The first classes of the 2022-2023 academic year began this week. Like many Members I’ve spoken to, I’m both excited to be back with the beginning of the new academic year and determined to play my part in helping strengthen the U of L as an intellectual community and workplace.
Our return to fall teaching last year came at a time of great uncertainty: the “delta wave” of COVID-19 was entering its peak, and the public health situation was marked by confusion, improvisation, and neglect. On campus there was considerable unease about the Administration’s focus on in-person learning and reluctance to accommodate alternate proposals for course delivery. In our labour negotiations we were coming off a summer of Board inaction, there was a breakdown in negotiations for the required essential services agreement (ESA), and the process for an administration-developed proposal to restructure academic activities on campus was presented to the first GFC meeting. As the year went on, labour relations worsened and significant frictions in governance came to the fore.
This year things are better. COVID is still with us, though the public health situation appears to be much less dire for the majority of the population, and in-person classes are able to resume in what appears to be a relatively safe way for most people (Members who require accommodations for family or personal reasons should contact ULFA for advice). We have a new collective agreement that reflects both the results of the mediation that ended our job action last March and the extraordinary work of the joint committee that completely reorganised and streamlined the document over the spring and summer. Our promotion and evaluation processes (PAR, Promotion, Tenure, etc.) have been affected by both the job action and the COVID emergency: a COVID-related MoU from last academic year allows most Members to opt out of annual evaluations, and the Return to Work Agreement allows Members who are participating in PAR or STP processes to extend deadlines by up to 40 days.
Above all, however, the 2022-2023 academic year promises to be a year of important transformation in how the U of L operates as an employer and an institution of higher learning and advanced research. We have a new Board Chair, Dean Gallimore, to replace the outgoing chair, Kurt Schlachter. We are in the process of searching for a new president to replace President Mahon at the end of his final term in June 2023. We will be soon conducting searches for Provost and for the Deans of several faculties. The restructuring — which was halted late last semester in the face of strong opposition across campus — is to be replaced by an as-yet-unspecified but apparently more broadly consultative process.
ULFA Members have an extremely important role to play in this transformation. Through our participation as individuals, in departments, on Faculty Councils, GFC, and administrative search committees, we can influence the future direction of the institution. We can ensure that the new President, Provost, and Deans begin their tenures in an environment in which robust and meaningful consultation with faculty on the direction of the university is embraced. Through the faculty association, we can ensure that our rights under the collective agreement are respected. And through the development of a strong and comprehensive mandate for the resumption of negotiations in the spring of 2024, we can ensure that our collective agreement continues to improve and represents the best interests of all Members.
At its recent retreat, the ULFA Executive developed a strategic plan for the coming year, focused on fostering and supporting Member engagement with the University as a community and an employer. This will involve the three components of our vision for the Association (Unite, Support, Empower). New Social and Communications Committees will build on the solidarity and community we developed during the strike and lockout. We will increase the number of workshops we offer on important Collective Agreement processes and concepts, including STP, PAR, Grievance, and Member rights as protected by Academic Freedom. And we will help empower Members to exercise their rights through governance bodies and as individual academics by developing workshops on parliamentary procedure, the history and context of bicameral governance and Academic Freedom, and broader discussions (including with outside experts) on best practice across the sector.
If the last year demonstrated anything, it is that an academic staff that is prepared to stand up for its rights and exercise its governance role can affect significant and lasting change. As we now enter a new academic year, let’s use these hard-won lessons to help rebuild the U of L as a better University and employer.