June 16th, 2024

Community needs to fight for the university again


By Lethbridge Herald on February 26, 2022.

Editor:

One of my favourite stories about the University of Lethbridge is related to its origins. This city fought to have its own university and it fought for that university’s autonomy. That fight culminated in a Freedom and Autonomy march held in May of 1968 in downtown Lethbridge. 

In the more than 50 years that followed, the University of Lethbridge has grown and thrived. Currently home to almost 9,000 students and over 1,000 academic and support staff, the University of Lethbridge is a key economic driver in southern Alberta. 

I came to the University of Lethbridge 11 years ago, excited to contribute to its growth as a leading research institution, eager to collaborate with many colleagues who are acclaimed researchers and teachers. My two years as a Board of Governors Teaching Chair provided me with a unique opportunity to witness the many ways my colleagues from across the university pursued their own excellence in teaching. Through our collective efforts, we cultivate alumni who are community leaders, expanding the university’s impact within our community and around the world. 

Today, the University of Lethbridge remains an institution worth fighting for. 

Through much of its 50-year history, provincial legislation did not allow for strikes or lockouts in the post-secondary sector. Instead, any impasse related to financial matters was to be resolved by an independent arbitrator selecting what they believed was the most appropriate offer of resolution from both sides, while changes to working conditions required mutual agreement. The process compelled reasonableness and compromise during negotiations. A Supreme Court ruling in 2015 on the right to strike, however, invalidated this legislation. As a consequence, strikes and lockouts have become the main tools to break impasse when reason, goodwill, and compromise fail. 

In the almost 600 days since the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association’s (ULFA) contract expired, we have seen the consequences of this change in the negotiations framework. ULFA’s members do not want to be on strike; we’d much rather be in our classrooms, our labs, and our offices working with our students. However, in the past two years the Board’s negotiators have shown themselves to be unable or perhaps unwilling to engage with ULFA’s key priorities. 

The Board’s negotiating team continues to insinuate that the reason for impasse in negotiations is the unreasonable compensation proposals put forward by ULFA. Yet, ULFA has tried to be clear that while fair compensation is important, this is not the major hurdle preventing an agreement with the Board. Even though University of Lethbridge faculty are compensated 15 per cent less, on average, than our colleagues at comparator institutions, ULFA has been flexible on expectations regarding compensation. On the eve of the strike, ULFA offered terms that equated to approximately a five per cent increase in salary over four years. The ULFA negotiating team again offered similar terms on Feb. 12. ULFA’s proposals are in line with agreements recently signed by nurses, Government of Alberta employees, and other post-secondary institutions in the province.

The main hurdle to resolving the impasse is that the Board’s negotiators seem unwilling to engage meaningfully with ULFA proposals designed to achieve greater equity, transparency, and shared decision-making at the University of Lethbridge. These include proposals to provide greater equity and employment stability for sessional instructors—the most vulnerable population of instructors within any university system; proposals to ensure the university honours long-standing clauses in our collective agreement designed to ensure transparency in how workload equity is determined and achieved at the University of Lethbridge; proposals to ensure greater transparency in the University’s budget process; and proposals for co-management of our jointly funded benefits. 

Since the strike/lockout began, the Board’s negotiating team has refused to meet with ULFA’s negotiating team. The University’s messaging suggests that this impasse may go on for quite some time. The longer this impasse lasts, the more damage it will do to the University of Lethbridge — its reputation, its community, its students, and its spirit of collegiality and respect. 

The University of Lethbridge can’t afford the damage that will be possible if things do not change. We know our Board members care about this institution but increasingly it seems they do not grasp how serious the consequences or how significant the damage could be to the university from a protracted failure to negotiate a resolution to this impasse. 

As a community, we need to empower and encourage our Board members to stand up and fight for this institution. We need to help them understand what damage a prolonged impasse will do to this university. 

If you are a student or parent who is concerned about losing the semester due to this impasse, reach out and let the Board know (names and information on the Board of Governors can be found on the University of Lethbridge website).

If you are an alumni and are concerned about damage to the reputation of the institution that granted your degree, let the Board know. 

If you are a business owner concerned about long-term reduction in student enrollment—and its downstream negative economic impact — created by a new culture of labour strife at the University of Lethbridge, let the Board know. 

If you are a member of the community concerned about how a negative working environment at the University of Lethbridge may impact the students and staff members of your community, let the Board know. 

Our community has fought for this university before, your university needs you to fight for it again. 

David Slomp

Associate Professor, Faculty of Education

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Southern Albertan

Hear, hear!

Citi Zen

As a taxpayer, I believe the University should endeavor to stop wasting money, as they have done for years on their budget planning. Historically each department head comes to his/her associates as the budget year end approaches and asks them to spend whatever is left in the budget, so they can show a reason to request an increase next budget year. Such huge waste, as they often spend the remaining funds on needless, unused items.

IMO

Do you have specific examples to substantiate your claims?

Citi Zen

Worked there 30 years. I know how it works.

Fedup Conservative

Were you a janitor? You would think you would be smart enough to understand that these phony conservatives, Reformers, starting with Ralph Klein, are screwing us out of our money, why are you supporting them?

dibble

So have I, the last six as Chair of my department. What you are describing simply does not happen in the academic units and never has in my experience.

proglacial

I think we can all agree that waste is unproductive and should be avoided. However, having being a participant in this system for 20 yrs now, I can say the opposite is true. We are frequently expected to do more with less, and in recent years, year-end has signaled that the next year will be even more lean, requiring difficult decisions over which courses will be offered or how meager resources will be allocated. The faculty invariably do what they can to protect the programs and courses so that students can graduate on time (that’s not always possible, however!). Moreover, this notion that Dept Heads at UofL come to their associates to ask them to spend their budgets is utter nonsense given at UofL Dept Heads do not have budgets in the way other universities do. Whoever you are “Citi Zen”, it’s clear you have no actual experience of what you are talking about. If you do, then please enlighten us with concrete evidence.

Last edited 2 years ago by proglacial
Fedup Conservative

You have nailed it. That’s the problem while these fools keep electing these phony conservatives, Reformers, and watch them give away our wealth they have to make up for it some place so they continue to cut our services and try to force us into a lot more privatization, yet these fools supporting them are too dumb to see it.

DanJohnson

This is why adult literacy is also important.

snoutspot4

Excellent letter.

prairiebreze

What you should be fighting for is to keep student tuition low rather than striking for a pay raise. Wages at UofL are bloated compared to the rest of society.  No wonder this strike has little support from the public. Faculty and Union care more about money than students who are suffering under massive student loans. This is all about GREED and not education.  You’re out of touch with reality.
https://www.ulethbridge.ca/governance/public-sector-body-compensation-disclosure

grinandbearit

Prairiebreze: Do you know that on average U of L faculty are not hired into a stable faculty position until they are about 40 years old? Do you know that a typical equipment operator has been earning good money since age 20, earning way more than university students, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and precarious academic contract staff, all of which are in the past of a faculty member? How much less than a tradesperson should a well-trained, satisfactory performing professor earn over their lifetime? Twenty years of very low income, plus student debt, which for the average PhD now in Canada is over $30,000 according to StatisticsCanada, must be considered. In order to catch up in lifetime earnings to a tradesperson, a professor must have higher salaries, to make an even amount they need “bloated” salaries. If you want a truly bad education for our region, then underfund the professoriate and they will go elsewhere, to places where these facts of life are understood.

Last edited 2 years ago by grinandbearit
Fedup Conservative

What would be wrong with collecting proper royalties and taxes and running the system properly like Lougheed did and Norway and Alaska are doing, instead of letting these Reformers helping their rich friends steal our oil and tax wealth like they are doin?

Elohssa Gib

On what basis is “the rest of society” the appropriate comparator? How about we compare faculty salaries with, say, those of lawyers or surgeons — you know, other professionals.

And if you want to keep student tuition within reach of the middle class, you should vote for those lefties, the NDP.

dibble

You know nothing about what is involved in getting an academic position. I lived below the poverty line until I was 32 years old and my starting salary was $4K below that of a high school teacher.
If you want to blame someone for high tuition, blame the UCP. I agree with you here insofar that our students are getting a raw deal.

DanJohnson

As a taxpayer (who has always paid more than some of the grumblers above), I fully support investment in education from K-12 to post-secondary and beyond. To fail to do so is to cut one’s own throat, as stupid a mistake as can be made. This letter is a very accurate summary.

old school

“ULFA’s members do not want to be on strike”?? Either David is a liar or lives in some sort of unrealistic bubble. Walking around with a sign being on strike is a clear 100% proof you want to be there striking. Actions speak louder than words. Also the letter shows 1 staff per only 9 students. 9000 students verses more than 1000 staff?? Not very efficient in my estimation.
As a tax payer , university supporter I urge and encourage the staff who are striking to consider the effect on students,I urge the strikers to consider the effect on the community,I urge the strikers to consider the effects of their action on working environment in the classrooms and in the community.
Passing the buck to the board is a cop-out for the alumni concerned about the institution that gave them their degree . The “reputation” ,good or bad in this case reflects on those walking around unwilling to work ,showing their disdain to the students.

Fedup Conservative

If you haven’t got anything intelligent to say why don’t you seniors just shut up. Let the intelligent Albertans speak their minds.
We know you fools who believe every lie these Reformers feed you are to blame for the mess we are in, so don’t try to hide it with stupid comments that make you look even dumber. Even our young relatives are smarter than you are.
I hope I made it clear all the seniors in my world consider themselves to be conservatives but have no respect for these stupid seniors who are just too stupid to understand it.

old school

Fed up , you are losing it. What lies reformers are feeding me are you talking about?How is this relevant to your reply to my comment? Try to reply without insults and name calling.Address my comments which have nothing to do with reformers and conservatives and stupid seniors! Sorry but you missed the boat .

Elohssa Gib

I have a suggestion — when the strike is over why don’t you call up any department you want at the UofL and ask to job shadow a prof for a week? I think you would find it an eye-opening experience.

Last edited 2 years ago by Elohssa Gib
Fedup Conservative

Dan I can remember when Ralph Klein cut taxes to benefit the rich. They total him not to do it. Our taxes were not a problem they stated and they weren’t. Klein’s daughter Angie was furious with him, she knew what it would do to us.
The truth is if Lougheed’s tax and royalty systems had been followed I doubt any of us would be paying a provincial tax today and our property taxes would be next to nothing like they are in Alaska. But these ignorant seniors would rather let these Reformers give theirs away, and they have.
Those of us from the world of finance feel when you add up all that we have lost in Taxes, Oil and Gas Royalties we have lost around $800 billion.
Angie had a right to be concerned by what her father was doing. Our family have known the Klein family since the early 1960s. Klein’s mother Flo was a good friend of my mothers.