The faculty association at the University of Saskatchewan has filed an unfair labour practice charge against the university, accusing the administration of closing the university’s almost century-old extension division so as to be able to hire non-faculty “professional staff” for outreach and continuing education programs, in violation of the collective agreement with the faculty association.
The administration is proposing to close the division and create two new centres. Continuing education programs currently directed by members of the faculty association would be transferred to a new Centre for Continuing and Distance Education. The proposal indicates the new centre will be operated on a cost-recovery basis by “professional staff,” but that “no faculty appointments are anticipated.”
“It’s a huge problem with the faculty association,” said USFA chair Tracy Marchant. “Vice-president academic Michael Atkinson, in documents sent to University Council, is proposing that instead of having faculty from the present division work at the new centres, the work be done by non-faculty personnel.”
She said the administration had not discussed its plans with the faculty association. “In fact, we asked to meet with Atkinson about the proposal before it went to council, but were rebuffed. The University Council has the authority only to decide whether academic programs should be changed or curtailed, but USFA is the certified bargaining agent for faculty. The administration has to negotiate the terms and conditions of employment of academic employees with us.”
Atkinson was recently quoted in On Campus News as saying “obstacles associated with collective bargaining cannot be permitted, on their own, to trump the direction established by collegial processes.”
Jim Cheesman, vice-chair of the faculty association, said he believes Atkinson is confused about the jurisdiction of the university’s council versus the rights of the faculty association under the Trade Union Act.
“I find some of Atkinson’s recent comments in the media to be quite puzzling and suspect he may be trying to force University Council into a showdown with the faculty association over jurisdictional issues. If that is what he thinks, I really don’t think my colleagues on the council will buy into his divide and conquer approach,” Cheesman said.
The labour board has yet to set a hearing date.
“We’re gearing up for a vigorous defense of the right of academics to deliver continuing education programs at the University of Saskatchewan,” Marchant said. “We think the public and taxpayers of Saskatchewan deserve the best this university can offer. The best is already found within the membership of USFA.”