SFUFA President’s Message, June 2011

Greetings SFUFA Members,

At the CAUT meetings of early May, which our Executive Director, Doug Thorpe-Dorward and I attended in Ottawa, there was a pervasive tone of foreboding in the presentations we heard, and in many of the conversations we had throughout the four days there.

From the Librarians’ Committee we heard of sustained and corrosive attacks in various quarters on the very notion of libraries, both academic and public, and on the roles of librarians and archivists, which have been subject to de-professionalization, de-skilling, and marginalization in many academic and public settings recently.

From the President, Jim Turk, we heard about increasing privatization and ‘accountability’ pressures within universities, increasing constraints on the process of applying for (and a steady narrowing of the criteria for the selection of) grants from the major governmental funding bodies, namely, NSERC, SSHRC, and CIHR. Dr. Turk also outlined increased concerns over a growing dependence on private funding that comes with strings attached, and he cited examples from here, the US, and the UK.

From two guest-speakers, American colleagues Britt Hall (a labour leader from Wisconsin, and member of the National Education Association), and Gary Rhoades, (General Secretary of the American Association of University Professors), we heard, respectively, presentations concerning the attack on the public sector by the current state government in the Green Bay state, which affected, among others, university staff and faculty there, and, we heard first-hand of the erosion of government support for post-secondary education and its consequences in the US more broadly. (Incidentally, some of you may be interested in a couple of Dr. Rhoades’ books: Managed Professionals (1998), and, with co-author Sheila Slaughter, Academic Capitalism and the New Economy (2004)).

I left Ottawa with Bob Dylan’s “It’s not dark yet…but it’s gettin’ there,” rumbling in my head.

My wise mother might say that, from a certain point of view, one could rack this all up as a condition of perpetual change that “t’is ever thus.” Living in times which seem new and daunting in the moment, where use of the cliché “change is the only constant” abounds, one has to be careful not to overstate the case, and one needs to be cautious about making any grand and sweeping statements before a good and thorough analysis of the situation has been done. And, as the old fable has it, one has to be cautious about ‘crying wolf’ one too many times, because, as we know, one can only do that so many times before the cry will be ignored when it matters.

However, there does seem to be a sense that “this time, it’s for real,” and there appears to be mounting evidence, from near and far, which seems to support the claim that the challenges for universities, and for faculty especially, could be significant, indeed, alarming.

There is the perspective, of course, that with change comes opportunity, and toward that end, President Petter’s Envision Initiative has been aimed at articulating and catalyzing a vision for the university over the next few years, years that in one way or another will be spent in responding to the already mentioned challenges, and/or opportunities. This year’s Executive discussed the Envision Initiative at length, and this past month we offered a written submission to President Petter’s request for ideas and feedback on the project. Here is a link to our submission to enVision.

What a consideration of these issues has highlighted for me all the more is the importance of the mission and the work of the Faculty Association, and I would encourage any of you who are not already participating in Association matters, to consider doing so. This may sound like a standard plea on the part of someone who has ‘drunk the kool-aid’, but participating in the Faculty Association, and occupying this role this past year has been truly interesting and illuminating. If you have an interest in the role of the Association as a collective voice on members’ issues; if you have an interest in seeing how the larger system works, in being able to meet to discuss issues of concern with Senior Administration monthly (we are about the only Faculty Association in the country with such ongoing opportunities to represent members’ interests and concerns to its university administration); if you have an interest in meeting other faculty members, working and deliberating with them, and being both helped and humbled by their insights, their intelligence, their forthrightness, their commitments, their perceptions, and their wisdom; if you have an interest in meeting other groups on campus in order to see a bigger picture, and hear other voices, such as those from the various student groups, employee groups, and community groups, then I would encourage you to see what opportunities there are to serve with the Faculty Association. There are many ways, not only by being on the Executive itself, but by being part of the Faculty Advisory Council, or any of a number of committees that are struck annually for this or that purpose, or by simply being able to attend General Meetings and lending your voice to a debate or a conversation. Please do get in touch if you are interested.

This being our last newsletter until the Fall, and my last as President (though I will be ‘on shift’ until the end of August), I want to thank all SFUFA members for their dedication to the collective work we all do in this community.  It’s been a pleasure and an honour to meet members of other units, departments, and faculties in various settings and on various occasions this past year.

I have had the great pleasure of serving with, and being supported by, if you’ll excuse my language, a damn fine Executive, whose members include: Hilmar Pabel (Past-President; History), Suzana Dragicevic (Geography), Karen Kavanagh (Physics), Don Taylor (Treasurer; Library), Natalia Gajdamaschko (Teaching Appointments Representative; Education), Glenn Chapman (Engineering Science), Alison Ayers (Sociology-Anthropology/Political Science), Valorie Crooks (Geography), Slava Senyshyn (Education), and, Carla Graebner (President-elect; Library) who will so very ably and capably be taking on this role in September. They have been the ones I referred to above who have both helped and humbled me with their intelligence, insights, perspectives, advice, guidance, and wisdom.

Some of this year’s members will be leaving the Executive, notably Hilmar, Suzana, Don, Valorie, and Alison. Huzzahs and our deep thanks to them all for their service to SFUFA these past few years.

In addition to the group who are staying on, we will be welcoming new Executive members: Carl Schwarz (who is also our Chief Negotiator; Statistics and Actuarial Science), Yolanda Koscielski (Librarians and Archivists Representative), Arne Mooers (Biological Sciences), and Russell Day (Psychology). We very much look forward to having them on board.

Finally, I want to offer my own heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the SFUFA Administrative Team of Doug Thorpe-Dorward, our Executive Director, Brian Green, our Member Services Officer, and Jenny, our Executive Assistant. They are indeed an estimable and formidable trio who, like all good ‘power trios,’ bring their own individual artistry and musicianship to the project that together creates ‘the sound’ that is theirs, and which keeps SFUFA ‘humming.’ Before I get too loose with the metaphor, I will simply add, it is they who keep SFUFA running so smoothly, meeting members’ needs so ably, who maintain connections and relationships throughout the university, and beyond, with grace and diplomacy, and who keep the Executive, and the President in particular, on track and in tune.

All the best, everyone.