New collective agreement tackles wages and academic freedoms
URFA, the University of Regina Faculty Association, is in the stages of finalizing recent negotiations with the administration. The negotiations were on four main objectives; to “enhance compensation and benefits, enhance collegial governance, strengthen academic freedom”, and to resolve issues with the collective agreement.
In terms of benefits and salary the University of Regina lags behind other similarly sized institutions, across the country and in the province. “The university of Saskatchewan is where we start to identify where we should be and how far behind we are – and we’re considerably farther behind,” said Andrew Stevens, an assistant professor of business administration and member of the URFA bargaining committee.
Stevens went to say that, “the average salary for academic staff, at the U of S, it’s about $133,000 – it’s about $108,000 here. It depends on the category of academic staff but we’re between six and 15 per cent behind those salaries.” This round of negotiations sought to close this gap and give faculty a more equitable wage.
Also, the amount of parental leave professors are allowed was increased. In the past professors were entitled to a maximum of 20 weeks of leave with 90 per cent of their salary. Now they are entitled to 35 weeks.
Collegial governance was the next major issue on the docket and one of the biggest steps forward was URFA members being allowed to see polices before they are enacted.
“The Faculty Association would like to see policies before they roll out so they can make constructive comments on them,” said chief URFA negotiator Dennis Fitzpatrick. Policies like the controversial conflict of interest and association mandates that have been recently implemented. “It’s very hard to change a written piece of paper especially that’s been passed by the board of governors, but it’s really easy, in the early stages, to listen to people and listen to their concerns,” said Fitzpatrick.
As much as URFA needs to be at the table when these policies are discussed so too do they require the ability to criticize U of R policy.
“With academic freedom it basically comes down to the right to criticize [parts of the administration].” Said Fitzpatrick, who went on to say, “the kinds of protections at one time for things like the ability to speak out and criticize don’t actually cover off today’s world, where criticism is instantaneous.” Just as the U of R treats the U of S as a litmus test for wage and equity so to is it a gauge for academic freedoms and issues pertaining to academia. With recent events at the U of S academic freedom was given even greater onus in this round of negotiations.
The collective agreement, which will be in effect from 2015 to 2017, will now read, “Academic freedom is essential to the proper functioning of the University.” No ambiguity.
URFA represents approximately 1400 full and part time members and as Stevens said, “what’s good for faculty is actually good for the university.”
“At the end of the day, we recognized the universities limitations and where we were stuck. We were pleased that we got some concessions,” said Fitzpatrick.
“There was no homerun hit… but we were satisfied and that’s about as good as it gets,” said Fitzpatrick.