SFUFA President’s Message, November 2010

 As a late-20th century American poet once wrote, “the days run away like wild horses over the hills.” September has run away into October, and October has now run into November. Such seems to be the shape and pace of all our lives in this time, of life in universities, and of life in general. Some have said we are living in a time where our lives are shaped by a kind of ‘space-time compression,’ marked by increasing demands on our time, and shrinking abilities to contend with it all.

Considering these circumstances presents a challenge for the creation and distribution of a newsletter and indeed even a ‘presidential report’: to provide helpful, comprehensive, and informative communications that are important for members of our community to know about, and yet, not to add to the ‘information deluge’ that ‘compresses’ each of us all the more.

Toward that end, we at the Faculty Association are attempting an experiment with the form of the newsletter, what we hope provides a compact, crisp, and concise format that still allows you to quickly identify and choose the items you want to read about in more detail. Our collective thanks to SFUFA Executive Director, Doug Thorpe-Dorward for this idea. We welcome your thoughts, suggestions, and opinions on this new format

To begin, I would like to introduce the members of this year’s Executive. We welcome three new members, Carla Graebner (Library), who is also our President-elect, Alison Ayers (Sociology/Anthropology & Political Science), and Slava Senyshyn (Education, who, incidentally, has served as a SFUFA member previously, and indeed is a past-President of the Association). Our returning members include, Valorie Crooks (Geography), Karen Kavanagh (Physics), Suzana Dragicevic (Geography), Glenn Chapman (Engineering), Don Taylor (Library, and Treasurer for the Association). I am personally particularly indebted to our past-President, Hilmar Pabel (History), who also continues on as a member of the Executive this year, and whose stewardship, mentorship, and fellowship has provided me with a model of leadership and collegiality that I can only hope to emulate in some small way.

Our SFUFA office team is a ‘power-trio’ consisting of our exemplary Executive Director, Doug Thorpe-Dorward, our recently-enlisted and multi-talented Member Services Officer, Brian Green, and the ever-estimable Executive Assistant, Jenny. They are indeed the strong, and flexible, backbone of the Association, and in many ways, I feel that we on the Executive are the temporary stewards of what our fine office personnel nurture and care for through the longer arc of time and circumstance.

In this Report I want to provide a compact overview for you of some of the key activities and significant issues of the past few months, along with our aims and hopes for the coming year. In subsequent reports I will elaborate on these activities and issues in more detail as they continue to develop, along with reporting on whatever activities and issues are ‘late-breaking’ and emerging at that time.

(A) SFUFA Goals and Objectives for 2010-2011

At our summer planning session, the SFUFA Executive identified three key goals for this coming year:

1. We want to reach out more vigourously to Members. In particular, we want to develop the role and presence of the Faculty Association as a ‘place’ to meet and exchange ideas, along with continuing to fulfill our role as the body that represents the employment concerns of members.

2. We want to actively recruit new members to serve on the SFUFA Executive, and various committees.

3. We want to prepare for economic benefits negotiations in 2012, and to revisit and examine various pertinent policies in the Framework Agreement.

Toward these ends, we will begin what we hope will be an ongoing series of visits to departments and faculties to inform members about SFUFA initiatives and activities, and to address any questions or concerns you may have. As well, we will be hosting various social events through the year that we hope will provide a space for us all to meet as colleagues and neighbours. Please mark Thursday, December 2nd from 3:30 to 6pm on your calendars, and come enjoy a glass of what-you-like, hors d’oeuvres, and conversation around the question “whatever happened to the idea of a Faculty Club?” (see our Events section of the newsletter for more details).

(B) Faculty Forum

As most of you are probably aware, early in the Fall term the SFUFA Executive, as a result of several years of consideration and deliberation, passed a motion to end its management of the online Faculty Forum. There was significant concern expressed by some members of the Forum over this decision, and the Executive subsequently rescinded the motion, and charged the President with the task of striking a committee to examine the issue in depth. We have also sought an external legal opinion regarding the question of what responsibilities a body such as SFUFA has in managing an online forum.  We are in the process of assembling that committee, and so, I would like to hereby invite interested parties to contact me directly if you would like to participate.

(C) Meetings with Senior University Administration

The SFUFA Executive meets once a month with the President and Vice-Presidents to discuss matters of concern to the Association and its members. It has been our pleasure to meet and welcome on board President Andrew Petter, and we look forward to an engaging and collegial relationship with him, and his Senior Administration colleagues, as they (and we) work through the complications and challenges of the present political, social, and economic climate, most specifically, with respect to how that climate is effecting funding and support for post-secondary education and research.

(D) Western Regional and CAUT Meetings

Doug Thorpe-Dorward, Carla Graebner, and I recently attended the Western Regional meeting of Faculty Associations in Edmonton. Among the many pressing issues that are on the radar for many associations are such things as: the changing nature and character of university life and labour; workload; university governance; intellectual copyright; custody and control of personal and professional documents; university finances; government funding for post-secondary education and research; private sector partnerships; faculty-member review processes. These are concerns that we are, and will continue to, pay attention to in our own setting.

Doug and I will be attending the national meeting of CAUT in Ottawa at the end of November, and we will be taking careful note of the trends in concerns and issues of member associations as they manifest across the country.

Finally, I would like to share with you a modest personal reflection on this ‘moment’ that we find ourselves in, as it pertains to life in ‘a’ university, to life in our university specifically, and as it concerns being part of a professional association such as ours.

Like some of you, I first encountered university life at a time (the late 1970s) when (at least through the comfortable and comforting perspective of hind-sight) my notion of an academic life, a scholarly life, was shaped by particular structures, ‘spaces,’ values, opportunities, aspirations, and expectations that, taken together, defined a particular ethos. What drew me to a life in the academy was the opportunity to thoughtfully and carefully consider ideas, and to create and exchange ideas with others, including academic colleagues, students, and non-academic members of the community.

Seen from one angle, ours can appear to be a time filled with (to put it mildly) ‘challenges,’ if not outright assaults on that notion of what a university is. Certainly, ours is a time in which certain other kinds of structures have emerged, workloads and expectations have increased, the pace of life has accelerated, and the ‘idea of the university’ appears to be (again, to put it mildly) ‘significantly different’ from the one I first entered.

And yet, there are many aspects of contemporary university life that I feel are more comprehensive embodiments of the values and aspirations of that earlier university ethos than existed at that time. We have, for example, a more intellectually, culturally, and professionally diverse community than the university in which I started, which is reflected in our membership, and which, I think, contributes to the creation of a richer, deeper ethos. I find it compelling, inspiring, and encouraging that our membership includes librarians, archivists, lab instructors, lecturers, professors, and researchers, who reside in departments, units, and faculties whose themes, disciplines and specialties are as diverse as we ourselves are.

The fundamental task of SFUFA, of course, is to represent its members, in all our richness and diversity. I am looking forward to meeting with as many of you as possible through this year, and I want to invite you, and to encourage you, to get in touch with me if you have issues and concerns that you would like to share, or if you have suggestions for how SFUFA can work for you. My hope is that, even in a time of ‘challenges’ we can help each other to create the kind of community that we want to live and work in together, that you might see SFUFA as a ‘space’ that draws us together towards that end, and that in turn, you might consider being part of the Association’s activities, by attending events, by serving on committees, or by serving on the Executive itself, whether in the near future, or further down the road.

Michael Ling, Education