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UPDATE (19/10/12): Court dates for civil defamation suit against the editor of this blog have been post-poned and may not occur until next year. The parties may quite possibly die of old age before this gets resolved. In the meantime, I have taken down La Maison in the hope that cooler heads will prevail.

CBC has picked up

November 16, 2011
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the story of the uphill battle to unionize the professional and technical staff at UNB: “UNB fights union drive on campus,” CBCnews (16 Nov./11):

“I’ve organized a number of workers in the academic sector in Atlantic Canada, and what we seem to have happen here is an employer, despite the fact that they’re an institute of higher learning, has taken a real kind of anti-union, WalMart-type of approach whereby they’re doing everything they can to intimidate the workers,” [David] Shaw [of the Public Service Alliance of Canada] said.

Update: And now the local paper has picked it up. Be sure, as ever, to read the comments.

Three important stories from CAUT:

November 16, 2011

Media and labour

November 16, 2011

A familiar story from Manitoba:  “Brandon Sun Bias Prolongs Brandon University Strike,” Errol Black, Policy Fix: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Manitoba Office (14 Nov./11):

The actions and role of the media in small-town labour disputes play an important role in shaping community perspectives on the nature, dynamics and implications of the conflict for both the direct participants and the community at large. The media’s role is, therefore, profoundly important in all labour disputes; it is especially important in situations where deliberate bias in the coverage provided by the media results in a serious misrepresentation of a dispute that potentially involves segments of the community. The Brandon University strike is one such dispute. (more)

Meanwhile, the strike has been going on for 34 days and counting. Morale among BUFA members is reportedly high, and the Brandon University Student Union remain solid in their support of their instructors. Faculty unions across the country continue to send “flying pickets” to march with the strikers.

Straight from this morning:

October 14, 2011

$270-million pension shortfall at Dal: Dalhousie University’s pension fund now has a $270-million shortfall, more than double the figure recorded in March 2010. Dal’s VP of finance and administration attributes the shortfall to global economic uncertainty and a drop in interest rates. The Nova Scotia government has deferred the institution’s pension solvency payments until March 2013. However, Dal wants to “get its house in order” before then. The university is asking pension plan members to agree to plan structure changes to make the plan more sustainable. Noting that the plan’s structure “has worked quite well for a long time,” the faculty association president says the “concern is that the administration wants to change the pension plan principally to offload (the) deficit onto the members in the plan.” Chronicle Herald | Add/Read Comments

UPEI discontinues mandatory retirement policy: The University of Prince Edward Island announced Wednesday that it has officially dropped its mandatory retirement policy and ended all court proceedings in relation to the policy. In recent years, 6 university employees who were forced to retire when they turned 65 filed complaints to the PEI Human Rights Commission, which in February 2010 deemed the policy discriminatory. UPEI said Wednesday it would work with complainants on any remaining matters of compensation. CBC | Add/Read Comments

Ottawa appoints expert panel on international education strategy: The federal government announced yesterday the formation of an expert advisory panel to the country’s international education strategy. The panel will advise Ottawa on attracting the best and brightest international students to Canada; strengthening the country’s engagement with emerging priority markets; expanding the delivery of Canadian education services, expertise, and knowledge overseas; and promoting partnerships between Canada and educational institutions worldwide. Among the panel members are UWO president Amit Chakma (who is panel chair), Saint Mary’s University president Colin Dodds, and BCIT president Don Wright. The panel is expected to report to the international trade and finance ministers early next year, with the strategy slated to be released shortly afterwards. International Trade News Release | AUCC News Release | CBIE News Release | Polytechnics Canada News Release | Add/Read Comments

October 6, 2011

You may notice these signs while walking around either of the UNB campuses:

On the Saint John campus contact Miriam Jones at HH103; on the Fredericton campus contact AUNBT. For more information about the unionization drive for APT employes, go to the PTSU website.

Labour, management

September 29, 2011

Two links of interest:

Mr. Ginsberg argues that universities have degenerated into poorly managed pseudo-corporations controlled by bureaucrats so far removed from research and teaching that they have barely any idea what these activities involve.

Lucky we don’t have that here.

Here are three links

September 27, 2011

that have been cluttering up my browser:

A piece in Macleans that will resonate

September 27, 2011

with many of us, and that quotes our colleague June Madeley:

That’s ‘professor’ uptight to you,” Josh Dehaas, Macleans, Sept. 27/11.

The article addresses the issue of civility — or lack of it — in the classroom, and describes a cathartic Facebook group, That’s “Professor” Uptight to you, Johnny.

But Joey O’Kane, a vice-president of the University of New Brunswick Student Union, thinks it’s no big deal. He also thinks it’s reasonable to expect email responses from profs within 24 hours, preferably 12. “Professors have a pretty good gig,” he says. “You put in some office hours, you teach for a few hours and then you end up with a decent paycheque, so taking 10 minutes out of your day to respond to a few emails . . . I don’t think that’s asking too much.”

If one of our own student leaders can be under such misapprehensions about our work, and our working conditions, we as a profession clearly need to initiate some communication. Happily, Mark Sample addresses this very issue in “Making Your Work Visible,” The Chronicle of Higher Education (Sept. 6/11).

(Now please excuse me while I head over to Facebook).

Ain’t it the truth!

September 25, 2011

Found this floating around Facebook, from the Fried Rice God.

Solidarity Event in Fredericton

September 22, 2011
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The following message went out to AUNBT members this morning:

Dear AUNBT Member on the Saint John Campus:

This is to let you know that AUNBT is hosting a solidarity event for the Public Service Alliance of Canada in support of their organizing drive of APT employees on the Fredericton campus. This was scheduled to take place at the Alumni Memorial Building this morning at 11:30. At 3:10 yesterday afternoon, we were advised that our room booking had been cancelled because there would be an opportunity for APT employees to sign union cards. This is the first time in the history of AUNBT that we have had a room booking interfered with.

We are inviting all members to come to the Alumni Memorial Building at 11:30 to stand in solidarity with our APT colleagues. We know that this is very short notice, but if happen to be in Fredericton this morning, it would be great to see you.

Jula Hughes

The high costs of textbooks

September 21, 2011

A colleague, Gopalan Srinivasan, passed on the following opinion piece:

The other day my student indicated that the textbook for the course was costing almost $200 and I was shocked. The tuition for the course, which gives them about 33hours of face to face lectures, assignments, feedback and all other infrastructural support from the university, is around $500. For the text book to cost almost 40% of tuition is fundamentally wrong. I am surprised that students who raise issues about tuition, student loans and bursaries do not raise their voices more against the escalating book costs. I cannot fully explain. Maybe they are indifferent because it is added to their student loan or they go without a book and struggle. But the academic community has equally failed to express their outrage. Granted there are many of us who are authors of these text books. But the real reason for the price is the enormous margin the publishers and the distributors pocket. The secondary market for books has been systematically limited to very few runs by frequent editions with minimal change in substance. I have not see a research study that does a content analysis across editions of text books.

I wonder why, like the pharmacists, we academic cannot substitute with a cheaper generic version of a text. My guess is more than 90% of the real content required for the course can be captured in less than 25% of the pages in a text. Of course there will be a big hue and cry from the textbook publishers and to a lesser extent from authors. One can understand in the pharmaceutical industry because the original product is fully developed internally and there is an enormous research cost. A generic version uses the original manufacturer’s research. But in a text book the concepts are already in a free domain.  The rules of calculus or the formula for present value are not the invention of the authors. The text book can best be described as a bottled water business. The water business uses by and large the municipal water —mind you the capture and purification has  been paid buy us — and bottle it and sell to us as healthy and convenient. They may even spend promotional costs convincing us that the municipal water is not safe!

I think a good part of the responsibility goes to our educational system that has been built under the premise that students have to be motivated, not challenged, and that they need job skills, not education.

If we have a generic book that defines interest as “I” whereas another book defines interest as “r” and the students complain that the generic book has the wrong formulas, then they deserve to pay more for text books. A colleague of mine was telling me that when he used a cheaper text and supplemented with his own notes the students felt they had been short changed as the other class had a BIG book.

Look at the irony. The current generation of students are technologically savvy and I am not, whereas  my (hypothetical) publisher pays me to include in the text instructions for a specific financial calculator: press the PMT button, press “F1” press “=” etc. It takes me more time to locate those keys than to get the answer manually! I do not know how suddenly we are selling nails to blacksmiths.

What kind or reactions can one expect from the students?  Those who can afford it will consider buying a book to give themselves a “competitive advantage” and in their mind the high priced books may eliminate the “weak links”. There others who do not see it as a cost because it is all deferred in their student loans. But there will be quite a few who will be enterprising enough to circumvent the high cost. Of course copyright violations may occur, which may be illegal. But in their minds that is one way to recapture the consumer deficit. Just like bribes, which are a distribution of consumer surplus across parties, copyright violations may be a way of reducing consumer deficit. Both acts are illegal. But then, as Oliver Goldsmith once said, “Laws grind the poor, and rich men rule the law” (“The Traveller,” l.386)




Request for support

September 6, 2011

The following message from UWOFA went out today:

Dear Supporters:

Re: Targeted email campaign in support of Western Librarians and Archivists on Wednesday 7 September between 8:00 am and 12:00 pm (noon).

Western’s unionized Librarians and Archivists have a strike deadline of 12:01 am on Thursday 8 September. Outstanding issues include the disrespectful long-standing pay gap of 20 per cent between Western Librarians and Archivists – most of whom are women – and colleagues at comparative universities in Ontario.

With your support and assistance, we can avert a strike or lock-out.  UWOFA is sponsoring a targeted email campaign in support of the Librarians and Archivists for TOMORROW, Wed 7 September between 8:00 am and 12:00 pm.

To participate, all you need to do is send an email to Western President, Amit Chakma, and the Chair of Western’s Board of Governors, Frank Angeletti.

Amit Chakma:
Frank Angeletti:

Tell them you support a fair an equitable contract for Western’s Librarians and Archivists.  If you cannot send an email at the suggested time, please send it any time today or tomorrow.  Every email message of support will help us.

Here is a sample letter that you can use:

Dear President Chakma and Western Board of Governors Chair Angeletti:

I am writing to express my support for Western’s Librarians and Archivists.  I hope that the university administration will agree to a fair and equitable contract before the strike deadline on September 8th.  In particular, I hope Western will recognize the disrespectful long-standing pay gap of 20 per cent between Western Librarians and Archivists – most of whom are women – and colleagues at comparative universities in Ontario.




Thank you for your help!

Bryce Traister, UWOFA President

In honour of Labour Day,

September 5, 2011

links to two commentaries from our cousins to the south:

The blood and sweat behind Labor Day,” Kenneth Davis, Special to CNN (Sept. 2/11):

[I]t is worth recalling President Abraham Lincoln’s words during the dark early days of the real Civil War. “Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed,” he told Congress in December 1861. “Labor is the superior of capital and deserves much the higher consideration.”

The last Labor Day?” E.J. Dionne Jr., The Washington Post  (Sept. 4/11):

[I]t would take a brave man to point out that unions “grew up from the struggle of the workers — workers in general but especially the industrial workers — to protect their just rights vis-a-vis the entrepreneurs and the owners of the means of production,” or to insist that “the experience of history teaches that organizations of this type are an indispensable element of social life.”

That’s what Pope John Paul II said (the italics are his) in the 1981 encyclical “Laborem Exercens.” Like Lincoln, John Paul repeatedly asserted “the priority of labor over capital.”

Put this on your reading lists, people

July 14, 2011

The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters, Benjamin Ginsberg (Oxford University Press, 2011). From Dan Berrett’s review in Inside Higher Ed:

In prose that is by turns piquant, sarcastic and largely dismissive of many administrators, Ginsberg marshals anecdotes from his 40 years of experience at Hopkins and Cornell University, as well as from accounts from other campuses. He juxtaposes these with historical analysis and data showing that the growth in the ranks of administrators (85 percent) and associated professional staff (240 percent) has far outstripped the increase in faculty (51 percent) between 1975 and 2005….

Ginsberg lays at administrators’ feet a host of perceived ills: the increased curricular focus on vocational education instead of one grounded in the liberal arts; an emphasis on learning outside the classroom in lieu of core academic disciplines; the transformation of research from an instrument of social good and contributor to human knowledge to an institutional revenue stream; and the limiting of tenure and academic freedom.

Tea Party inspires retrograde forces in N.B.

July 2, 2011

Well heck, why not join the club? If an article that concludes that anti-union actions such as we are seeing in the U.S. are unlikely in Canada, its title, “Clashing with the unions,” is certainly dramatic. Any “clashing” in Canada will not, Charles Enman somewhat wistfully concludes, reach the pitch of the recent battles in Wisconsin, for example.

On the other hand, as we in the PSE biz know all too well, the proverbial “death of a thousand cuts” can be just as effective, in the long run, as a full-frontal assault. Or, as a farm-bred colleague confided to me during the height of the PSE struggle in 2007, one can castrate an animal just as effectively with an elastic band as with a knife.

The old put-the-frog-in-cool-water-in-a-saucepan-and-turn-up-the-heat scenario. That would seem to be more the Canadian way.

In other words, don’t go head-to-head, but appoint Conciliation Boards to undercut collective bargaining as happened recently to both UNB and UdeM. (Though arguably, Harper has indeed embraced the confrontational tactics of the tea party with his Reaganesque treatment of Canadian postal workers.)

Here in New Brunswick, if the comments on the above-mentioned article are anything to go by, the battle for hearts and minds is either going very well indeed or down the toilet, depending on your perspective. In keeping with our theme of unpleasantness to animals, we New Brunswickers are — are encouraged to be — like crabs in a bucket: if I can’t reach the top, no-one will.

But instead of grousing that some people have better pensions/salaries/working conditions than we do and concluding that they shouldn’t, why not instead regard those better pensions/salaries/working conditions as the bar to which we all could aspire?

Now this is where the powers-that-be start to intone their dire prognostications about “the budget.”

Smoke and mirrors, my friends, smoke and mirrors.

“The budget” is not a force of nature, it is a human invention. And as such, it can be tinkered with, changed, or rejected outright.

The powers-that-be are doing their best to wind us all up about about the shrinking size of the “pie”, in the hopes that we don’t notice the bags of flour, jars of preserves, and pounds of butter off to the side.

Simple question: if things are so bad all over, might we not consider, rather than taking away from those who have the least, looking at the apparently sacrosanct principle that lower corporate taxes create jobs? Because from where I am sitting, a very long period of very low corporate taxes would seem to have resulted in very few jobs indeed.

And as a parting shot: it really gets on my wick when media tries to divide “union members” from “taxpayers” or “average Canadians.” Union members also pay taxes. Lots of taxes. The more successful they are at bargaining wages, the more taxes they pay. And they may not be the majority, but at one-third of all Canadian workers, they — we — are hardly a “special interest group” or an “elite.”

Though if today’s article is anything to go by, there are many who wish we were.

Setting the bar

June 15, 2011

From The Onion, apparently America’s finest news source.


June 13, 2011

UK: The fight for the humanities begins in earnest“, Bob Brecher, University World News 175 (12 June/11): against the privatization of education in the Humanities.

Academe’s Entitled Class“, Don Troop, The Chronicle of Higher Education (10 June/11): on ever-more confusing job titles.

What’s Next for Wisconsin?” Dan Berrett, Inside Higher Ed (6 June/11).

Student debt bankrupting a generation“, Mary Teresa Bitti, Financial Post (4 June/11): Student debt in Canada reaches $20 billion.

Lecturers back strike action over fee rises and cuts in spending“, Richard Garner, The Independent (31 May/11): In Canada, we look away from the situation in the UK at our peril.

Frank Donahue posts about the fate of the Humanities in the U.S.A.: 123.

Yale in Singapore: Lost in Translation“, Christopher L. Miller, The Chronicle of Higher Education (1 May/11): on building foreign campuses: “Singapore’s discrimination becomes Yale’s.”

Why Privacy Matters Even if You Have ‘Nothing to Hide’“, Daniel J. Solove, The Chronicle of Higher Education (15 March/11): “If you have nothing to hide, then you don’t have a life.”

Cult Stud Mugged: Why We Should Stop Worrying and Learn To Love a Hip English Professor“, Kevin Mattson, Dissent (31 Jan./11).

With these reversals in view, let me go full circle and propose a master narrative for contemporary American intellectual life: the silliness of the nineties has melted into a seriousness for the 2000s (and hopefully beyond). It feels as if the country’s going through a change similar to that from the twenties to the thirties.

Redistributing the debt onto our youth

March 22, 2011

If there even was a honeymoon, I’m guessing today’s budget means it’s over, except perhaps for other “Irving men.”


March 22, 2011

A Heavier Load in Ohio,” Dan Berrett, Inside Higher Ed (22 Mar/11): “Governor’s plan to force faculty to teach one more class every two years sparks more bitterness.”

Of course now that state legislators in Ohio, in a cosmically cynical misuse of the idea of collegial governance, are in the process of re-categorizing faculty as “management” and stripping them of their right to collectively bargain, the proverbial writing is on the proverbial wall.

Catching up on some news & views

March 15, 2011


“We think the government should look at the amount other provinces are putting up to help their universities attract students,” [University of New Brunswick chancellor Richard] Currie said. “We’ve been forwarding them the information, but haven’t heard back.

“I’m not sure they are even reading what we send to them.”

Alex Bailey, the NBFL’s vice-president for youth, said one way to offset the rising cost of education is to raise minimum wage in the province.

“Young students are also young workers,” said Bailey. “Students can’t pay their fees because wages are low.”


“We also provide a section concerning what not to do, including following the example of the U.K., where schools consciously seek out the “disengaged student market” and provide them with (pseudo-) vocational programs of dubious merit and relevance in the labor force.”

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Fred DeLorey, a spokesman for the Conservative Party, said “not from us” when asked about the massive information requests on the two professors.

Sara MacIntyre, a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister’s Office, said since the law guarantees the anonymity of the requester, she wouldn’t speculate on who was seeking the information on Attaran and Mendes.


Inside Higher Ed asked faculty union leaders in Ohio, the state with both a strong base of academic unions and a current proposal that would end collective bargaining, why they are so concerned — and what contract provisions they see exemplifying their role.

The answers provided by Ohio’s unions didn’t emphasize money, perhaps because these days there’s not a lot of money to go around. Instead the responses focused on the way contracts can force colleges to maintain equitable, predictable policies and procedures that relate to everything from how one is evaluated for tenure to how many courses one teaches.

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