Canada: trade unions worried by planned reform of university governance

published 19 February 2018 updated 26 February 2018

Education unions oppose Bill 234, which would make sweeping changes in the system of governance of the University of Montreal, threatening academic freedom and the university’s collegial governance, and deteriorating working conditions.

CAUT: Defending academic freedom and collegial governance

The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) testified on 8 February before the Culture and Education Committee at Quebec’s National Assembly to express its opposition to Bill 234, a private member’s bill that would introduce sweeping changes threatening governance at the University of Montreal.

“On the pretense of modernising its Charter, the University de Montreal’s administration is suggesting nothing less than to end collegiality at the University and to bring about a radical change in faculty working conditions without bargaining,” highlighted CAUT Past President Robin Vose.

According to CAUT, Bill 234 presents the following three risks:

•    Infringement of academic freedom

•    Weakening collegial governance

•    Altering working conditions outside the regular union bargaining process.

“The last time the University updated its Charter was 50 years ago. Therefore, once a new Charter is adopted, faculty could be stuck with it for a very long time. We are talking about a critical document that cannot be amended quickly, hence the importance of taking the time that is needed to properly assess the impact of such fundamental changes,” Vose stressed.

FQPPU: Bill 234 leaves aside issues critical for the development of the Quebecois university system

At the time that the detailed review by the Culture and Education Committee of Bill 234 amending the Charter of the University of Montreal resumes, members of the Fédération québécoise des professeures et professeurs d’université(FQPPU), meeting on 9 February in Federal Council, unanimously adopted a declaration calling on the Quebec government to withdraw it.

The FQPPU members are deeply concerned that the Minister of Higher Education is investing so much time and energy into this bill. All the more so since it currently leaves aside issues critical for the development of the Quebecois university system. For example, a council of universities was to be set up in the fall of 2017, but its creation is lagging behind. Quebec’s Minister of Higher Education Hélène David also committed herself to put limits on senior university officials’ salaries, starting in the fall of 2016, but this now seems almost forgotten.

“This is very serious,” warned FQPPU President Jean-Marie Lafortune. “In backing up to the unbridled ambitions of the University of Montreal's leadership, Minister David is likely to worsen the current situation, described by the emeritus sociologist Guy Rocher as the worst crisis he has known at the University de Montreal since the beginning of his career. She continues to lend herself to criticism, in a context where she is already blamed for granting privileged treatment to some universities to the detriment of others.”"

He also remembered that, by illegally altering teachers’ working conditions and contravening to the freedom of association protected by the Canadian and Quebec charters, Bill 234 opens the door to a challenge by the General Union of the Professors of the University of Montreal before the courts.