Response to last Saturday’s TJ editorial

The following piece was published in the Telegraph-Journal today under the title “Faculty concerned with UNB governance,” though it does not appear to be available on the website. You can find it, however, in the eEdition (click on the button on the top right of the main page; it’s on A7). Or, read it here:

Saturday’s editorial, “Faculty Dissent at UNB,” gets it wrong in practically every way.

Strikes and lockouts are not meteor showers, arriving out of the blue, dramatic while they last, and over just as suddenly. This past winter saw the first job action in UNB’s long history and readers can be sure it took considerable accumulation of discontent for academic staff to have voted so overwhelmingly to strike. And one supposes the current administration must have their own issues for them to have so readily imposed a lockout — rare in academic labour relations — on the second day of the strike. Did the job action magically solve these long-standing concerns? Indeed not. So “business as usual,” now that the job action is over, is just what we don’t need. Not if we want to avoid being back on the picket line three years from now.

UNB full-time academic staff did not vote to strike because they wanted more pay. They voted to strike because salaries at UNB are so low that many departments cannot attract competitive candidates on those quite rare occasions they are permitted to hire at all. And they voted to strike because they discovered, after enduring years of cutbacks, that the management of UNB has been salting away millions in various accounts all the while pleading poverty. As neither of these situations has changed, it is hardly surprising that tensions continue.

Academic staff are urged to get past the strike and yet the editors cannot resist a few more gibes about faculty salaries. Nothing that is happening at UNB right now has to do with salaries or collective bargaining. We are soon to enter arbitration where the outstanding salary issues will be decided and however we end up feeling about the outcome, the issue will have been put to bed for the duration of the current contract. The non-confidence motions at UNB are not about contract issues and they were not instigated by the union.  They are about governance.  They are what the name implies: a way for the academic staff to tell the upper management of the university that they have forfeited our collective trust and confidence. Unpleasant perhaps, but covering our eyes will only make things worse.

Before deciding that academic staff are not fruitfully engaged, it might have been a good idea for the editors to speak to some of us. They would have discovered committed people who have invested their working lives in UNB, people who must live with decisions long after those who make them have left.

If UNB is to retain any credibility as an institution of teaching and research, it will be because the academic staff have been galvanized by years of mismanagement to take matters into their own hands. If the provincial paper could get beyond personalities, as they helpfully advise faculty to do, perhaps they might join us in supporting the right for people in this province to continue to have a strong provincial university with a national reputation for teaching and research. If they could themselves get past the “old labour arguments,” again as they advise us to do, they might turn their attention to calling for increased transparency in the way UNB is managed. Not a call for external control: a call for transparency. This paper is fond of reminding academic staff that much university funding comes from public money and tuition. Perhaps it is time to remind the upper management of UNB of that fact.

Miriam Jones
President, Association of University of New Brunswick Teachers

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Categories: Communication, Governance, Media