News Local

Faculty wants education quality control

Bob Bruton

By Bob Bruton, Barrie Examiner

It's tick-tock time again on new contract talks between the province and Ontario college faculty, including those at Barrie's Georgian College.

The collective agreement for college faculty expires Sept. 30, 2017.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) asked Ontario's Labour Ministry this week to appoint a conciliator in its contract negotiations with the College Employer Council when talks stalled after just three days.

Kevin MacKay, a member of OPSEU's provincial bargaining team, said the sticking point is the union's demand for a senate to make academic decisions, while the board of governors makes business ones.

“Right now in Ontario colleges, faculty don't have the same ability that our colleagues in university do, to actually control the quality of education,” said MacKay, a sociology professor at Mohawk College in Hamilton. “That means what sort of materials are used in courses, how course are evaluated. All of these things, we don't have the ability as faculty to make those decisions.

“That is was our number-one demand. That came from college faculty,” he said.

But Don Sinclair, the College Employer Council's chief executive officer, said that can't be part of these negotiations.

“What the academic union (OPSEU) is requesting or proposing or demanding through bargaining, is that they provide a comprehensive proposal around the creation of senates in the college system,” he said.

“Senates is a governance issue, not a bargaining issue,” Sinclair said. “When we bargain, we bargain about terms and conditions of employment.”

He said the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Act says college boards of governors and the government determine the individual governing structure of each of the 24 colleges.

“We want to be pretty clear with OPSEU, right from the beginning of our negotiations.

We want to be pretty up-front across the table,” Sinclair said. “We don't have that mandate, nor are we able to bargain it.”

The College Employer Council is the bargaining agent for the 24 Ontario colleges in negotiating collective agreements with unionized staff. Each college board determines the terms and conditions of employment for non-unionized staff.

MacKay said controlling education quality is a non-monetary issue – it won't cost more. It's OPSEU's priority, but the other burning issue is the amount of contract faculty in the system.

And these negotiations, when they resume Aug. 1, will also be about compensation.

“Obviously, like any other workers, the cost of living continually increases,” MacKay said. “A few years back we took zeros, like other folks in the public sector, so would we appreciate a raise in line with what other sectors are getting, sure. But I guarantee you that is not the driving issue at all at the table.

“If we were able to change the nature of the decision-making in the colleges, and give faculty the ability to be able to maintain academic standards, and if we were able to do something around the amount of contract faculty, those are way more important to us than wages.”

OPSEU says conciliation is an important step in bargaining; but if it fails, either side can start the clock ticking towards a legal strike or lockout deadline.

OPSEU Local 350 represents 278 full-time faculty and 299 partial-load faculty at Georgian College's seven campuses. An additional 368 faculty members teach on a part-time basis and are not members of the faculty union. Numbers change every semester, however, especially non-full-time faculty.

bbruton@postmedia.com