Kwantlen University College administrators have announced they will use provincial legislation to override the faculty contract on class-size limits.
It's the first post-secondary institution in British Columbia to attempt to use special powers granted by Gordon Campbell's Liberal government to override agreements with their faculty associations.
Nancy Clegg, president of the Kwantlen Faculty Association, said faculty are shocked Kwantlen is leading the charge among B.C. post-secondary institutions to break collective agreements in order to increase class sizes.
"Faculty have eagerly participated in building Kwantlen as an accessible, high-quality university college," Clegg said. "We feel that our efforts and commitment have been repaid with total disregard on the part of the board of governors and the management of the institution."
She said language limiting class sizes was first bargained in the collective agreement in 1991 and even with these limits, faculty workload has increased as the institution has expanded with limited funding.
"Larger classes will hurt our students and will do a disservice to our community that relies on us to provide a learning environment that allows maximum contact between faculty and students," Clegg said.
In January 2002, the B.C. government passed the Public Education Flexibility and Choice Act, giving post-secondary institutions the ability to eliminate many provisions from negotiated collective agreement, including protected limits on class sizes and student numbers.
Faculty unions reacted quickly, launching a Charter challenge. In addition, CAUT filed a complaint with the International Labour Organization. The ILO subsequently found the province violated the UN convention on freedom of association when it enacted the legislation.
Cindy Oliver, president of the College Institute Educators' Association of B.C., said educators throughout the province have been quick to lend their support to KFA's fight.
She said CAUT will likely be asked to consider imposing censure on Kwantlen if the institution uses the Act to increase class sizes.
"When the legislation was introduced, CAUT responded quickly and wrote to every B.C. post-secondary institution encouraging them to honour collective agreements," Oliver said. "CIEA members believe the support of CAUT has been instrumental in helping us to maintain the provisions of our collective agreements."
Clegg said Kwantlen should continue to honour collective agreements and rather than attacking legal contracts, should work with faculty and the community to ensure there is adequate government funding to advance learning and education within existing class size provisions.
CAUT president Victor Catano told Kwantlen president Skip Triplett and board chair Arvinder Bubber that CAUT is dismayed the institution is disregarding its negotiated commitments.
"These actions will deny faculty the ability to exercise their academic freedom to make choices that enhance learning conditions for their students and to organize their work accordingly," he warned in a Jan. 29 letter.
"CAUT urges you to reconsider this potential action which could have a very negative impact on the university college's reputation, the quality of its education and its capacity to attract new faculty and students."