Dispute over tenure has left faculty without a contract since April
A plan to more closely scrutinize the tenure process could lead to a strike, and the cancellation of classes at Carleton University. Faculty will vote whether to give its union a strike mandate on Oct 4 and 5. The Carleton University Academic Staff Association (CUASA), representing around 830 professors and librarians, has been in negotiations with the administration since the end of April when their contract expired.
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At the centre of the dispute is the process of tenure and promotion, and negotiations haven’t even begun to touch on wages, according to CUASA president Johannes Wolfart. “Nobody wants to be bargaining this hard on tenure procedures,” he said.
Earlier this Month, Carleton released a proposal to revamp its tenure process in an effort to bring it inline with other Canadian universities. Among the recommendations are to seek external peer review for candidates, whereas now all peer reviews are internal. The length of tenure-track positions would increase from three years to six years, and a more standardized tenure process would be established across the university, as opposed to the wide variation that currently exists between departments. Candidates for tenure would also be assessed “within the context of the university’s reputation and status.”
The report indicated a failure to reach consensus, between faculty and the university, on at least three points. They include proposals to strengthen the authority of an appeal committee to make final “binding” decisions, a role for an arbitrator to award tenure, and the ability for the president to overturn tenure decisions. In the case of the president, a tenure recommendation would be overturned in the event of a procedural error, not for “substantive” reasons related to the quality of the applicant.
When asked to clarify which items the faculty union is disputing and why, Wolfart said he would not speak to anything specific in the report. “That document is actually verbatim their bargaining proposal,” he said. Wolfart did say that the administration is implying “that the reputational problems at Carleton are somehow to be laid at the feet of the faculty.”
Jason MacDonald, Carleton’s director of public relations, disagrees. “Carleton’s an outstanding university, we’ve got outstanding faculty doing groundbreaking work, doing headline grabbing research,” he said. “This is about making sure that the processes we have in place around tenure and promotion . . . reflect the standards that are being applied at other leading institutions right across Canada.”
There is some disagreement over exactly what the collective agreement permits in terms of work stoppage. While the faculty association has called for a strike vote, MacDonald says striking is not allowed within the contract. “Our view on the issue is that they aren’t actually in a position to strike, that the collective agreement would require the parties to submit to binding arbitration,” he said.
Both sides point to the fact that Carleton has never had a faculty strike. There are approximately 19,000 full and part undergraduate students attending the university.
Photo of picket line at York University during the 2008-09 strike