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CAUT Bulletin Archives

April 2008

Francophones in CAUT: The Long March

By Greg Allain
I’m often asked whether I’m CAUT’s first francophone president. Alas, I cannot claim that honour, although very few francophones have had the privilege of serving in that capacity.

In the 57 years since its founding, CAUT has had 45 presidents and I’m the fifth francophone to assume the office. Three francophones served terms as president between 1962 and 1971 – two from the University of Montreal and the third from Laval University.

Why were there so few francophone presidents during the early days of the association, and then a 25-year delay before the next francophone president was elected in the mid-1990s? The answer lies in Quebec’s historical context. Faculty associations had been in existence for a long time in that province: for instance, the one at Montreal was officially created in 1955, although previous incarnations go back to the 1930s. The Quebec faculty associations would be the first in Canada to unionize, in the early 1970s.

The Quiet Revolution of the 1960s was a powerful modernizing force in Quebec, and a new sense of Québécois identity was born out of all the societal transformations going on. In higher education circles, this led to the creation, in 1970, of a provincial federation of faculty associations: the Fédération des associations de professeurs d’université du Québec (FAPUQ).

Up until then, Quebec faculty associations belonged to CAUT, because it was the only game in town. I suspect that for a few years after the birth of FAPUQ, some francophone academic staff associations may have been members of both organizations, but eventually the francophone associations rallied around the Quebec federation, which in 1991 was renamed the Fédération québécoise des professeures et professeurs d’université (FQPPU). Today, only the academic staff associations of Quebec’s anglophone universities still belong to both CAUT and FQPPU.

To this day, CAUT enjoys a good relationship with FQPPU. We invite observers to each other’s meetings, jointly lobby the federal government for increased funding and better access to post-secondary education, and work as partners in Education International activities and in the EI North American Caucus.

So, historical changes in the 1960s and in the early 1970s explain why francophones are a minority in CAUT’s membership. Nonetheless, CAUT is a bilingual, national organization providing simultaneous translation at its biannual conventions, committed to translating core and major documents and producing its web sites in both official languages.

It was only in 1996 that a fourth francophone was elected as CAUT president: William Bruneau, a Franco-Saskatchewanian. Among other achievements, Bill is known for having set up meetings of francophone and bilingual associations during each CAUT Council, a sort of francophone caucus where delegates could get together and discuss various common issues, including the quality and extent of bilingual services provided by CAUT.

I remember attending those initial meetings, held in French and chaired by Bill, when I started traveling to Ottawa in 1996 as a delegate of my local association, the ABPPUM. The caucus continues to be active and over the years has made useful suggestions on a number of issues to improve CAUT services. One example among many is the increase in Bulletin articles published in French and English.

But by the early 2000s, caucus members thought piecemeal, incremental changes just didn’t cut it and asked for the creation of a task force to look into the situation of francophones within CAUT. Not enough was known of their needs, problems and challenges and it would take more than twice-yearly caucus meetings to inform CAUT.

Instead of a task force, CAUT’s executive committee elected to form a francophones committee to act in an advisory capacity to the executive. There was a precedent for this: in 1999, with increasing casualization on campuses, a contract academic staff committee was set up to advise the executive about contingent issues. Writing this brings back fond memories from two years of chairing this committee and working with these wonderful colleagues when I was first elected to CAUT’s executive in 2000, which was also when the executive’s equity committee was set up.

The committee of the executive for francophone affairs and another on clinical faculty were formed in 2004. I had the privilege of chairing the francophones’ committee for a number of years, including during my three-year term as CAUT treasurer and my year as vice-president.

The committee is made up of franco­phone members from bilingual, French-language and English-language universities and its composition reflects the diversity of environments where francophones work.

But the truth is, we don’t know how many francophone members we have. We know how many francophones work in francophone institutions and we have a good idea of the number of francophones on bilingual campuses, but the number of francophones in anglophone institutions is extremely difficult to document. And Census data, because of the wording of the questions, is not much use to us. Reliable data on francophones are about as rare as those on contract academic staff.

Because of the historical evolution in Quebec mentioned earlier, most francophone institutions elsewhere in Canada are quite small. The University of Moncton, in New Brunswick, is the largest French-language university in Canada outside of Quebec. The Moncton campus enrolls more than 4,000 full-time students and employs more than 500 full and part-time academic staff.

As we all know, major changes in the post-secondary system are increasingly blurring the traditional distinction between universities and colleges. Some colleges are now offering four-year bachelors degrees, while many others are offering two-year university transfer programs and some have actually become universities in their own right. In recent years, CAUT has welcomed into its ranks, as federated members, two provincial college federations, the British Columbia-based Federation of Post-secondary Educators and the College Division of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union — accounting for 18,000 more members that CAUT now represents.

In this context, it is only fitting that one of two new members appointed this year to the francophones’ committee is from the college sector. Fernand Bégin is president of the academic staff association at French-language La Cité collégiale in Ottawa and previously served on OPSEU’s provincial bargaining committee. Fernand will bring a fresh perspective and valuable experience into the mix.

The francophones’ committee is working in a number of areas, including jointly with the librarians’ committee to determine whether there is a cost (and availability) differential between French and English educational materials (books, journals, software, CD-ROMs, etc.), and if so, the size of that differential, so that CAUT can take meaningful steps to address the discrepancy. So far, anecdotal evidence suggests there may be a sizeable cost difference.

In addition, the committee is exploring various avenues to identify francophones at Canadian post-secondary institutions and document francophone concerns. Francophones employed in anglophone universities will be the hardest to locate, aside from the obvious francophone professors in French or modern language departments, as there is no reliable count of those working in other disciplines. The committee is also planning to host a CAUT conference to be held in either 2009 or 2010. This event could be an important rallying point for francophone academic staff nationwide, just as CAUT’s hugely successful forum earlier this year for Aboriginal faculty was for that community.

In conclusion, we can say francophones have come a long way in establishing their presence in CAUT. Aside from a good start in the 1960s, it is clear that nowadays their small numbers and varied situations have made them a nearly invisible minority. But things are looking up. With two francophone presidents and an official committee home for francophones in recent years, we can now say French-speaking CAUT members have a clear voice in the organization. Committee members are enthusiastic and deeply committed to ensuring that the interests of francophones are brought to the executive and acted on through CAUT policies and activities and that the voice of the francophone community within CAUT is heard loud and clear!

Next time: CAUT president, the best job in the world! Stay tuned.