Saturday, April 11, 2009

Letter from David Seljak re: Unionization

No wonder the faculty have voted to unionize.
Where is the oversight by the Board of Governors? Come on! It's not like alarm bells haven't been going off since last year. You've been sent all sorts of correspondence, and Perrin should have been on a short leash by now. And yet this stuff is still happening?

‘There is nothing as Catholic as forming a union’, says President of SJU Academic Staff Association
Written by David Seljak on April 7, 2009 – 12:52 am
St. Jerome’s Faculty, the Union and Catholic Social Teaching
April 7, 2009 (Catholic education, Catholic schools)
By David Seljak
On March 31, 2009, the faculty at St. Jerome’s University - a Roman Catholic university federated with the University of Waterloo in Waterloo Ontario - voted overwhelmingly to form a union. Twenty-seven (90%) of the 30 faculty named in the bargaining unit cast a ballot and more than 80% voted yes (22 in favour, 5 opposed).
Faculty felt that a union was necessary to protect the sense of community at SJU as well as traditional values of collegial governance, academic freedom (which includes the right to criticize the administration) and the right to participate in the definition of the terms of employment. All of these have been under attack by the President, with the approval of the SJU Board executive. The rest of the Board has only limited access to information.
The movement to certification followed a vote of non-confidence (20 in favour; 2 opposed) in the President, Fr. David Perrin OMI, taken by faculty in January of this year. The President and Chair of the Board dismissed the non-confidence vote as a “symbolic” gesture (the President of Harvard University recently resigned after such a “symbolic gesture”).
In response to that vote, Fr. Perrin stated in a newspaper interview that he was merely implementing the “standard management practices at Canadian universities.” Indeed, Fr. Perrin and the Board Executive have introduced new practices but what faculty object to is that a number of these changes violate a) board-approved policies; b) traditional standards of collegiality and academic freedom; and c) the policies of any university in Canada.
What we oppose is the arbitrary and unilateral imposition of change from the top-down by an administration that is closed to real participation and criticism. What we oppose are changes that are destroying the strong sense of community for which St. Jerome’s was known and admired.
A recent example involves the President’s arbitrary and unilateral change to the Tenure and Promotion policy, specifically a personal interview with himself before the application could go to the Board of Governors.
Two young professors are up for tenure this year. Tenure is very important for professors; it is the guarantor of academic freedom. It also imposes on us a tremendous responsibility to be diligent, serious, and honest about our research. We earn tenure by completing some nine to 14 years of university education followed by six years of teaching, scholarship and service to St. Jerome’s. For example, I received tenure only on July 1, 2002, some fifteen years after I started my PhD studies.
Naturally, universities implement careful procedures for granting tenure. At St. Jerome’s, the candidate prepares an extensive portfolio for a Tenure and Promotions Committee consisting of three professors and the Dean. From there it is sent to three external referees, each one an established (tenured) scholar in the candidate’s area of specialization. The committee then makes a judgment that is passed on to the President as a recommendation (he is not bound by it) and he, in turn, makes a recommendation to the Board of Governors (they are not bound by it), which grants or denies tenure. All of the exhilarating details are available here:
This detailed policy was first developed and approved by the SJU Academic Committee, then brought to College Council (an advisory committee to the President consisting of all SJU community members) and then approved by the Board.
This year, quite out of the blue, Fr. Perrin introduced a new step in the Board-approved procedure. He sent a memo to the two candidates for tenure that asked them to meet with him before he would present their cases to the Board.
The candidates were concerned because a) there is nothing in the policy that says an interview with the President is part of the procedure; b) the interviews were announced after the application process was more than half over; c) there have never been such interviews with past-Presidents at SJU; d) the faculty have expressed their non-confidence in this particular president; and e) the faculty have never heard of such interviews at any other university (it is not a feature of the UW process, for example).
At first, as President of the St. Jerome’s Faculty Association, I suggested to the two candidates that these interviews were probably harmless. I said that Fr. Perrin was just trying to get to know them and their applications a bit better so he could present them more effectively to the Board.
However, on March 27th, the candidates were given a letter outlining six topics that they would be asked to address in the interview; they were informed that the Associate Dean would also be in attendance at the interviews. The content of the questions touched on such issues as their research plans (already part of the application) and their place at SJU given its mission statement. To the candidates - as well as several members of the Tenure and Promotion Committee - these interviews no longer appeared to be informal and collegial. The President, they felt, had introduced a new step in the Tenure and Promotion process - without consulting Academic Committee, College Council or even the Board of Governors.
I know of no university in Canada where last-minute tinkering with the Tenure and Promotions process - an action that could invite enormous risk of liability should tenure be denied - would be considered one of what Fr. Perrin has called the “standard management practices at Canadian universities.” After protests by concerned faculty and on the very day of the union vote, the President sent a memo cancelling the interviews.
It is this kind of arbitrary and unilateral abuse of power that inspired the faculty to form the St. Jerome’s University Academic Staff Association and to give it the right to bargain collectively on behalf of faculty. It is this kind of violation of the “standard management practices at Canadian universities” that has convinced us to protect our most vulnerable colleagues by forming a union.
Finally, faculty believes that certification is in the interests of the St. Jerome’s University community as a whole. It will help bring clarity to relations that are vaguely defined, regularity to processes that are often applied arbitrarily, and unity to a community that is now deeply divided. It will also promote the unique ethos and culture of St. Jerome’s.
Let me state this bluntly: there is nothing as Catholic as forming a union.
Since Pope Leo XIII 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, the Church has consistently supported the right of workers to form unions and workers’ associations. According to Catholic social teaching, such groups protect the subjectivity of workers, promote social justice and allow employees to work towards the common good. While not legally a Catholic organization, the SJU-ASA is committed to these values.
According to Pope John Paul II, the dignity of the human person, what he calls the person’s “subjectivity,” is secured only when employees are able to participate in decisions about their terms of employment and places or work. Employees are meant to be active subjects, not passive objects, in the definition of their conditions of labour. Unions are one means of securing that participation.
But that is not their only function. In his 1981 encyclical on labour Laborem exercens, John Paul II writes:
The purpose of unions is not simply to defend the existing wages and prerogatives of the fraction of workers who belong to them, but also to enable workers to make positive and creative contributions to the firm, the community, and the larger society in an organized and cooperative way. (#20)
While the SJU-ASA will work diligently to protect the rights and interests of its members, it exists so that the academic staff at St. Jerome’s may better serve their students, their university, the society and the Church.
As I said before, there is nothing as Catholic as forming a labour union..
In this respect, the initiative to create a labour union by the SJU-ASA is in line with St. Jerome’s University’s mission statement, its Catholic ethos, and its history of employee participation.
David Seljak, President
St. Jerome’s University Academic Staff Association

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