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Collegial Governance in Ontario Colleges: The Time is Now

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The following was sent to all college faculty members today:

For the first time in the history of our division, collegial governance, including faculty academic freedom, is the highest-ranked demand coming out of the provincial demand-setting meeting.  This is a historic development; however, collegial governance and academic freedom have long been issues within the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology (CAATs).

In 1984, faculty at the CAATs went out on one of only three strikes that have occurred in the system’s 50-year history.  Unsustainable faculty workloads were a prime concern, but also at issue was growing evidence that a “factory floor” management model, in which administrators made academic decisions and faculty had little power to ensure program quality, was utterly unworkable.

In response to the 1984 strike, a provincial taskforce was struck to explore the issues that drove the job action. The result was the Skolnik Report, written by respected Ontario Institute for Studies in Education professor Michael Skolnik, which made a strong case for changing the assignment of faculty workloads and led to the Standard Workload Form (SWF).  In addition, the report made clear recommendations about faculty input into academic decision-making.

In the report, Skolnik notes:

What is perhaps most at issue here is the extent to which faculty are viewed and treated as responsible professionals whose judgement in academic matters is valued and whose opinions are sought.  Faculty should not be seen as educational technicians who must be told in detail what to do.1

In 2014, I was fortunate enough to visit all 24 Ontario colleges, and to write the Report on Education in Ontario Colleges.  What was apparent from talking to faculty across the province is that, 30 years after Skolnik first identified the problem, faculty members’ inability to meaningfully control the quality of courses and programs has reached a critical point.  Faculty grades are being changed by administrators in the interests of “retention”; academic policies are being changed to lower standards for appeal; textbooks and course materials are being dictated by administrators based on corporate partnerships, not pedagogical considerations; course evaluations are being modified to fit budgets, not learning outcomes; and faculty tasks including research, course development, professional development, and new technology training are being seen as “volunteer” activities, not as core academic work.

The erosion in quality that these trends entail becomes more acute when considering the changes taking place at Ontario’s CAATs.  Our institutions are engaging in more collaborative degree programs with university partners, offering more stand-alone applied degrees, and undertaking more applied research projects.  At a time when the importance of academic standards is higher than ever, it is untenable that faculty remain marginalized from academic decisions.

The critical situation we find ourselves in, and how collegial governance can address it, is the focus of the second issue of Ontario’s Public Colleges at 50: A Better Plan.

Our second bargaining video also illustrates the importance of this issue, and explains how a different governance model might work. Feel free to share this with your colleagues, friends, and family members to help build support for this important issue.

In my 2014 report I indicated that it was past-time that faculty became equal partners in the Ontario community college system.  Such a partnership would require sufficient full-time staffing and fairness for our contract faculty.  It would also require the colleges to address the over-30-year lack of faculty oversight over academic decision-making.

The time for collegial governance, for elected, faculty-majority senates in each college, and academic freedom for individual faculty, is now.  With your support the bargaining team is committed to achieving these goals.

Kevin MacKay
Vice-President, OPSEU Local 240
Vice-Chair, CAAT-A DivEx
2017 CAAT-A bargaining team member

1. Skolnik, M (1985) Survival or excellence: A study of instructional assignment in Ontario colleges of applied arts and technology.  Toronto: Instructional Assignment Review Committee. http://www.thecouncil.on.ca/articles/56