Current Issues

SFUFA is engaged in a wide range of activities at any given time.

The bulk of our day to day work involves advising and advocacy for individual members. But any number of larger, structural issues are always on the agenda, whether related to internal matters, relations with the university, or items on the provincial or national landscape.

These pages will provide members with information on the the major issues of the day, and provide a forum for the sharing of documents and news items related to those central concerns.

The Association is currently in bargaining with the University for a new Collective Agreement, which will be retroactive to July 1, 2022.

While brief updates are provided in each bulletin, the more substantive bargaining updates from this round are as follows:

August 2023 Bulletin

May 2023 Bulletin

December 2022 Bulletin

September 2022 Bulletin

Bargaining update to the Spring GM, April 2022

Inflation and Salaries – bargaining presentation February, 2022

Academic freedom is a cornerstone of SFUFA’s work, but what precisely it means is not always clear.

We at SFUFA operate with two definitions of academic freedom: one drawn from our Collective Agreement, provides the basis from which we can address violations of academic freedom at SFU through our grievance procedure; the second is the CAUT definition, which we adopt as a guide, but which is not necessarily accepted in all aspects by SFU, and so can be used by us more reliably as a political guide than a legal one.

From our CA:

12.1  Academic freedom is the freedom to examine, question, teach, and learn, and it involves the right to investigate, speculate, and comment without reference to prescribed doctrine, as well as the right to criticize the University, Association, and society at large.

12.2  Specifically, academic freedom ensures:

    1. 12.2.1  freedom in the conduct of teaching;
    2. 12.2.2  freedom in undertaking research and publishing or making public the results thereof;
    3. 12.2.3  freedom from institutional censorship.

12.3  Academic staff will not be hindered or impeded in any way by the University or the Association from exercising their legal rights as citizens, nor will they suffer any penalties because of the exercise of such rights. The parties agree that they will not infringe or abridge the academic freedom of any member of the academic community.

12.4  Academic freedom carries with it the duty to use that freedom in a manner consistent with the scholarly obligation to base research and teaching on an honest search for knowledge.

12.5  As part of their teaching activities, teachers are entitled to conduct frank discussion of potentially controversial matters which are related to their subjects. This freedom of expression will be based on mutual respect for the opinions of other members of the academic community.

12.6 Librarian and Archivist Faculty have a duty to promote and maintain intellectual freedom. They have a responsibility to protect academic freedom and are entitled to full protection of their own academic freedom and practices. For Librarians, this includes the right to express their academic judgment in the development of the Library collection and to make the collection accessible to all users in accordance with the University Library policies, even if the materials concerned are considered controversial. For Archivists, this includes the right to express their academic judgment in the acquisition and development of the Archives’ holdings.

The CAUT statement on academic freedom:

The institution serves the common good of society, through searching for, and disseminating knowledge, and understanding and through fostering independent thinking and expression in academic staff and students. These ends cannot be achieved without academic freedom. All academic staff members have the right to academic freedom.

Academic freedom includes the right, without restriction by prescribed doctrine, to freedom to teach and discuss; freedom to carry out research and disseminate and publish the results thereof; freedom to produce and perform creative works; freedom to engage in service; freedom to express one’s opinion about the institution, its administration, and the system in which one works; freedom to acquire, preserve, and provide access to documentary material in all formats; and freedom to participate in professional and representative academic bodies. Academic freedom always entails freedom from institutional censorship.

Academic freedom does not require neutrality on the part of the individual. Academic freedom makes intellectual discourse, critique, and commitment possible. All academic staff members have the right to fulfil their functions without reprisal or suppression by the employer, the state, or any other source. Institutions have a positive obligation to defend the academic freedom rights of members.

All academic staff members have the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, expression, assembly, and association and the right to liberty and security of the person and freedom of movement. Academic staff members must not be hindered or impeded in exercising their civil rights as individuals, including the right to contribute to social change through free expression of opinion on matters of public interest. Academic staff members must not suffer any institutional penalties because of the exercise of such rights.

Academic staff members are entitled to have representatives on and to participate in collegial governing bodies in accordance with their role in the fulfilment of the institution’s academic and educational mission. Academic staff members shall constitute at least a majority on committees or collegial governing bodies responsible for academic matters including but not limited to curriculum, assessment procedures and standards, appointment, tenure and promotion.

Academic freedom is a right of members of the academic staff, not of the institution. The employer shall not abridge academic freedom on any grounds, including claims of institutional autonomy.

Together, the definitions above frame SFUFA’s work on academic freedom, the key pieces being:

1) freedom in teaching and research, including frank discussion of controversial issues

2) protection from institutional censorship for exercising one’s rights either inside or outside the University

3) no requirement for neutrality

4) an obligation to respect the academic freedom of others

5) a positive obligation on the University to defend and protect the academic freedom of faculty members

In Practice:

We should stress one implication of a commitment to academic freedom in particular: one can only truly be said to be defending academic freedom when one acts in defense of ideas that are fundamentally at odds with one’s own. That is, each of us can assert our own academic freedom, and that is valuable and important. But it is also easy. What is more difficult is to recognize in practice the academic freedom rights of those whose ideas we oppose and which may in fact directly conflict with and confront our own.

Having started there, what is the state of academic freedom at SFU?

There are general societal pressures on certain types of speech. When we feel these pressures and tensions in the university, they can easily appear to be academic freedom issues when they may ultimately be something else. But there is no doubt that they can have an impact on academic freedom in three major ways:

– when an institution begins to be swayed by societal tensions and encroaches on academic freedom, usually but not exclusively as a way of managing political pressure;

– when students, staff, or faculty members call for restrictions on speech or other modes of communication they find objectionable or offensive;

– when faculty members begin to self-censor as a means of avoiding conflict or negative responses from others.

Only the first of these is properly an infringement on academic freedom; that is, only the first involves institutional suppression of certain perspectives or approaches, and only the first is something we can legally challenge. The other two may have impacts on how individuals and/ or groups in the university enact their own academic freedom and/ or attempt to override voices they disagree with. But these are ultimately political conflicts and/ or academic debates that morph into political conflicts – they do not involve institutional sanction.

Here it is important to be clear about the difference between protest and censorship or sanction.

Faculty members have the right to exercise academic freedom, of which free speech is a component. But those who disagree, and who call for a position to be opposed and defeated, enjoy the same right. Where it becomes an academic freedom matter is where the institution interferes on one side or other. That is, there is not a right to speak without objection or without triggering protest. There is not a right not to be criticized, even harshly, for one’s views. Academic debates must be open, but political contests over ideas are also open; where academic freedom concerns arise is where the institution or the state takes steps that constrain those debates.

Defense of academic freedom does not mean one does not take sides on substantive issues. It does mean that one protects the rights of those one disagrees with from censorship or sanction by the state or the university.  It does not mean we don’t argue or even protest. It does mean we do not call for people to be silenced institutionally, and we work to defend anyone who is.

SFUFA is committed to defending the academic freedom of all members, and to helping to maintain the university as a space of open debate. Members who are concerned about breaches of academic freedom are encouraged to reach out to us. For us to take on cases, however, they must generally involve an act of institutional threat or sanction – conflicts with students or colleagues, harsh words, and reluctance to speak for fear of criticism: these are indeed very live matters in the university and the broader world today, but unless they include infringements by the university or the state, they may be very hard to address through the legal mechanisms at our disposal.

Links to:

CAUT Policy Statement on Academic Freedom

CAUT Resources on Academic Freedom

CAUT FAQs on Academic Freedom and Equity

A summary of major cases related to academic freedom in Canada

The University of Toronto’s Centre for Free Expression

Alison Hearn Presentation to SFUFA’s Fall 2022 GM

SFUFA is a bargaining agent, meaning we negotiate collective agreements for our members. SFUFA is a union, meaning it is an organization run by its members to advocate for its members on issues related to their employment. But SFUFA is more, too.

As an organization of academics, physically and culturally rooted in the university, SFUFA also is a professional association, dedicated to protecting the integrity of academic work and the integrity of the collegial system of governance –  a bicameral system in which administrative matters are governed by a Board of Governors, and academic matters by a Senate. Both bodies include representation by a range of constituencies, but the Board is primarily government appointees and the Senate primarily comprised of academics. The legal framework for SFU’s bicameral system of governance is laid out in the University Act.

Collegial governance is more than just the bicameral system, however. It is a system unique to post-secondary education, in which various levels of decision-making enjoy relative autonomy in the areas under their jurisdiction, and whose starting principle is that decisions regarding the teaching and research mission of the University are best made by those who do the work of teaching and research, through open discussion and debate. It is not a system that prioritizes efficiency, which can be frustrating at times. But it is a system that prioritizes open communication and debate grounded in evidence and in the experience of scholars themselves.

The Association is not a party in the collegial governance system per se. But as an organization of academics, we do our best to operate internally on the same principles, and we actively work to assist faculty in not only defending but deepening and enhancing the operation of collegial systems at all levels of decision-making. It is not our role to replace the critical systems of collegial governance – units, committees, Senate, and the Association can never be a substitute for the full and robust, not to mention diverse, voice of faculty members themselves. We can and must, however, act proactively to facilitate collegial governance, and must step in where the administration bypasses or constrains the mechanisms in place to ensure that the university is governed by academic decision-making.

Ultimately, we have two overarching goals in our work:

  1. to protect and enhance the rights of individual faculty members in their work
  2. to protect and enhance the rights of faculty members collectively in the institution

This work is not easy. It is at times collaborative, at times conflictual. It involves constant attention to identify collective paths forward from the wide diversity of faculty interests, and we never really get it 100% right. We are an Executive as diverse as the members we represent, a collection of faculty members who believe that through open discussion and debate we won’t always get things right, but we will mostly get things better. And we are committed to working for a university that operates on that same principle.

The following provide useful background on collegial goverance for members interested in learning more:

SFUFA has engaged in issues directly related to the protection of collegial governance in a number of ways. For specific issues on governance, please see resources related to:

CUFA Governance Conference – 2024

Alumni Association and Board of Governors – 2023

Research Ethics Board – 2023

Human Rights Office – 2022

University Staffing Audits – 2021-22

CUFA BC Governance Conference – 2017

Learning Outcomes – 2012-13

In the event of job action at SFU,  the Collective Agreement, Article 10, and two policies govern how faculty might be impacted: GP 05 (which deals with strike policy in general) and A 30.05, which speaks to SFUFA members as well as some other instructional staff.

Picket Lines:

All members have the right to honour a picket line. Librarians and Archivists, Teaching Faculty, Research Faculty, Practitioner Faculty, and Department Chairs or Directors all share the same rights in this regard. When respecting a picket line, salary may be reduced commensurate with work not performed, but no further penalty should be suffered or threatened. In the case of Department Chairs and Directors, an additional administrative role exists above and beyond the standard faculty role. Chairs/ Directors cannot be compelled to cross a picket line, but should they choose to do so such that the University deems they are unable to perform their administrative duties, an interim Chair/ Director may be appointed for the duration of the job action. For the purposes of the strike policy, Division Heads in the Library are treated as Chairs, though strike-related salary deductions for this group are calculated as they are for all Librarians (see below).

In law, the decision to respect a picket line or not is a matter of personal conscience. As a trade union, however, SFUFA as an organization respects picket lines and encourages its members to do the same. Job action can sometimes be the only method by which labour groups are able to uphold their rights and persuade employers to work with them to resolve contract negotiations. Strikes at universities, and even strikes by Faculty Associations, are not the rare events they once were, and it is no longer out the question that we ourselves may need to strike at some point.

Respecting a picket line is not simply about not physically crossing it. A picket is intended to stop work from proceeding in the targeted area for the targeted time. That is to say, when respecting a picket line one should not move classes or meetings to another location or to zoom, which undermines the intent. A decision to respect a picket line is a decision to allow the impact of the job action to be felt. That said, there are exceptional situations in which one may get permission to cross a picket line from the striking union itself – for example, research that involves the care of plants or animals. In these cases, one is advised to speak to the striking union about obtaining what is called a “picket pass” – a note from the Union that recognizes the work being done is not considered a violation of the picket line.

Salary Deductions:

The general rule for salary deductions that result from a members’ decision to respect a picket line is this: 1/10th of biweekly salary will be deducted for each day of work missed. GP 05 is clear that deduction is not based on the hours one might be in the classroom, but to the day as a whole.

The policies do not define ‘duration of a strike’, and so there is some flexibility as to whether salary deductions are based on the full length of job action, individually affected days or – in rare cases – hours.    Typically, if strike action is intermittent and or sporadic at a particular location, the University will consider the particular days affected individually; for example, though you may indicate your intention to respect a picket line, if pickets are intermittent you will only be docked pay for those days that your classes and/ or campus duties are affected. In the event of a full-scale strike, however, the University will likely not calculate the individual days you would have been required to be on campus, but will  base its payroll deductions on the period as a whole. Though not as definitive as some might hope, this nuanced application of the policy does in fact serve the interests of members by limiting the extent of salary loss in times of sporadic picketing.

In the case members who may have more regularly-defined hours of work, there may be occasions on which pay is docked on an hourly basis. For example, where a site is picketed for a period of hours, and members choose not to work during those hours, the University will base the salary deduction on the actual hours missed. Normally this is relatively straightforward, a week being considered 35 working hours and the hours missed deducted from that. In rare instances where a job action impacts a non-working period such a lunch hour, however, still more adjustments may be necessary. In these cases, we would expect the University to consult with SFUFA regarding what is appropriate.

Defense Fund:

As members of the CAUT’s Defense Fund, which is a national fund to provide financial support to member Associations in the event of a strike, SFUFA members may be eligible for financial support in the event of wage loss due to honouring a picket line. That is, though we are not on strike, faculty whose pay is docked as a result of refusal to cross a picket line are still eligible for benefits.

The Daily Benefit for honouring a picket line is $88 per day. This is slightly less than the benefit paid where an association is itself on strike, and is not intended to replace your salary but to help alleviate financial hardship.

The Benefit is only paid on and after the 4th day of job loss. There is no support available for the first three days one is affected.

In the event that SFUFA itself takes job action, the Defense Fund provides strike pay for members at a slightly higher rate, currently $96 per day. The total benefit is provided to the Association, which then is responsible for distributing it to members in accordance with Association policies and procedures.

Beginning in 2021, SFUFA began to study trends in SFU’s staffing, specifically investigating what appears to be a disproportionate investment in Executive and managerial staff as compared to teaching, research, and support staff. Using SFU’s own data, the staffing audits indicate reductions to staffing in areas devoted to the core mission of the University while expenditures on managerial and administrative functions balloon.

Presentation to the Fall 2021 GM

Presentation to the Spring 2022 GM

In 2023, SFU abruptly announced a restructuring of its Research Ethics Board (REB), removing existing members and shifting significant decision-making authority from the REB to the University administration, specifically the Vice President Research and International (VPRI) and staff answerable to the VPRI.

SFUFA, REB and former REB members, Senators, and the community at large responded with vocal opposition to the move, ultimately forcing the University to acknowledge the breaches of policy and procedure and reverse its decisions.

Documents related to the REB campaign are available as follows:

SFUFA Bulletin, January 2023

SFUFA Bulletin, February 2023

SFUFA Bulletin, March 2023

SFUFA Bulletin Update, April 2023

Pensions – beginning in 2014, the Association explored various options for improved pension security, ultimately leading to our move to the BC College Pension Plan in 2021.

Salary Equity – beginning with a general meeting in 2013, SFUFA engaged in a campaign to see an SFU audit of gender salary equity, a process which lasted until 2017.

Certification – in 2013 and 2014, SFU investigated the question of certification as a trade union, leading to a successful application to unionize in May, 2014.

Learning Outcomes – in 2012, SFU announced its intention to introduce mandatory Learning Outcomes in all courses and programs.

In 2022, SFU restructured its Human Rights Office in contravention of University policy and over the objections of employee organizations and many of its own senior advisors and specialists.

SFUFA, with other SFU employee groups, Senators, and community members, fought the move over a period of several months, ultimately winning a reversal of the decision.

Documents related to the Human Rights Office campaign are available as follows:

October 2022 Bulletin

November 2022 Bulletin

December 2022 Bulletin

HRO backgrounder, December 2022

February 2023 Bulletin

March 2023 Bulletin