Back to top

CAUT Bulletin Archives

May 1996

Accountability is Heart and Soul of Collective Agreements

George J. De Benedetti
CAUT first became involved in collective bargaining in the late 1960s, and today more than half of the 28,000 members are covered by collective agreements negotiated under labour law. Has then the unionization of professors and librarians made academic staff less accountable for their performance?

CAUT has always accepted the principle that academic staff are accountable for their performance. This accountability is reflected in the many collective agreements that have been negotiated between the Board of Governors and the academic staff at Canadian universities.

Most collective agreements include an article that guarantees the freedom of expression, the freedom to pursue research and publicize the results, the freedom to criticize the employer and the union, and, among other freedoms, the freedom from institutional censorship.

Such rights are granted by university employers because they recognize that the good of society is served by the free search for knowledge and its free exposition. In return, professors and librarians have agreed, through collective agreements, to exercise these freedoms in a responsible way.

Virtually every one of these collective agreements specifies the professional responsibilities of academic staff as some combination of three general components: one is teaching, or the performance of duties in the operation of the library, the second is research, professional, or creative activity, and the third is service to the university, or to the wider community. Such articles also tend to limit the amount of outside professional activities of academic staff, so as not to interfere with their primary contractual duties.

Other articles hold professors and librarians accountable through mandatory and extensive performance evaluations. Collegial and peer review processes in evaluating academic staff for academic appointments, tenure and promotion, and the granting of sabbatical leaves have carried over into collective agreements. Such evaluations are especially critical at times of tenure and promotion, and some agreements specify annual evaluations.

There are few professions where members are so regularly and systematically scrutinized in their performance by so many. Performance reviews of academics not only include assessments from superiors, as in other sectors, but also include reviews from colleagues, students, and experts from outside the university community.

If academic staff members fail to meet their professional responsibilities in a satisfactory manner, they can be disciplined and eventually dismissed under the collective agreement.

More recently, CAUT has developed a model clause on fraud and misconduct in academic research and scholarly activity, and faculty associations have taken the lead in introducing such articles in collective agreements. These articles deal with issues of fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, failure to recognize by due acknowledgment the substantive contributions of others (including students), and the unauthorized and intentional diversion of the research funds of the university, federal or provincial granting councils, or sponsors of research.

As well, such articles deal with the necessity to reveal material conflict of interest to sponsors and those commissioning work, or when faculty members are asked to test products for sale or for distribution to the public, and the necessity to reveal to the university employer any material financial interest in a company that contracts with the employer to undertake research.

The tragedy at Concordia might have been avoided if the university administration had accepted the proposal of the faculty association to include an article on fraud and misconduct in the collective agreement before the Fabrikant incident. Today, partly due to events at Concordia and the pressure of the various granting councils, university administrations are more willing to accept such articles in collective agreements.

This is an area in which faculty associations have led the way in self-imposing restrictions on the behaviour of their members. The collective agreement is a good vehicle to codify these guidelines and procedures.

CAUT has been instrumental in developing policies and model clauses in other areas such as sexual harassment and equity considerations. Often, faculty associations are pressing university administrators to adopt such policies in collective agreements.

Currently, the Collective Bargaining and Economic Benefits Committee is drafting a revised model clause on suspension, discipline, and dismissal. The value of progressive discipline is that its application can correct behaviour before the situation escalates to the point where university administrations have to consider outright dismissal as a solution. The introduction of such an article in collective agreements can stem public criticism that faculty members can only be dismissed for the gravest of offenses and cannot be disciplined for lesser offenses.

In an era of reduced government funding for universities, governments and university administrators are introducing performance indicators in the university environment. Such indicators affect the terms and conditions of employment of professors and librarians. They can influence tenure and promotion decisions, salaries, career progress increments, departmental or unit budgets, etc.

Faculty members and librarians are not opposed to performance indicators when they are consistent with the goals and mission of the university, and CAUT holds that the parties should negotiate such indicators in a collective agreement.

Articles on performance indicators, like other articles in a collective agreement, are subject to proper grievance and arbitration procedures. Such procedures exist in collective agreements to protect both the employer and the academic staff member from arbitrary and unjust action: the employer and the union each has the right to grieve.

The collective bargaining process has not diminished faculty responsibility at universities. On the contrary, collective agreements have made it possible to spell out these responsibilities more explicitly, and the remedial action that employers can take if professors and librarians do not fulfil their responsibilities. As well, the grievance and arbitration procedures in collective agreements ensure redress from arbitrary action.

George J. De Benedetti is Chair of the CAUT Collective Bargaining and Economic Benefits Committee.