College leaders reflect workplace culture, change starts at the bargaining table

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Dear colleagues,

Please find enclosed a letter sent this week to the College Employer Council (CEC) on behalf of your CAAT-S PT Bargaining Chair and Division Chair. Following the unacceptable public conduct of Conestoga President John Tibbits, it was necessary and prudent to highlight the importance of stronger, proactive protections against sexual harassment and the opportunity to secure those provisions through language we have tabled in bargaining.

The College Employer Council (CEC) has since responded, indicating their commitment to continue this important conversation at our next bargaining dates, just around the corner – March 25th through 28th. Please find the text of the letter enclosed below.

In solidarity,

Noor Aksander, CAAT-S PT Bargaining Chair
Sara McArthur Timofejew, CAAT-S PT Division Chair

As College Support Part-Time Divisional Executive Chair and Bargaining Team Chair, we are writing to the College Employer Council with grave concerns regarding the present state of college leadership and a culture permissive of sexual violence.

As you are well aware, recent events that occurred in an extremely public forum have called into question the integrity of leadership at Conestoga College. On February 13th, Conestoga’s President John Tibbits made discriminatory remarks during a public forum at the college. These comments have been widely reported on, circulating via local and regional media in full view of the student and working body of Conestoga College and every other college in this province.

Tibbits’ comments evoke misogynistic and sexist histories that are discriminatory towards sex workers and cast international students in a negative, and frankly racist, light. We cannot pay lip service to the idea of no tolerance for sexual misconduct and in the same breath allow for college leadership to normalize using discriminatory language. The language evoked by Tibbits is the tip of the iceberg: if such derogatory remarks are used freely in the public domain, what language and conduct occurs behind closed doors?

While the leadership of Conestoga College has been brought into disrepute, recent events also raise serious concerns around college leadership across the board. Tibbits’ conduct undermines the confidence of current and potential students, whether gender-marginalized or international, that their dignity and worth is respected within their schools. If leadership cannot action their commitments to address sexual harassment, misconduct, and violence, let alone abide by college codes of conduct, how can we expect students and workers to maintain confidence that they will be treated equitably on college campuses? We cannot allow incidents like this to happen again: we need more robust training in place for all staff at our colleges, especially for leadership.

Safety at our colleges cannot be an afterthought. We have tabled stronger and more proactive sexual harassment language at the bargaining table. You, as the Employer, can show your commitment to ensuring a safe and healthy working environment by agreeing to it. The proposed language allows for a qualified, trained investigator to handle all complaints and requires compulsory sexual harassment and violence training for all staff.

Workers can’t afford to wait for stronger provisions against sexual violence, and the colleges can’t afford to incur further damage to their reputation. Our proposal contains language that will create direly needed opportunities to identify and address ways to grow. Your last expressed position was that the current language is “adequate.” Recent events have laid bare the gaps in existing frameworks and demonstrated that existing sexual harassment language is anything but adequate.

Committing to our proposed language will send a strong message to students and workers across Ontario that meaningful commitments are being made by the colleges to remedy the damage to public trust. The mark of true leadership is forged through strong precedents in adversarial times. Not only has John Tibbits failed this litmus test, the CEC will fail to live up to its leadership mandate should it fail to distance itself from Tibbits’ behaviour and make choices that demonstrate its commitment to safe working and learning environments.

We look forward to hearing back from you on this issue at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely,

Noor Aksandar, CAAT-S PT Bargaining Chair
Sara McArthur Timofejew, CAAT-S PT Division Chair