Apr 27 2009

Report Back from U.S. Conference of the Network for Academic Renewal

Category: NewsBob Hanke @ 5:45 pm

After the Crash, Scholars Say, Higher Education Must Refocus on Its Public Mission
By David Glenn (excerpted from the Chronicle of Higher Education, April 17, 2009, Volume 55, Issue 32, Page A10)

The economic crisis weighed on the minds of the 200 scholars who gathered here this month for a national conference of the Network for Academic Renewal, a project of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. But even as the federal government announced that 660,000 more jobs had been lost in March, several of the speakers here saw — or perhaps grasped for — reasons for hope.

The recession, they said, might be a time for colleges to renew their implicit contract with the public, and for faculty members to reassert their standing as professionals.

Many of the assumptions of the dizzy boom years seem suddenly untenable,” said William M. Sullivan, a senior scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, in a lecture. “In post-crash America, there will be more intense demands for scrutiny and accountability as to the effectiveness of academe at fulfilling its public mission.”

If colleges — and their faculty members — want to maintain their autonomy in the face of such scrutiny, Mr. Sullivan said, they should demonstrate that they are committed to education as a public good. The public must be persuaded, he said, that colleges are not insular and self-absorbed, and that diplomas and academic laboratories have not been reduced “to the status of commodities.”

A similar warning was sounded by Gary Rhoades, general secretary of the American Association of University Professors, during a plenary session.

Some academic institutions, Mr. Rhoades said, have abandoned their public missions as they have pursued tokens of status and wealth.

“The chasing of revenue, the chasing of students who can pay higher and higher tuition, the chasing of technology-transfer money, and the status seeking that comes from trying to recruit ‘better’ students — all of that has taken us away from the idea that education is a path for upward social mobility,” Mr. Rhoades said. “All of the evidence is that over the last 15 or 20 years, we have actually been increasing social stratification with what we’re doing in the academy.”

Mr. Sullivan, Mr. Rhoades, and several other speakers also called for a renewed idea of the professoriate as a profession. But the speakers offered a range of different ideas about what faculty professionalism actually requires.

The most austere vision came from Neil W. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Saint Thomas School of Law and director of its Thomas E. Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions. Mr. Hamilton argued that the heart of professionalism is upholding norms and policing one’s peers. Just as law students are required to take courses in professional responsibility, Mr. Hamilton said, graduate students should be required to study research ethics.

Faculty members can justify and protect their autonomy, he said, only if they have a shared understanding of what counts as good and bad behavior.

“A professional cannot defend what he or she does not understand,” Mr. Hamilton said. He said he doubted that most of his colleagues could coherently defend tenure and faculty autonomy in a five-minute conversation with a skeptical trustee or state legislator. “The profession carries an ongoing burden,” he said, “to justify academic freedom, peer review, and shared governance.”

Oddly, in all this talk of academic ethics, faculty autonomy, and external interference, no one mentioned the issue of the moment: Ward Churchill’s successful lawsuit against the University of Colorado.)

In his lecture, Mr. Rhoades, too, called for new faculty members to be more deeply socialized into the ethos of the academy. But he suggested that it is the structure of the academic work force, and not any lack of ethics training, that is the most serious barrier to faculty professionalism.

Adjuncts, Mr. Rhoades said, are almost never given the time, training, and job security that would allow them to develop professional identities at a particular college. He called for a new commitment to full-time, tenure-track jobs.

“You cannot have a fully engaged faculty if less than a third of them are in secure-track positions,” he said. “Would you want a work force in the health-care field that was just, ‘Oh, you know what? You can have part-time positions.’?”


Op-Ed of the WeekEnd of the University as We Know it by Mark C. Taylor.

Blog Post of the WeekMore Drivel From the New York Times by Marc Bousquet.

Apr 27 2009

Majority of Members Abstain from Ratifying New Collective Agreement

Category: Post-strike Discussion (2009)Bob Hanke @ 12:51 pm

While the April 24, 2009 headlines read CUPE 3903 ratifies mediated multi-year agreements with York University, here is a breakdown of the actual Unit 2 voting results:

70% Yes (117 people voted)
28% No (46 people voted)
2% spoiled ballots (4 people voted)

With about 900 members, this represents only 18.5 % of the eligible voters. 733 people, or 81.4%, abstained from voting altogether. If participation in voting is essential to give legitimacy to political-economic authority and decision making, these results suggest that this “negotiated agreement” lacks such legitimacy.

President Shoukri claims that York “values the skills and talents of our employees.” In reality, graduate employees and contract faculty are the ghosts in the massified teaching factory. More of the curriculum has been allocated to them but they appear and disappear only to be replaced by new Ph.Ds or hired on per-course contracts to fill curricular holes as needed. The 2008-09 York University strike was, in the first instance, symptomatic of a university system in crisis. The results indicate that contract faculty feel too demoralized and depressed to vote when they have been stripped of their democractic right to collective bargaining in the name of  “financial stability.” They may feel devalued when the interests of “students based upon academic integrity” are pitted against any collective effort to expose the casualization of acadmic labour and its consequences.

In short, the results show that we have much work to do before the next round of collective bargaining begins. In the double crisis of the university and the economy, continuous organizing and mobilizing will be necessary. Let us work together so as to not waste this crisis.

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Apr 14 2009

Vote for the best CUPE Website!

Category: Point of Informationjonnyj @ 8:53 am

Starting April 1, 2009, CUPE members can vote for their favourite CUPE website. Voting will continue until April 30. We’ll announce the winner on May 1st, 2009.
Vote for the CUPE website of the year.

Here are the rules:

  • You can only vote once
  • You can nominate any CUPE website whether it’s listed or not by typing in its address on the voting page
  • Websites that get more nominations will also be listed on the voting page

Vote for this site for CUPE website of the year


Apr 09 2009

Another Way Must be Tried

Category: News,Post-strike Discussion (2009)Bob Hanke @ 8:59 am
After Nine Months, a Labour Pact at York U.


Strike-weary York University can look forward to at least two years of labour peace if teaching assistants and contract faculty approve a tentative deal reached this week.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees 3903, which shut down the sprawling campus this winter for three months in a strike largely over the growing use of part-time instructors, has reached a tentative three-year settlement with York with the help of a mediator appointed two months ago by Queen’s Park.

The union representing 3,400 contract professors, teaching assistants and graduate assistants announced yesterday on its website it was “pleased” to have reached a settlement with York after nine months of negotiations.

The contract would apply until September 2011.

The Ontario government legislated the union back to work in February after the longest university strike in English-speaking Canada, and handed the dispute to a mediator.

But for students facing another two months of school because of the extended school year, news of the agreement seemed anti-climactic.

“I hope both sides are happy, but now that I’m back in class, they can take as long as they want to get a deal,” said kinesiology student Catherine Divaris, who helped launch a website during the 85-day strike urging an end to the disruption.

“Because of the strike I’m in midterms in April instead of finals,” said the fourth-year student, who has applied to law schools across the province, including York’s Osgoode Hall.

“The one good thing is, a three-year deal means there is no danger of another strike until at least 2011.”


Another “good thing” for York students and contract faculty who feel access to education is a democratic right and a public good, and not just another commodified service and a private value, would be to start mobilizing to  strike against tuition hikes.  Last week, the L’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante organized strikes with several universities and CEGEPS,  drawing students into the streets with calls for free education. To read more, click here.


Commentary of Last Month: Lessons of the York University Strike by Chris Bailey, March 2, 2009.

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Apr 06 2009

New OCUFA Survey in Sync with Strike Issues

Category: Post-strike Discussion (2009),ResearchBob Hanke @ 8:48 pm

OCUFA has sounded the warning over declining quality again, but are the full-time university president and the part-time Board of Governors listening?

In Profs blast lazy first-year students, Toronto Star education reporter writes:

The question on student preparedness was part of a larger survey of professors completed in February and March that asked about all aspects of campus life. More than 60 per cent of professors said they were teaching larger classes than three years ago, and that not only has hiring slowed down, but so has the creation of full-time tenured positions – which was an issue in the recent strike by teaching assistants and contract faculty at York University.

To read the whole April 6, 2009 front-page story, click here.

To download the key findings of this online province-wide survey, click on the OCUFA 2009 Questionnaire.

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