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CAUT Bulletin Archives

May 2016

Participatory governance

Academic freedom is the key element in the fight for collegial governance, says James Compton

For CAUT’s newly-elected president, the situation is clear: academic freedom is the key element in the fight to take back collegial governance.

“I want to see campuses across the country much more engaged in issues of governance. We need to normalize collegial governance in the face of rampant managerial overreach,” said James Compton, a professor in the faculty of information and media studies at Western University.

Prior to being elected president, Compton served two years as vice-president of CAUT and also two terms as a representative-at-large on the executive committee. He is a former president and vice-president of the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association. He still acts as the faculty association’s representative on the London and District Labour Council.

At Western, Compton played a key role when the faculty association took on university president Amit Chakma following a controversy around compensation. Chakma cashed out an unused leave midway through his tenure that pushed his salary to nearly $1 million. The move outraged and mobilized the campus community.

“Where there has been a crisis, change happened, but we should not wait for crisis to mobilize our membership,” Compton said. “The current managed university isolates our members and encourages individualism by imposing performance indicators, by forcing people to fight each other for a shrinking pie of research funds and by forcing departments to fight for funding. We need to speak out. We need to take back our collegial governance.”

Compton warns that a renewal of collegial governance will only be possible if academic freedom is recognized and protected as a foundational value of universities and colleges.

“Without academic freedom, collegial governance isn’t possible,” he emphasized. “Without it, we cannot fully parti­cipate and will be reduced to being part of a rubber stamping process. Academic freedom is a core value of CAUT, the value that ties everything together. Academic freedom is not an abstraction and we have to fight for it with all the tools that we have: bargaining, grievances and activism. Academic freedom has to prevail in all aspects of research, teaching and service.”

The new CAUT president also sees greater opportunities following the results of the 2015 federal election.

“The Liberal government has acted swiftly in files that we have been active in over the last several years. They reestablished the long-form census, abolished bills C-377 and C-525, and taken steps to bolster funding for the research councils,” Compton re­marked. “That said, more needs to be done on those files, and we need to formulate a strategy and a way to speak to and lobby the government.”