Commentary | Admin’s behaviour in UDrive shameful

An open letter from retired and current faculty

We, the undersigned tenured and tenure-track faculty members of McGill University, wish to express our support for a campaign run by the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM) to organize and represent course lecturers who teach at McGill. In addition, we strongly object to the administration’s disgraceful efforts to disrupt and silence this union drive by obstructing AGSEM’s efforts to publicize its campaign – efforts which threaten the free speech of all members of the University community.

The need for a collective organization that supports and defends the interests of course lecturers at McGill is clear. At the present moment, McGill course lecturers are the only course lecturers in Quebec who are not unionized. Not coincidentally, they are among the worst paid as well. Even with the raises announced in October (and scheduled for 2011 and 2012), McGill’s course lecturers’ pay will continue to lag behind that of other Quebec universities.

Course lecturers perform the same teaching labour as tenured and tenure-track faculty members. They often teach courses that are compulsory and/or fulfill undergraduate major requirements in the departments for which they work. Yet despite playing this crucial (and growing) role in undergraduate education, course lecturers have little to no voice in determining the conditions in which they work. Deprived of any role in faculty governance at the university level, and often excluded from departmental meetings, course lecturers are sometimes seen but never heard. Union representation can provide them with the voice they are currently denied at McGill.

Moreover, without tenure or even its possibility, and forced to rely on the good graces of department chairs for their employment, course lecturers do not have the protections of academic freedom. Their precarious state is particularly troubling, since Canadian universities have greatly increased the proportion of teaching done by course lecturers in the past decade: in 1999, 15.5 per cent of faculty employed in Canadian universities were contingent faculty; by 2008, this number had risen to roughly fifty per cent. This astronomical rise in the use of non-tenured or non-tenure-track faculty is also a profound contraction in the percentage of university faculty who have the freedom to teach and research controversial topics without fear of politically-motivated reprisals. The unionization of course lecturers can provide them with a collective voice that would enable them to defend their academic freedom.

Finally, the administration’s actions during AGSEM’s campaign to unionize course lecturers have been nothing short of shameful. On September 21, an email was sent to all University building directors ordering the removal of Union Drive posters “at the request of the Provost, Prof. T. Masi.” Union Drive posters on the office doors of tenured and tenure-track faculty were torn down repeatedly after this date. This is not simply an example of thuggish intimidation tactics (although it is very much that as well). It is an attack on the very idea of the university itself, as a place dedicated and committed to the free exchange of ideas – including ideas about how the labour of the university should be organized and represented. A university whose administration removes expressions of ideas with which it disagrees from the offices of its faculty is no longer worthy of the name.

While we, the undersigned tenured and tenure-track faculty, support the unionization of course lecturers at McGill, ultimately it is not up to us. Nor is it up to Principal Heather Munroe-Blum, Provost Anthony Masi, or any member of the McGill administration. It is the decision of the course lecturers themselves. We simply ask that they be able to make this decision without intimidation or harassment, and with every avenue of information freely available to them. This is how democracy works.

Signed,

Darin Barney
Canada Research Chair in Technology and Citizenship Associate professor, Department of Art History and Communication Studies

Christophe Bedos
Associate professor, Faculty of Dentistry

Shari Brotman
Associate professor, School of Social Work

Jenny Burman
Associate professor, Department of Art History and Communication Studies

Aashish Clerk
Associate professor, Department of Physics

Brian Cowan
Associate professor, Department of History

Julius H. Grey
Associate professor (retired),
Faculty of Law

Jill Hanley
Associate professor, School of Social Work

Michelle Hartman
Associate professor,
Institute of Islamic Studies

Adrienne Hurley
Assistant professor,
Department of East Asian Studies

Erin Hurley
Associate professor,
Department of English

Steven Jordan
Associate professor,
Department of Integrated Studies in Education

Thomas LaMarre
James McGill professor, Department of East Asian Studies and Department of Art History and Communications Studies

Abby Lippman
Professor,
Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and Occupational
Health

Bronwen Low
Associate professor,
Department of Integrated Studies in Education

Monique Morgan
Associate professor, Department of English
Calvin Normore
William Macdonald professor of Moral Philosophy, Department of Philosophy

Derek Nystrom
Associate professor, Department of English

Ara Osterweil
Assistant professor, Department of English

Anthony Paré
Professor,
Department of Integrated Studies in Education

Andrew Piper
Assistant professor,
Department of German Studies

Carrie Rentschler
Associate professor, Department of Art History and Communication Studies

Tabitha Sparks
Associate professor, Department of English

Jonathan Sterne
Associate professor, Department of Art History and Communication Studies

Alanna Thain
Assistant professor, Department of English

Boyd White
Associate professor,
Department of Integrated Studies in Education


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