Voice of Reason: on consultation with membership
Negotiating Team, Consult Your Members
from the pen of Ed Ksenych
This is going to be a risky article for many reasons. So if you’re not up for it in the midst of a college faculty - college management dispute, don’t read it. Or read it, then ignore it.
Several years ago our faculty union stopped listening carefully to its members and communicating effectively with them. There’s no need to go into who or when exactly because that’s not the point. The point is our Negotiating Team began representing positions on behalf of its members and directing them without adequately consulting or communicating effectively with them, both on a ground level as well as at the level of our Local leaders. The result was not good, for faculty or for the colleges.
This is no longer the case. Our current Faculty Negotiating Team has done an admirable job in turning this around. They have listened to those they represent and continuously provided us with relevant information on what they are doing and why on our behalf. They have accomplished this by putting into place a range of ongoing information distribution and consultative mechanisms with their members and our Local leaders. On top of that, they created a forum to share and discuss our concerns and demands with members of the Provincial Government and the media with their “Queens Park Lobby Day”. That is, they made an effort to communicate with government.
If you personally feel uninformed about what’s been happening or feel you haven’t had a chance to give feedback, sorry, the responsibility doesn’t reside with our Faculty Negotiating Team and their execution of this round of bargaining. Turn to the nearest mirror, glance at it, and you’re probably looking at the more likely source of your feelings. And if you’re having trouble seeing, look more closely into cynicism, indifference, time spent on social media, or the general problem of having too little time to do all that we need to do.
But I don’t think you can point your finger at our Faculty Bargaining Team. They’ve been regularly consulting their members, have demands and ideas that arise from on the ground experience, are constantly consulting their members, and as a result have deservedly earned our support and ongoing trust.
But our Faculty Negotiating Team isn’t my worry at the moment. It’s the College Employer Council. Who are these people? Who or what do they represent? Where are their positions coming from? They have a “CEO”, Don Sinclair, rather than a Chair. A ‘CEO’ for an organization negotiating on behalf of our college managers? Does any CEO of any organization represent their members in any democratic sense? Do they consult their organizational members? Perhaps. But does this CEO and Council do that? If not, then who or what does the College Employer Council represent as they bargain on behalf of our college managers? Shareholders, whoever these may be? Some founding corporate family? Where do their bargaining positions come from? Perhaps it’s the Government. Except that the Council’s bargaining positions are so out of line with the publicly stated labour views and proposed legislation (Bill 148) of our current government that it would seem this can’t be the likely source.
From what I can tell, the Council representing our college managers have some sort of an agenda that, based on my limited interactions with managers, does NOT accurately reflect the ideas, views, and interests of the majority of the college managers they claim to be organizationally representing, whether they’re lower level or senior managers. I don’t have a broad enough sample to work with to confidently generalize to the college system as a whole, but based on my limited experience, our managers are too sensible, too concerned with students, and too committed to college education (even if all of this might be framed from a managerial standpoint) to support the troubling positions, arguments, and tactics being presented by the College Employer Council.
And what is this agenda? It seems to be having colleges eventually staffed entirely by contract workers subjected to a most unequal power imbalance where colleges, reconstructed according to the principles of instrumental rationality, produce measurable occupational learning outcomes (rather than people) in some highly efficient manner that can be quantifiably accounted for. But to what end? I ask because it seems such an agenda has little to nothing to do with education beyond the victory of bureaucratic modes of manufacturing education in rather limited, measurable terms so that those that implement it get financial, power, and status brownie points.
And please don’t give me the ‘but-colleges-need-to-be-financially-accountable’ rejoinder. I get that. As someone who was a property manager of an office building for over ten years I understand that an organizational venture has to be financially stable, be prepared to weather economic storms, and in the case of private ventures, generate a reasonable return on capital investment. And yes, we’re a college organization and need to make sure we’re dealing well with the first two items. Frankly, in the case of our particular college we’ve had a President, senior administrators, and Board of Governors who have generally handled these expectations very well.
Good. Now given that, we need to turn our attention to why we are doing this. And the response has to at least look like it’s concerned with college education. In other words, for the sake of what are we doing the foregoing in such an admirable way? But when I listen to the position of the College Employer Council, I hear ‘for the sake of nothing’, nothing beyond power, control, and efficiency in themselves, all of which are merely means to accomplish something that is worthwhile. That is, the something-that’s-worthwhile (i.e., the good reason for which we do what we do, the telos) is utterly absent in the Council’s position. As such, their position is not just a bargaining position; it’s nihilism. And faculty sense this. And so we are going to resist, as we should.
But this is so apparent that I think the college managers they claim to be representing sense this as well and don’t generally support the Council’s bargaining position either. Of course, who am I to say? But I think I can say this to the Council: “Negotiating Team, Consult Your Members”.
Perhaps my judgements may be naïve and mistaken. Then again, perhaps they’re not. And if they’re not, then the Council isn’t just presenting a bad bargaining position, but one lacking legitimacy as well.