Nova Scotia’s Bill 100 gets a thumbs down at CAUT’s Council meeting May 1. Delegates voted unanimously to condemn the bill, called the Universities Accountability & Sustainability Act, as an unacceptable violation of constitutional rights, university autonomy & academic freedom.
CAUT will move to censure any Nova Scotia university attempting to trigger a new provincial law that removes their workers’ right to strike, undermines academic freedom, and imposes debilitating fines on unions or their representatives who don’t fall into line.
Delegates to CAUT’s annual meeting this month voted unanimously in condemnation of Bill 100, also known as the Universities Accountability and Sustainability Act — and since speedily passed into law May 5 by the province’s Liberal government — as an unacceptable violation of constitutional rights, university autonomy and academic freedom.
“In the event you seek to use the powers in the legislation that take away the right to strike and grant government unprecedented powers to direct and determine research and instructional priorities, CAUT will immediately proceed with censure,” warned CAUT executive director David Robinson in a letter
sent to each president of Nova Scotia’s universities.
Bill 100 allows universities claiming financial difficulties to submit “revitalization plans” to the province that if accepted would ban strikes or lockouts for a 12 to 18 month period, and prevent any new collective agreements from being concluded. Additionally, unions and their representatives can be fined up to $100,000 for non-compliance, with a further fine of $10,000 for each day of a continuing offence.
Kelly Regan, the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education, maintains the bill is necessary to give her department a clearer picture of university finances, but Association of Nova Scotia University Teachers president Marc Lamoureux called the government’s representations over the bill “laughable.”
“This law stands to put institutions of higher learning at the behest of large-scale industry and business, destroy collective bargaining, undermine bicameral university governance and, despite all that, entirely fail to provide the financial accountability that universities actually need: oversight measures designed to ensure that the core academic mission of universities is not short-changed in the name of short-term economic targets,” he said.
Under the law, a university’s revitalization plan must contain certain elements, including “a plan for the effective exchange of knowledge and innovation with the private sector, turning research into business opportunities,” as well as “analysis of potential opportunities and cost savings that could be achieved through collaboration with other universities, including by the elimination, consolidation and specialization of faculties, departments and programs.”
If a university does not include these elements in its plan, the law states that “it must include an analysis of and reasons why it does not.”
The legislation also empowers the government to bestow or withhold grants based on a lengthy list of requirements, including evidence of the sustainability of the institutions’ financial operations, and compliance with an outcomes agreement.
“This bill is essentially program prioritization on steroids,” Robinson said. “What is most surprising and disappointing about the bill has been the silence of senior university leaders in not raising their voices against this attack on institutional autonomy and fundamental academic values.”
The passage of the law follows on the heels of the province’s latest budget which blindsided students by giving carte blanche to university administrators to raise tuition in a one-time “market adjustment” to fees for domestic, undergraduate students. As well, the budget permanently removed the 3 per cent tuition cap for international and out-of-province students, and all graduate students.
Although many of the province’s schools have not yet announced increases, Dalhousie University responded with a 3 per cent tuition increase, and cuts to faculty and department budgets.
Cape Breton University will phase in a fee increase of nearly 20 per cent over four years, while also reducing faculty and staff jobs.