June 20th, 2024

Faculty strike the last resort after 600 days with no contract


By Lethbridge Herald on March 11, 2022.

Editor:

Professors at the University of Lethbridge are known to be great teachers; however, it is perhaps less known that they are also top-notch researchers. Since the role of research in the university and the effect of the strike on research is less visible than the impact on teaching, we decided to write this letter.

For a typical faculty member, research constitutes 40 per cent of our duties, and it makes significant contributions to our community and society in a wide variety of disciplines. 

For example, U of L professors are developing new treatments for epilepsy, doing research on genetics to find causes and treatments for Alzheimer\’s disease, finding ways to better diagnose brain injury, and are studying early brain development to help our kids to achieve their full potential. U of L professors work to help children in speech development both at home and in educational settings, and we work with our Lethbridge community to reduce the societal and health effects of addictions, overcome trauma and improve mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Our professors also engage in all kinds of fieldwork, from anthropological studies of other societies to long-term biological field studies, both in Canada and globally. Such studies offer our students wonderful training opportunities: they are given the chance to travel and encounter different environments and cultures, enriching their own life experiences at the same time as their work contributes new knowledge about the natural world, and deepens our understanding of humans’ place in nature. 

Astrophysicists at the U of L develop instrumentation for space exploration missions working closely with the Canadian Space Agency, European Space Agency, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and NASA. Two of those instruments are in orbit; a flight spare of one of these instruments is on permanent display in the Science Museum in London (UK), adjacent to Isaac Newton’s telescope and the Apollo 10 command module. Physics professors use quantum physics to understand the contents and evolution of our universe and to design quantum computers, the computers of the future. The list goes on. In fact, many scientific discoveries which have greatly benefited our society, such as transistors, the computer and the internet, GPS technology, and most medical treatments, would not be possible without research performed by academics like us. Our research greatly enriches our teaching — conducting research requires that we have a deep knowledge of all the latest developments and cutting-edge findings in our respective fields, and we pass this knowledge along to our students at all levels of study.

We also offer our students opportunities to get involved with our research, and thereby contribute to making scholarly and scientific advances themselves. What this means is that we do our research during the teaching terms as well as full-time during the summer. 

We involve and supervise undergraduate and graduate students in our labs. We give well-attended Public Professor lectures in the community and regularly open our labs to high school students to communicate our research as well as to inspire the next generation of researchers. 

We bring in millions of dollars each year as research grants from provincial, federal, and international funding agencies, and use the bulk of these funds to support undergraduates and graduate students to join us in our research. Students, in turn, spend that money in Lethbridge on food, shelter, clothing and entertainment, which is an important boost to our local economy.

 For many of us, working 50, 60 or 70 hours a week is not uncommon. Why do we do it? Because we love what we do, we care for our students and we want to make our University and our community a better place. 

The faculty at the U of L have taken the extraordinary step to strike as a last resort after 600 days without a contract. 

It is not a ‘vacation’, as a few people have commented online. As a sign seen at the picket line said, we would rather be teaching and doing our research! We want to go back to our jobs as soon as we have a fair deal that respects all our faculty and collegial governance. Denial of access to our labs by the university administration, despite requests by researchers, will result in irreversible short- and long-term damage to our research as well as to the reputation of the University. 

For instance, there are epilepsy experiments that are being run currently that have reached a crucial phase, as the animals have just received the brain implants that are key to the whole project. 

It has taken two years of preparation to reach this stage of the project, but all this research and the $500k in public funding received to carry it out, are now in jeopardy due to faculty being locked out of the University by the Board of Governors and our administration. Many instruments, computations and simulations run day and night, producing data that need to be collected and analyzed before they lose their value. 

Collaborations with national and international colleagues and participation in research networks and consortiums need to be maintained. 

These activities are what has placed the UofL on the international research and innovation map. To give an analogy, medical treatments often cannot be suspended for a month without having long-term negative consequences for a patient. This is similar for many of our research projects. 

Unless immediate mitigating steps are taken, this will ultimately result in world-class researchers thinking twice before coming to this University. Therefore, we write this letter to better explain the value of our research in improving our Lethbridge community, and how it allows us to train our students in new technologies that will be  important for our future, such as artificial intelligence or biomarkers for the diagnosis of neurological disorders. 

Our research is and will remain a fundamental part of the University and community, and any harm to the former will inevitably harm the latter as well.  

Finally, we would like to emphasize that, for us, the strike is not primarily about money, It is about the respect that our students and faculty deserve. It is about our working conditions, which include the research that we conduct, and about our students’ learning conditions. As the U of L is dependent on the Lethbridge community, we encourage you to contact the Board of Governors at the U of L ( https://www.ulethbridge.ca/governance/board-members ) and the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association ( https://www.ulfa.ca/ ) to express your opinion or support. 

Louise Barrett, Professor in the Department of Psychology

Saurya Das, Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy  

Fangfang Li, Professor in the Department of Psychology  

Artur Luczak, Professor in the Department of Neuroscience 

David Naylor, Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy

Marc Roussel, Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

University of Lethbridge

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DarrenC

Well said!

Fedup Conservative

Well said indeed. While these phony conservatives slash $9.4 billion off corporate taxes to benefit their rich friends they treat our doctors, nurses, and teachers like third class citizens and we are expected to be dumb enough to let them.

OpinionIsMine

The fact is that financially the two sides are not far apart, only 1% or so. MRU and U of A have managed to find this 1% somehow.
The main issue is that unlike other Alberta universities, the U of L is completely unwilling to negotiate any non-monetary items.

meisplayfull2

One article in this newspaper said that there are 53 non-monetary items on the table. That seems like a very high number. So is it bad wording that has caused grievances in the past or how did you get to 53 items that need change? The 2 mentioned here are some type of change to health benefits and the other one is co-management of the university, one that I would consider huge and very difficult to define and negotiate. If the benefits have no monetary value what is the change requested by ULFA? Employer shares of benefits including health , pension and government(CPP and EI) add 25-30% of salary to the total compensation package. Are these 53 listed on a website for the public to read?

OpinionIsMine

When I said non-monetary, I am not including health benefits or pension because they are, well, monetary.
I’m not aware of anywhere that has all the articles listed. I do not think they are all proposals from ULFA. Some may be from the board. One example from ULFA is to have representation on the benefits committee, since the benefits are funded by both employer and employees.
One of the reasons of all of these requests from ULFA is that the university has started a restructuring process that is supposed to be done by September. It has been done without any real input from faculty members or students. It includes possibly closing faculties and programs, although no one really knows for sure because much of it has been done quietly. This is something that is not happening at other universities that have settled as far as I know. Many people who are fighting here is not doing so to get 1% increase in salary, but rather whether they will still have a department to work in next year.

OpinionIsMine

There was also an attempt (suspended for now as far as we know) to outsource some of the teaching to a private company using curriculum developed by ULFA members without any compensation. That was supposed to be targeted at international students. Not having any representation in the decision making bodies mean that ULFA may not even find out until the deals are signed. Having representation does not mean these things can be stopped, but at least people should know what is happening.

prairiebreze

This entire strike is troublesome on many fronts. ULFA claim its not about money but it’s glaringly obvious that it is. If it wasn’t, then the strike would have taken place during summer break. This strike was calculated and students are being used as bargaining chips; their education hijacked by greed. Unions have a deplorable reputation for driving needless strikes and 99% ARE about money (benefits too have a dollar value).
Profs and staff need to think about how much they would be getting if they worked in private industry. Show some respect to taxpayers …appreciate what you earn. When is enough – enough?
Profs are not doing us a ‘favor’ by doing research; its one of the reasons they were hired and they are lucky to have an outlet to do their research. Are those who signed this letter suggesting that if they don’t get a pay raise that they will come back to work with a sour look on their face and give us less that what we tax payers pay for?

Older-Than-Old-School

It might surprise you to learn that since the 1980s union membership in Canada has declined sharply. And what do you think has happened to the average wage (in real terms) of middle-class workers? It has declined at almost the same rate. Yea, sure, unions are useless. Just ask anyone who used to work at a Big Box store that was shut down by the company after its employees voted for union certification.

Just imagine if you were negotiating your salary and other terms of employment as an individual and on the other side of the table you were facing the power and might of a provincial government or a multi-national firm. Who do you think would have the upper hand? Would the playing field be anywhere close to level?

PM (aka DB Cooper)

Last edited 2 years ago by Older-Than-Old-School