Ontario College Professors, represented by the Ontario Public Sector Employee’s Union (OPSEU) went on strike Monday morning. A few thoughts on where we are and what might happen:
- OPSEU’s final settlement offer published on the weekend (available here) is a heck of a long way from what they were proposing a couple of weeks ago. They’ve given up literally everything on workloads and the (frankly ludicrous) demand for academic Senates at all institutions and some other stuff besides. From this you can either infer that the union is trying really hard to reach a settlement, or that these issues were always meant to be sacrificed at the table for progress on the couple of issues the union apparently sees as core; namely, staff complements and “academic freedom”.
- The staff complements clause basically says that at every institution, for every full-time teacher, there should be no more than one part-time/sessional teacher (currently, it’s about 2:1 or even a bit higher). No doubt this would significantly increase institutional costs (and, given that full-timers teach more than part-timers, destroy many more part-time jobs than it would create full-time ones), and it’s not entirely clear ow that would be paid for. That’s almost certainly the main reason why the colleges – whose budgets are tight – aren’t budging on that point.
But a bigger issue possibly is that we’re talking about colleges here, the whole point of which is that the instruction is job-oriented, and that means having a lot of instructors who are active in industry. The exact mix is going to differ somewhat from field to field, but you need a healthy proportion in there. The right mix might not be the current 2:1, but for the sake of quality college education it seems to me both parties have a duty to ensure that they have some sense of what kinds of ratios do work before agreeing to anything here. It’s a pedagogical as well as a financial issue.
- The “academic freedom” demand has a similarly barbed tail. Most of what is being asked for is pretty innocuous. But check out proposed clause 13.04 (a), which defines academic freedom as “freedom in the conduct of teaching” and which the explanatory notes say “affirms faculty ability to make academic decisions about their courses”. Whoa Nelly.
The idea that academic freedom = professorial sovereignty within the classroom is a uniquely Canadian one. I am not sure where it comes from, exactly, but it is very different from notions of academic freedom that one sees in European universities (which tend to stress collective autonomy rather than individual liberties, especially where curriculum is concerned), and it’s not clear to me how the hell this is supposed to work in a college context. Your average college program is much more structured than one in universities. Courses don’t often exist in isolation, but rather as part of a carefully constructed package which builds towards a diploma. To ensure the coherence of a diploma, you actually can’t have individual profs making too many individual decisions about their courses. At the very least, professorial control needs to be inscribed within the boundaries of program-level curriculum limits (or, in the case of trades/apprenticeship instructors in Red Seal Trades, within the limits of nationally-mandated curricula).
- In university strikes, where there is nearly always one faction of students who comes out in favour of faculty and often volunteers to help on the picket line. This is always greatly appreciated by faculty, who spend a lot of time talking up this kind of support on social media. Most striking profs feel some guilt because of the negative effects of strikes on students, and this kind of thing assuages the guilt somewhat.
But in this case, the more vocal student faction has been anti-strike. Last week, a group of students started a petition to demand refunds of $30/day for every day the strike goes on. As of early Monday morning, the petition had over 38,000 signatures. It’s not an anti-prof petition, quite– after all, it takes two to avoid a strike (that said, the overall tone of the accompanying twitter hashtag #wepaytolearn certainly seems to lay the blame on the union). In any case, it sure doesn’t seem likely at the moment that OPSEU can count on much of the kind of morale-boosting solidarity that university unions seem to be able to count on.
- One of the good things about the union’s final offer is that for the most part it jettisons the proposals that the employer council was never going to agree to (mainly, the stuff about Senates). The outlines of a deal are now pretty clear: colleges will give a little on reducing the use of sessional staff and the union will soften the language on academic freedom to accommodate legitimate concerns about program coherence. With luck, there’s a deal inside a week. Without luck, the provincial legislature has to step in and legislate everyone back to work and impose binding arbitration sometime around Halowe’en.