here before most of them and, gods willing, will be here long after they have giddily moved on to positions with more reports. The Dalhousie Faculty Association had a wonderful “I AM Dal” campaign that squarely falls in the wish-I-had-thought-of-it-first category, a campaign to highlight the central position of academic staff and students within the institution, to proclaim their shared ownership, and to contest leaving the power to define with one small segment of the Dalhousie community.


Indeed, in our own small way, some of us made the same point, with less typographic flair, during our job action.


Naming is important. Should we call them “the administration” in the hope that perhaps they will decide to live up to the label? Should we call them what they apparently want to be called — management — or would that make us complicit in, or at least resigned to, the ongoing degradation of the University? Or should we drop the euphemisms and recognize, with our use of language, that people capable of threatening to cut off our children’s medical benefits and of hiring an outside security force during a strike are to all intents and purposes on the same continuum as the Cripple Creek mine owners with their Pinkerton guards? CAUT would have us call them, in the spirit of calling a spade a spade, “the Employer.” Some colleagues have, in the past at least, found this a little too, well, industrial. No doubt recent events have clarified things.

Me, I’m mourning the loss of administration. And am I the only one who has noticed that there is no longer a link for “University Governance” on the UNB website? It has been replaced by “University Leadership.” Is “governance,” specifically “shared governance,” to join “administration” in the quaint old storeroom of past glories? Or will the university community exercise its right to name?


**I hope it is clear from the context that I am talking about senior administration.

Governance, professors as workers, and solidarity

Faculty on Strike.” Lennard Davis & Walter Benn Michaels. Jacobin: a magazine of culture and polemic (Feb 14 2014): “On February 18, the tenure track and non-tenure track faculty who make up the University of Illinois-Chicago faculty union UICUF Local 6456 will walk out of the classroom and onto the picket line for a two-day strike.” Issues include salaries and governance:

To call shared governance real governance is like saying your dog has an equal say in how your household is run because sometimes when he whines he gets fed.

But are professors really workers?  When we were organizing, the administration kept telling us we weren’t — we were professionals. And, in fact, at UIC, we belong to the Illinois Federation of Teachers, which does indeed describe itself as a “Union of Professionals.” If you’ve done any work on the history of professionalization, you know that one of the original points of the whole concept of the professional — as it applied to ministers, doctors, lawyers and professors — was to distinguish them from workers….

But what we’ve all begun to realize is that, whatever it meant in the late 19th and early 20th century, in the 21st century that distinction is pure ideology. Professionals are workers — and professors are workers….

… the Administration has been helpful, treating us as badly at the bargaining table as they treat UIC’s other unions.

They just keep topping themselves

A truly mean-spirited editorial at the Gleaner in a month notable for vinegar. Called, I kid you not, “Nose to the Grindstone” (link for subscribers). Or perhaps it is a brilliant satire of Gradgrindian educational attitudes. Though as the main evidence of such attitudes these days is in the NB papers themselves, that is surely wishful thinking. As in, I wish I didn’t live in a world where mature adults actually call for “hard knocks” to make young people “tough.” At any rate, I gave in to impulse and wrote a comment on the website. Pithy, biting, and doomed to obscurity by the paywall, so I thought I would share:

I’d say it has been quite a while since the editorial board of this paper was in school. I am also guessing that most of them did not need to juggle a part-time job or two during their studies. In the REAL “real world,” students and their families work extremely hard to pay for higher education and a lot depends on being successful. The last three weeks were not a vacation for anyone and the coming term will be particularly difficult for both teachers and students. Rather than trying to sound like a villain in a novel by Charles Dickens, perhaps the editors could listen to the students. (These same students that they have been beating faculty over the heads with for the past month). Or at the very least, let them sort it out themselves as they are clearly capable of doing. The last time I looked, being self-directed and actively working toward goals were better “real-world” skills than bowing down to “hard knocks.”

Well. Got that out of my system. Who needs castor oil?

When it looked like job action was likely,

a sister president at another institution warned me against using humour in any communications for the duration. I have honoured this, as they say, more in the breech. And my colleague was correct: I should have held my tongue, run out into the woods at midnight and whispered my bon mots to the stars if I had to. Latest example: some enterprising students hung their own flag on an official university flagpole:


This is, of course, marvellous, and I immediately tweeted the image. From the response, you would have thought someone had burnt the university flag rather than merely shared the pole. Of course feelings are running high. So let me say here, categorically, that I was not chortling as I tweeted; I was deadly serious.

This action on the part of the apparently ninja-quick students is a central symbol of the struggle to wrest some control back and save the academic mission of our university from the corrosive managerialism that impedes the teaching and research functions of our institution. That little hand-lettered pillow-case of a flag represents an alternate voice among the traditional symbols of power. It puts students into a picture from which they were notably absent. It stands for the multiplicity of voices that ideally make up any vibrant community, and certainly a healthy university community. It represents the cheekiness and daring of the next generation, and bravo to them. It is a visible political action, planned and executed with grace rather than confrontation. It dares to stand up among the solid, recognized symbols of government and nation and  shout, “we’re here too!”

Yes I tweeted it and I would retweet it. Unsmilingly of course.

And the aside of the day award

goes to a union sister, also in negotiations: “The Employer seems still reluctant to get to the table. Feels like one of those bad boyfriend kind of things, you know, where you keep waiting for the guy to call or to show up, but he never does. Keep refreshing your lipstick from time to time, just in case but still, he doesn’t come.” Heh. That will really creep out our chief negotiator. Think I will message him now.


And the photo of the day award

goes to the group of graduate students who threatened Eddy Campbell with a Kraken:

Then, they or one of their sympathizers left the following message in the comments section:

Deep beneath the foaming billows,
Something suddenly amiss,
As a creature wakes from slumber
In the bottomless abyss.
And a panic fills the ocean,
Every fish and frenzied flea,
For the Kraken has awakened at the bottom of the sea…

Best. Metaphor. Ever.


One reader finally

blew their stack in the comment section after yet another media story about overpaid professors, this time about MAFA:

Academics train on starvation wages until they are 30 years old. Then, 15% of them manage (often after another 5-10 years in part-time work) to get professorial jobs. I made less than a kindergarten teacher until I was over 40. Now I still make 1/3 of what doctors and lawyers make, with more training than either. I work hard every day; my work is flexible, which is why I chose not to be a lawyer, but it’s not “easy”, and like every professional, I’m always “on,” even when I’m on vacation. I mark sometimes more than 300 papers/term, I teach classes with 150+ students. If you think this work is so cushy, be my guest: study for 10 more years, apply over and over again with the other 300+ applicants for every professorial position, spend 5 years as a postdoc making $25,000 a year, and then glide into retirement on your non-existent pension. Oh, and have fun with the marking, too.