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CAUT Bulletin Archives

March 2013

Mass protest on University of Manitoba campus

Union members & supporters rally at the University of Manitoba Feb. 13, 2013.
Union members & supporters rally at the University of Manitoba Feb. 13, 2013.
The University of Manitoba Faculty Association and five other on-campus unions teamed up in an epic day of protest Feb. 13 to send their message of frustration and dissatisfaction to university administrators.

Supporters gathered by the hundreds outside the university’s administration building to voice concerns about corporatization, privatization, contracting out, diminished collegial governance and increased workloads at the school, all of which they say are not only negatively impacting academic staff, but also students.

“The current administration has a whole different way of interpreting what a university should be,” said faculty association president Sharon Alward. “The notion of academia is being downplayed, and a top-down hierarchal approach is in place. We aren’t being listened to, and these problems aren’t going away.”

Alward also said while the university is spending freely on advertising and for image-enhancing consultants, departmental leaders face possible budget cuts of three to five per cent next year.

In speeches to the crowd at the rally, union reps cited plummeting morale not only among academic staff, but throughout the university community due to mistreatment of workers, growing workloads and a host of recently introduced “efficiencies,” which have eroded working conditions.

U of M president David Bar­nard’s decision to reduce the number of faculties from 20 to 13 over the next four years is another sweeping change with as yet unknown consequences, according to Alward.

“Professors have no idea what will happen to their autonomy, tenure, promotion or the accreditation of their academic field,” she said.

Controversy also continues to swirl around International College of Manitoba (ICM), a for-profit foreign-owned “pathway” school for first-year international students, situated on campus.

Since ICM’s establishment in 2008, faculty have raised concerns about both the lack of transparency surrounding the university’s contract with Australia-based parent company Navitas, and the lack of oversight of the school’s teaching and recruiting practices.

But ICM is just one example of a growing trend toward circumvention of collegial processes, Alward said.

The university’s purchase of the former 120-acre Southwood Golf Course lands adjacent to the Fort Garry campus in Winnipeg, is rankling to both staff and students, who remain shut out from any part of the decision-making process around development.

Neither the composition nor selection of the jury overseeing design bids were brought before the senate for review or discussion, and no members of the university community except for president Barnard sit on the jury as voting members.

“This is total disregard for the collegial process and completely excludes the university’s primary stakeholders — all of us,” Alward said.

University of Manitoba Students’ Union president Bilan Arte called students the “major stakeholder” in the land’s development, and noted that while affordable student housing is desperately needed, the union’s efforts to steer development in a “student-focused” path have been met with “resistance and opposition” from the administration.

The unions present at the pro­test included UMFA, UMSU — the largest students’ association in Manitoba, CAW Local 3007, CUPE locals 3909 and 1482, and the Association of Employees Supporting Education Services. Collectively they represent 5,200 unionized academic staff and more than 22,000 students at the U of M.