CAUT Council members vote for sanctions against the administration of Athabasca University & the University of Manitoba, during a meeting in Ottawa May 2. The unanimous vote by Council triggers the possibility of censure unless the universities take steps to remedy violations of basic university governance principles & address concerns about academic freedom.
The administrations of Athabasca University and the University of Manitoba face possible censure by CAUT Council in November unless they agree to remedy violations of basic university governance principles and address concerns about academic freedom.
Delegates to CAUT’s Council meeting this month voted unanimously to give notice to the institutions that unless the situations are suitably resolved censure will be imposed at the next council meeting.
A CAUT investigatory committee report released in January found that events at the University of Manitoba’s economics department “cumulatively constituted violations of academic freedom by producing an environment within which the scholarship of heterodox colleagues was undermined.” The committee further concluded that the workplace climate had become “corrosive and dysfunctional to the point of crisis.”
Despite being aware of the serious problems in the department, the university administration has failed to successfully resolve the situation.
“We’re still hopeful we can use the next six months to find a solution,” said CAUT executive director David Robinson. “But if there’s no progress, the administration will face censure in November.”
In February, CAUT warned Athabasca University’s interim president Peter MacKinnon about “serious allegations of a violation of collegial governance” concerning approval to set up student call centres that faculty warned had pedagogical implications.
The letter, sent by Robinson said: “I am aware that your administration informed all staff last year that it has ‘settled on’ a ‘Student Success Centre’ model which will eventually be used in all faculties across the campus. In its communication, the university made clear it knows that the call centre model will directly affect teaching and learning. Consequently, we would expect that the decision would need to be approved by the General Faculties Council.
“On Sept. 17, 2014, the GFC passed a motion that effectively directed the university to suspend implementation of the student success centre model until the matter was brought back to GFC to consider the issue and make recommendations. We are particularly alarmed to hear that you took this GFC motion to be advice only, and not a directive. This changed the intent of the motion and undermined GFC. This heavy handed approach is contrary to the traditions of collegial governance in Canadian universities generally.”
He also reminded MacKinnon that “the collective agreement between the university and the Athabasca University Faculty Association protects academic freedom, with specific reference to teaching. Academic freedom is threatened by the university’s pre-emptive commitment to a model which will affect the relationship between faculty members and students.”
Robinson says the allegations are concerning given that implementation is currently underway. “University requirements were not followed with absolute propriety, and it is quite unusual for something like this to get to this point,” he said.
The issue was referred to CAUT’s Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee, and debated at CAUT Council on May 2.
“We’re still willing to open a dialogue to avoid censure,” Robinson said. “All parties have an obligation to do everything in their power to remedy the situation.”
Censure was last imposed in 2008 on First Nations University of Canada.