SFUFA President’s Message, December 2010

December greetings to everyone!

As the holiday season quickly comes upon us, along with the end of the semester, we wanted to send a message to let you know about a few items that might be of interest that have come about over the past month.

In late November, our Executive Director, Doug Thorpe-Dorward, and myself, attended the Fall meetings of the CAUT in Ottawa. On the day immediately preceding the meetings, CAUT regularly organizes a ‘Member of Parliament Lobby Day,’ which involves interested CAUT delegates visiting their respective MPs to discuss issues of concern regarding universities and post-secondary education in general. This year we had the opportunity to meet with Bill Siksay (NDP MP for Burnaby/Douglas), and Don Davies (NDP MP for Vancouver/Kingsway). Both of these representatives are impressively well-informed about, and committed to, public post-secondary education. They were each very interested to hear stories about what goes on in our university, both the successes, and the challenges. They are very aware of the latter in particular, especially with regard to the effects of declining funding, and all that goes with that. One could say we had two of the easiest ‘assignments,’ given these particular members, their affiliations, and their sympathies. We heard from other CAUT colleagues that there were different kinds of conversations with some other MPs. In either case, they are good opportunities to share with our elected officials what our concerns are, and how we might go about dealing with them.

The Carleton University Academic Staff Association (CUASA) convened a panel discussion on the general topic of privatization and universities, and on the specific topic of Navitas, the corporate parent-entity of Fraser International College, which has been in negotiation with a number of other universities in Canada, notably, the University of Manitoba, University of Guelph, and Carelton. I was invited to be a panelist, and spoke of the SFU and SFUFA experiences, both in terms of concerns that have been raised all along the way, and processes that were involved (eg, SFUFA’s consultations and airings of concern to the University Senior Administration, the External Review, etc).

The focus of the meetings themselves significantly centered on the conditions of universities in our moment, those conditions including everything from the financial, and the philosophical, to the pragmatic, and the practical. We heard reports from CAUT President Penni Stewart, and Executive Director James Turk who recently returned from a conference in Europe on this very topic of the current conditions of universities in that region, out of which 4 key trends and themes were identified and discussed: 1. the increasing casualization of labour (and the decline of the tenure system); 2. the increasing economic rationalization of university operations; 3. the increase in education being seen as a personal and private investment, which has emerged as the result of the retreat of nation states from their previous commitments to education as a public good; and, 4. the increasing emphasis on ranking systems for defining and determining the nature, character, identity, and value of universities. We also heard presentations from Ms. Nsé Ufot of the American Association of University Professors, and Bahram Bekhradnia, Director, Higher Education Policy Institute, Oxford. Their reports corroborated the intensification of these trends in their respective national spheres, and these are, of course, prevailing winds we are paying attention to ourselves.

On other fronts, we held our first of what we hope will be a continuing series of SFUFA social events, our “Whatever happened to the idea of a Faculty Club?” on Thursday December 2nd at the Diamond Alumni Club. Dr. Mike Roberts, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Geography, provided us with a very entertaining keynote on the history of the faculty club, which subsequently became the more inclusive university club. Dr. Tasos Kazepides, Professor Emeritus in the Faculty of Education movingly extemporized on the importance of, indeed the necessity, of dialogue, and of the physical and intellectual spaces required for such. There was a fine mix of retired members and current members, which made for very interesting conversations and exchanges. For those who were there, we hope you’ll share your own account of the event with others, and for those who weren’t able to attend, we’ll look forward to having you be part of future events.

Finally, the end of the calendar year is, of course, a period in which a number of holidays are being celebrated. This is one of the marvelous things about being in our place and time, the diversity of ways we come together to celebrate, to attend to those social and communal ‘goods’ that matter to all of us. On behalf of the SFUFA Executive and Office Staff, I want to wish you all a very fine holiday season, in whatever manner and form you celebrate.

See you in the New Year!

Faculty Club photos Faculty Club photos

Faculty Club photos Faculty Club photosFaculty Club photos