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.

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.

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.

NDP leader Dominic Cardy

dog_with_attitudehas, with no doubt the best intentions in the world, called upon the Alward government to intervene in the labour dispute between AUNBT and UNB management. Using a colourful but somewhat unflattering metaphor, he comments on government underfunding of PSE:

“The government can’t nearly freeze funding to universities and then act surprised when the recruitment issue can’t be solved,” Cardy said. “You can’t take two dogs, not give them enough to eat, and then act surprised when they start to fight.”

At the risk of straining this conceit beyond the reader’s tolerance, I would add that if there are two dogs and one scuttles out of the room, nothing will get resolved either.

But — and I am speaking here as someone who lives with a dog — anyone who knows dogs knows that they instinctively understand how to work out things between themselves and are usually best left alone to do so. Not always pretty if you are squeamish about growling, but this method results in an outcome that both accept.

And it respects the dogs.

Just read

this article in the excellent Brunswickan (the student newspaper on the Fredericton UNB campus) and was struck by the following quote from Peter McDougall, VP of Human Resources and Organizational Development:

“If a strike happens, it’s important to understand that it’s only the full-time members of AUNBT who are actually on strike,” McDougall said. “The university will continue to be open and the administrative units will continue to function. Other facilities on campus will remain open.”

Perhaps he was misquoted.

So what’s really happening with bargaining?

If you’re reading this alongside the latest bargaining updates from UNB management, you could be forgiven for wondering if you’d strayed into a parallel universe. UNB management continues to assure the world that they are committed to a negotiated agreement. “Faculty are the lifeblood of any university”, we are told. “We are committed to continuing to negotiate to achieve a new collective agreement,” another email to students insists. Yet there has been little progress on key issues. UNB’s administration seems keen on continuing, but not on concluding, the contract negotiations that began ten months ago.

AUNBT has a simple response to these protestations: send a bargaining team to the table with an actual mandate to bargain.

Negotiating requires that the people in UNB management who make the decisions stop hiding in their offices and board rooms and roll up their sleeves. Merely sending a team to sit in a row at a long table day after day does not amount to negotiating. Denying that team a real bargaining mandate is not negotiating. Refusing even to discuss issues is not negotiating.

No-one strikes recreationally. Certainly not in New Brunswick in January. AUNBT is the only NB faculty union that has never gone on strike. But over 90% of our full-time members have become so frustrated with spending priorities at UNB that they are willing to take that step now. We are not willing to continue to circle the drain. AUNBT members came to UNB to contribute to a nationally competitive comprehensive university. Yet we are discovering that our work is not valued and that the current senior administration refuses to take concrete action to maintain our reputation and standing.

Make no mistake. If our team leaves the table, it will not be AUNBT that is refusing to negotiate.