Surprise amendments to the University Act that were introduced by the provincial government on November 3rd significantly challenge the role of faculty association activists in university governance. The proposals would limit which faculty members could run for election to boards of governors, and give boards, most of whose members are appointed by government, the power to recommend removal of elected board members.
The proposals in Bill 18 – Advanced Education Statutes Amendment Act, 2011 – provoked immediate responses from the two organizations representing BC’s university and college faculty. Both the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of BC (CUFA BC) and the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC (FPSE) immediately contacted government officials to express opposition to the proposals.
“The legislation suggests that government sees faculty associations as a problem,” said David Mirhady, CUFA BC President. “It certainly frustrates the sort of cooperative engagement that we have tried to pursue with government.”
The universities already have policies in place to deal with conflict of interest. Nevertheless, the government says that it is concerned about potential conflicts of interest and wants to exclude all faculty members involved in collective bargaining and grievance adjudication from membership on boards of governors.
Currently, these faculty members are eligible to be board members, but if elected they are required to excuse themselves from discussions at the boards of governors about faculty bargaining or grievances.
CUFA BC argued in a November 16th meeting with the Honourable Naomi Yamamoto, Minister of Advanced Education, that existing conflict of interest policies at the public universities are already sufficient to deal with any perceived conflict of interest of faculty members. The Minister believes, however, that additional provisions are necessary and wants to use the blunt instrument of government legislation to limit the ability of universities to regulate these matters themselves.
The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC went public with their concerns and launched a Facebook page, which collected 1,400 letters opposing the governance provisions of the legislation.
The BC New Democrats expressed their opposition to the amendments by successfully organizing an impromptu filibuster in the Legislature to delay Second Reading of Bill 18.
The Canadian Association of University Teachers has also weighed into the debate, calling on the BC government to work with CUFA BC and FPSE to amend the legislation.
The legislation has been put on hold until the Legislature resumes in February. In the meantime, CUFA BC is in ongoing discussions with the Ministry to see whether a compromise can be worked out to address government’s concerns while limiting the impact on faculty members and other elected members of boards of governors.
“We are hopeful that a solution can be found that respects the historic and vital role that faculty members play in the governance of our universities,” said Mirhady.