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CAUT Bulletin Archives

December 2006

Anniversaries Worth Celebrating!

By Greg Allain
I was recently invited to speak at Saint Thomas University in Fredericton. FAUST, the local faculty association, was celebrating its 30th anniversary, a milestone certainly worth celebrating! Actually, this fall, two other faculty associations were also having special events planned for their 30th anniversary: APBU at Bishop’s and ABPPUM at Moncton.

Anniversaries are occasions to remember beginnings, take pride in accomplishments and reenergize for the road ahead. It is particularly important to commemorate anniversaries of faculty associations, because of the crucial roles they have played and continue to play on behalf of their members and in the academic community. Yet often they are taken for granted, caught up as we are in the maelstrom of our professional lives.

In the current context of chronic government underfunding for post-secondary education, relentless attempts at commercialization of academia, serious attacks on academic freedom and civil liberties, not to mention the aggressiveness of employers at the bargaining table, strong faculty associations are needed more than ever. It may be worthwhile, given the current climate, to briefly reflect on why, where and when faculty unions developed in Canada.

Historically speaking, faculty associations are fairly recent creations. According to historian Michiel Horn,1 the University of British Columbia’s faculty association was formed in 1920. Others were created during the 40s, although we know little of their beginnings. By the time CAUT was formed in 1951 only eight faculty associations existed across the country, at the universities of Alberta, Toronto, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, as well as Queen’s, McGill, McMaster and Laval.2

The 50s, and especially the 60s, were periods of tremendous change in post-secondary education. Between 1954 and 1959, five new universities were created (two of which were “conversions” — a grouping together of previous institutions having college status). Between 1960 and 1970, 15 new universities were established, including six conversions.3 University enrolments exploded in the 60s. The 1960 total of 114,000 more than doubled to 230,000 in 1966, reached 310,000 by 1970 and climbed to 400,000 a decade later. The number of professors in Canadian universities skyrocketed as well, from 6,544 in 1961 to 12,085 in 1966 and to more than 28,500 in 1976.4

Universities were growing by leaps and bounds, whole new departments were being created and new programs were being developed, so of course administrations increased in size also and bureaucratization set in. In addition, the federal government started cutting post-secondary funding in the early 70s, threatening the modest salary gains made in the preceding decade. But the problem was not only compensation. Faculty associations, not being certified, had little bargaining power. It was still the era of individual contracts between employer and employee, which left a lot of room for employer arbitrariness and created blatant cleavages between faculty members.

With funding growing scarcer, employment security was an emerging issue, as well as academic freedom. In the absence of real bargaining power and enforceable contract rights, professors didn’t feel safe anymore. And in the “new” university, they perceived themselves increasingly as mere cogs in the whole knowledge machine: professors felt they were being treated as merely one group of university employees among many others. As one administrator was said to have quipped, “We need janitors too: imagine the mess we’d all be in if it wasn’t for their work.”

Well, yes, but without professors — or without students, for that matter — you wouldn’t have a university or college.

So what were professors to do in these circumstances? Actually, there was another group of employees that had also grown by leaps and bounds during the 60s, with the advent of the welfare state and the “Quiet Revolutions” going on in Quebec and other provinces. Those employees were also looking for better wages, job security and respect. Just like university professors, government workers had considered themselves as autonomous professionals not needing protection of a union. Yet in the 60s, civil servants fought hard to earn the right to unionize, which they obtained in 1966 at the federal level, and within a few years in the various provinces. Perhaps this was the way to go for university professors and librarians.

The first faculty associations to unionize were in Québec francophone universities in the early 70s. Barely two years after their institution was created, Université du Québec professors unionized in 1971 at Montreal and Trois-Rivières and over the next two years, the other campuses of the university followed suit. Sherbrooke certified in 1974 and Laval and Montreal a year later.5 Meanwhile, in English Canada, University of Notre Dame faculty in Nelson, B.C. were certified in early 1973. Faculty at Saint Mary’s University were the first to unionize in the Maritimes in 1974, followed in 1976 by the faculty at Saint Thomas and Moncton. Elsewhere, Manitoba certified in 1974, York in 1975 and Bishop’s and Ottawa followed suit in 1976.

These were the precursors, opening the floodgates for the others that were to come. And the union movement grew with a number of newly-certified associations since the mid-1990s, including Western Ontario, Queen’s, Prince Edward Island, Guelph, Saint Francis Xavier and the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. Today, very few associations nationwide remain without union certification. Either provincial laws prevent these from becoming full-fledged unions (as in Alberta) or voluntary recognition agreements or “special plans” outside provincial labour codes are in place on campus, where associations are recognized as the bargaining agent and have access to grievance procedures. But they are denied the right to strike — an important difference in the current era of tough bargaining. There are also some restrictions on what they can negotiate for, and they cannot enforce their agreements through provincial labour boards.

The full story of faculty organizing in Canada, first as associations, and then for many as certified ones, remains to be told. But we’ve come a long way since the 70s. And we have every reason to celebrate our academic staff associations, especially when significant anniversaries come up. More than ever, we need strong organizations to uphold our members’ rights, protect the integrity of our work and help define post-secondary education for the coming generation.

So long live FAUST, APBU and ABPPUM, who are celebrating their 30th anniversary this fall, and glad tidings to all the other academic staff associations which have recently celebrated, or will soon celebrate, an important milestone.

1. Michiel Horn, Academic Freedom in Canada: A History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999) 292.
2. Neil Tudiver, Universities for Sale: Resisting Corporate Control over Canadian Higher Education (Toronto: James Lorimer, 1999) 39.
3. Tudiver 207.
4. Tudiver 204.
5. Tudiver 84–85; Horn 325.