The last issue of the CAUT Bulletin gave details of the program closures and layoffs -- currently threatened at Carleton University. Since then there have been several notable developments.
Firstly, in subsequent negotiations it has become clear that management wanted to obtain a streamlined layoff procedure. CUASA, however, argued that no colleagues should be laid off so long as there were other colleagues in the same faculty who wished to retire early or leave the university voluntarily -- and who were not being allowed to do so because of management's refusal to accept their applications.
In effect we stuck to two principles: that voluntary departures should always take precedence over involuntary ones; and that lay-offs should be resorted to only if voluntary departures did not create the level of savings deemed necessary.
To implement these principles CUASA put forward a proposal that addressed management's concerns about balancing the budget as well as our own concerns about the decent treatment of valued colleagues. Management refused to consider this alternative.
Management's insistence on layoffs and nothing but layoffs is the clearest indication yet that the crisis at Carleton is, at bottom, not a fight about money. Their conduct at the negotiating table lends new support to the view that senior managers want this round of layoffs in order to establish the precedent and the procedures for more extensive cuts next year.
That interpretation has been given additional force by the refusal of Carleton University President Dr. Richard Van Loon to state in unambiguous terms that his administration will not seek additional layoffs.
Throughout their campaign to close programs, senior managers maintained that layoffs were going to be a one-time measure. Carleton's president emphasized this when he addressed Carleton's General Faculty Board in September 1997 and proclaimed "We will not do this again" -- an assurance he repeated in subsequent press interviews.
However, six days after senate accepted the president's closure plan, Carleton's public relations office issued a press release indicating there would be no more program closures for financial reasons, but explicitly alluding to "further changes ... for the purpose of internal reallocation ... "
This bolt from the blue was unquestionably at odds with the president's public assurances. CUASA wrote to President Van Loon and asked him to clear the air by making an unambiguous statement that his administration would not seek to close more programs or lay off more academic staff.
CUASA stressed that such an undertaking would be in complete conformity with his earlier assurances and would not require anything beyond that to which he had already committed himself.
The president's initial reply acknowledged those earlier assurances but fell short of the straightforward statement we were seeking. Unfortunately, when CUASA requested clarification, all we got was a lawyerly reply in which the president enjoined "anyone interested" in his earlier assurances to "read them in the full context in which they were given."
In short, faced with the opportunity to make a clear statement, President Van Loon chose to tell Carleton faculty to read the fine print.
On Jan. 16 these developments were reported to a general meeting of the faculty association. The character of the discussion at this meeting showed a high degree of solidarity and commitment over the layoff issue among the association's membership.
A motion was put forward from the floor directing the CUASA executive "to call a strike vote at an appropriate moment if further negotiations on the laying-off of tenured academic staff fail to reach a satisfactory conclusion." The motion was adopted unanimously.
Negotiations will resume soon, and our bargaining team has incorporated the general meeting's motion into CUASA's bargaining position. For legal reasons the association cannot hold a strike vote before April 1. That vote is now inevitable if senior managers persist in their no-compromise stand.
E. Peter Fitzgerald is president of the Carleton University Academic Staff Association.