By Prof. Art Redding
As President of YUFA, it is my pleasure to welcome you to the inaugural issue of Active Voice (to be issued in January 2020). At Executive, we have batted around a few provisional titles and mulled over a variety of approaches. How official should this publication be? How open to dissent, to debate? What digital format is most accessible, most appealing? How to generate interest, to cultivate readership? What about graphics?
We are agreed that YUFA should this year dedicate itself to outreach, to communication, to member engagement. Consequently, we thought it requisite to generate a forum in which our members could bat things around, share concerns, express insights, and openly debate the issues.
And there are plenty of issues, numerous concerns. Starting with the oxymoronic demand that universities develop free speech codes—when the government tells us who we can and cannot invite to campus, that ain’t freedom—the current Ontario government has targeted higher education. The Ford government followed this first initiative by gutting student funding. They have introduced a “performance-based funding” model for universities, threatening cuts of up to sixty percent. As part of what seems an entirely spurious “faculty renewal” initiative, those of us who are over 71 and legally obliged to draw pensions have been threatened with drastic pay-cuts. The government has directly attacked collective bargaining rights by threatening to impose compensation increase limits of a mere one percent.
These moves aspire to more than simply ensuring that higher education in Ontario is made crappier by the day. More worrying is that the government, in tightening financial and ideological controls over the university system, threatens our autonomy and the academic freedoms that are central to our mission as thinkers, scholars, artists, designers, and educators.
We need to preserve those rights, and to expand them. The malfeasance of the Ford government aside, there are there are numerous other matters at hand that weigh upon academics and that affect our lives on a daily basis and over the long run.
What is the most equitable and appropriate way to assess teaching, given how demonstrably biased and unreliable student evaluations have proven?
How best to move equity goals beyond mere lip-service in order to attain genuine results?
What can we as teachers do about climate change?
How best to foster the Indigenization of the university?
What of social unionism?
What sorts of outreach to the communities that surround us will prove most productive?
How to counter administrative sprawl?
How can we open the search processes for deans, various vice-presidents, the president, in order to ensure accountability from University leadership?
How can we keep the Board of Governors not only alert to our interests, but responsive?
YUFA is tackling these issues. We have groups and taskforces set up to address these issues and more. My hope is that this newsletter will also evolve into a good place to bend our heads around these problems.
Mostly, we need to hear from you. Mostly, in this forum, we need to learn to listen well.
Because I believe there is insight aplenty at York University.
I have been involved with the union for going on five years now, first as a member of the 2015 Bargaining Team, then for two years as Chief Steward, and now I am honoured to preside as President. The best part of the job has been the chance to meet so many of you from neighbourhoods in the University into which an English professor might not habitually wander.
Though these meetings have not always happened under the happiest of circumstances, I have found the encounters in many ways edifying, and in all ways illuminating. I have been wowed by the dazzling research being done here in all fields, vivified by the care you have for our students and by the innovation and professional devotion you bring to your pedagogy, and humbled by the generosity, sensitivity, and commitments that you bring to your collegial and civic life.
And I am everywhere impressed with the rich insight and deep commitment you bring to our discussions, even—and especially—when our views don’t fully align. YUFA is richer for such exchanges; York University is invigorated by the participation of all.
I envision this forum as a place to keep such encounters going, as convivially as possible, a place where we can come to share, to learn, to listen, to exchange ideas, to hone insights, to challenge each other, to argue, to debate, even perhaps to engage in high-spirited banter, a mode of public discourse I personally feel is woefully undervalued these days.
We plan to follow up with other forms of outreach. I am committed to visiting units, perhaps after regular department meetings. YUFA will be taking initiatives, hosting meetings of chairs. We will be holding our usual tenure-and-promotion workshops. We will, as always, continue to work dutifully on behalf of aggrieved members. We will be launching a series of regular monthly symposiums in et al., the new faculty and graduate student lounge and café, and hosting conversation cafés there on matters of specific and pressing concern such as climate change.
I want YUFA to be at the forefront of organized and institutional forums through which initiatives are collegially developed as well through informal venues—this one included—that can address the particular concerns of distinct units, faculties, or other groups here at York. It is important to communicate YUFA’s position, but it is, for me, much more important to listen and to listen carefully to what you have to say. What issues are most pressing on the Glendon campus? How will the reorganization of FES and Geography into a new faculty affect the working-life of our members? What’s up with the campus in Markham? What should we be emphasizing in the next round of bargaining, especially if salary increases are not on the table?
I have taught at many universities around the world, all of which have been wonderful in their own ways. I would not trade those experiences for anything. But I do believe that right now the Canadian academy is one of the best places on Earth to labour in the field of knowledge production. And this is in large part because the sector is highly unionized: estimates vary, but anywhere from 75 to 85 percent of the workforce in institutions of higher education across Canada are unionized and most have collective bargaining rights. It becomes that much harder for ideologues to control us, that much harder for the bean-counters to slash funding, that much harder for neoliberals to recast our work in “market-driven” ways, that much harder for those in power to tell us what we have to do or how to do it.
It is no secret that the university of the 21st century is shaping up to be a very different place than the post-war university in North America, a different place too than that which characterized the great wave of Canadian universities developed in the 1960s, York among them. Changes are here, they are ongoing; many of those changes prove to be maelstroms. Amidst these, the protections guaranteed by our Collective Agreement are further buttressed by a tenure system governed wholly by collegial process. We should ensure that the collegium, the community of scholars, be in control of decisions big and small, rather than leaving them to the unreliable whims of politicians or the bottom-lines of administrators.
In league with our students, our staff, and others scholars in Canada and around the world, we must ensure that we are the driver of change and not merely the passengers.
Though, given what we know about the precarious unsustainability of automobile culture, we no doubt should also come up with new metaphors.
Please help us out.