Open Letter to Seneca President David Agnew

Dear Mr. Agnew:

I would like to remind you, with regard to the recent negotiations, that it was the College Employer Council that walked out, not the Union. And it did so twice. Now, I too was optimistic when the two sides resumed talks a little over a week ago. As usual, however, I was proven to be naive. Going back to the table now appears to me to have a classic bait-and-switch. What’s more, having read the CEC’s latest offer, it is evident to me that it is backtracking on some of what appeared to have been resolved last week. This is distressing.

As for the Seneca policy on academic freedom and the CEC’s offer, I am reminded that I was among a number of faculty who spoke to the Board about the measure prior to the adoption of the policy approximately two decades ago. In my opinion, the Board’s policy was then and remains today worse than no policy at all. The same applies to the CEC’s province-wide proposal.

We both know that there is a lot more to “academic freedom” than an abstract philosophical principle. It is a concept that is foundational to the corporate culture of any authentic institution of higher learning. Yet, the concept has been contemptuously predismissed by the employer for the more than 40 years in which collective agreements in the CAATs.

It is time and, in my opinion, it is long past time when academic freedom should have recognized as being at the core of what it is to be a college and made part of the base upon which the college was built. Now, however, that we are mandated to offer baccalaureate degrees and are part of joint degree programs with universities, nothing less than a close variation on the theme established by the Canadian Association of University Teachers is required. Moreover, even if we had remained as diploma-granting postsecondary schools, nothing less would have been warranted in any college worthy of the name.

As for the matter of our bargaining team withdrawing the demand to create university-style senates, I shall not comment. It would be presumptuous of me to criticize the team, for I was not at the table and choose not to speculate on what transpired in the course of intense bargaining. I am quite familiar with such processes and it is not for me to second-guess what transpired in the dynamics of the moment. It is, however, my hope that this particular faculty demand will be revisited at the earliest possible opportunity.

Assuming that Bill 148 becomes law and assuming it is not weakened to the point of abject impotence, it is possible to think that the principle of equal pay for equal work will be achieved in the foreseeable future. Assuming, as well, that some recognition of “academic freedom” is either won immediately or submitted to formal and meaningful deliberations in the good faith commitment to a permanent resolution in the near future, it is possible to think that significant steps toward this vital part of a thriving college environment will be achieved as well. If, then, both the issues of employee equity and academic freedom are resolved or that a clear path to a satisfactory resolution is found, then you may rest assured that the creation of university-style senates will be at the top of my agenda and, I hope, those of my colleagues as well.

You may not recall the events of the 1980s, when the Skolnik, Pitman and Gandz reports identified certain basic problems in the conflicted and acrimonious relations between labour and management in the colleges. They recommended with increasing force a more collegial model of college governance. At Seneca, a half-hearted and quickly scuttled experiment in what was prettily called “participative management” was undertaken. Then-president Stephen A. Quinlan fretted openly about what such an initiative would mean and quickly brought it to a close when it appeared to be a serious initiative (at least among faculty). That was discomfiting, for some of us were naive enough to imagine that it might be done and done well, but it never had a chance. And, remember, it was merely the quasi-academic equivalent of Upper Canada’s early colonial “representative assembly,” and nothing close to an exercise in “responsible government.” The time has come or is well past when this matter must be revisited and satisfactorily addressed.

Speaking personally again, I am the longest-serving employee of Seneca College and I would not be astonished to learn that I am the longest-serving member of the college system. I make no claim that longevity is a guarantee of wisdom; however, I do possess a certain amount of institutional memory dating back even before I received a letter from Bill Newnham, dated, June 26, 1969, which welcomed me as a full-time faculty member at Seneca. That history at least allows me to claim some informed perspective and leads me to believe that Seneca will continue to grow, to adapt, to innovate and, most importantly, to mature. I expect that the maturation process, which includes full academic freedom and collegial governance, will come―not, perhaps, in my time at Seneca or even in my lifetime; but, I must believe that it will come, for the prospect of remaining with the same organizational model too far into the twenty-first century is too demoralizing to contemplate.

We have endured the “industrial model”; we are immersed in the “discount department store model”; it is time to embrace the “collegial model,” which is the only set of arrangements that will allow Seneca and the other colleges to fulfill the great expectations that Bill Davis surely had in mind when he created out of a profound vision and a sheer act of will, a college system that had a chance to do something rather splendid. I hope that we will move on soon.

Respectfully,

Howard A. Doughty
Professor, School of English & Liberal Studies
Faculty of Communications, Art & Design (King Campus)

PS: You said that the decision is up to us as faculty, and not up to the Union. I prefer to think that we faculty, librarians and counsellors ARE the union. We certainly have more influence in the Union than we have been permitted in the College. It’s time to even that relationship up.

Category: On The Line, OPSEU560

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