U of C stakeholders discuss Post-Secondary Learning Act

What are your respective organization’s positions on Bill 43?

Pelley: It was quite a shock to see the initial first-reading of Bill 43 but it’s been gratifying to work with the stakeholder groups.

There were a number of problems with Bill 43 at the beginning of the summer but it looks like they’re going to incorporate most of the changes we’ve suggested. What hasn’t been addressed, of grave concern to graduate students, are employment agreements.

Section 96, the way it’s currently phrased, makes graduate students’ associations the official negotiating bodies for all graduate students at all Alberta universities–that was never the intent.

The university of Alberta asked for something along those lines to be included. It’s a role we’re not necessarily equipped to handle now as a part-time student association and could cause major problems by pulling a few people the faculty association has been negotiating on behalf of into our realm. It’s really confusing and still needs to be addressed.

Our suggestion is that they at least further define "graduate student employment." I think the intent that they have is academic staff but they haven’t made that clear.

We’ve been assured we can hear the second reading and amendments as they’re read in the legislature, and that if there’s anything we need changed, it can be changed at that point. But we’ll see if that actually happens.

Tilleman: Local 52 to date hasn’t taken any strong positions on Bill 43, but we have some general views regarding the university education system and Bill 43.

First, we believe in democracy. We believe that idea is severely diminished in Section 97 that empowers the provincial government to dissolve the democratically elected councils and student organizations.

Second, there’s great societal value that flows from the products of universities in the research and educated students who ultimately drive and enrich our economy and society. In this belief that universities are a public good, the investments associated with running a university should be funded by the public as opposed to increasingly falling on the students.

Many of our members are students, parents of students, parents of future students. For them, access and affordability are increasingly worrying factors. Sections 62 and 124 dealing with tuition may indicate that the government doesn’t share the belief that university education is a public good, but rather that the value of education only flows to the individuals receiving the education.

Colijn: I certainly agree with the previous speakers. Graduate students being made into a bargaining unit poses a lot of problems.

I also agree that education is a public good, and that it should be affordable, and this is increasingly problematic.

In our submission to the government we had a number of points, but two that I would like to mention here.

First, the other stakeholders in the system, students and support staff, have representation on the Board of Governors, whereas faculty associations do not. That problem probably derives from a misunderstanding of the role of General Faculties Council. Of course, the GFC has many faculty members on it, but the role of GFC is not to represent faculty in the same way that the faculty association does. Academic staff associations at technical institutes and public colleges nominate academic staff members to their Board of Governors. We need representation on the Board of Governors.

Second, Section 88 prohibits or takes away the right to strike. Currently, TUCFA does not have the right to strike. We have it in our collective agreement that disputes will be resolved by arbitration, but I think it’s important that this right not be taken away in legislation. I think it’s a principle of labour relations that as a last resort, [strikes] ought to be available and negotiated. We’re really concerned about that right being taken away. Mount Royal College has the right to strike at the moment, and we don’t foresee striking in the future. Of course we prefer to resolve disputes through arbitration.

Hughes: Two items were most striking about this legislation in terms of the legal framework it sets up. First, it substantially increases the powers of the government of the day–that is cabinet–to intervene in the day-to-day operations of the university. That power is increased in a number of sections, but I’ll give you four in particular.

Section 103, reinforced by sections 105 and 60, allows the [Learning] Minister to approve the mandate of any institution, and to prohibit institutions from engaging in any activity that doesn’t fit within the mandate. So, unless you have a broad mandate when responding to any changes you need to programs, that’s quite a restriction.

Second, the powers of the Board of Governors is the same, but Section 60 is added, giving a general override power to cabinet to restrict the board from exercising any right, power or privilege listed, a huge intervention in the powers of the Board of Governors as the ultimate body responsible for intuitional decisions.

Third, sections 100-101 allow cabinet–in the public interest–to basically terminate the terms of office of any Board of Governors and put in place an administrator who would, as an individual, exercise the powers of the Board of Governors. If you remember the replacement of the Calgary Board of Education a few years ago, you have to have some concerns about this section.

And fourth, Section 125B gives the minister the power to make regulations respecting the operation of the public secondary school system.

So if you put all of those together and a number of the other sections, it clearly sets up the legal framework for substantial cabinet intervention.

The second item, as an overall legal structure that is worth noting, is they have moved specific sections of the current Universities Act to regulations which we don’t have yet. For example, they have proposed that GFC’s powers would be set in regulations.

The pro of moving it to regulations the cabinet can change the governing rules much quicker–as regulations are just subordinate legislation–to keep the regulations current with the universities’ needs. But the negative side is you simply do not have the public scrutiny as when you change the law. When you change the major powers and duties of GFC or this new campus infrastructure advisory board, normally it’s set out in legislation. And when you tie that to the other previous change in the legal structure I think it’s pretty significant.

Bergen: From both a student and from a member of the SU point of view, the two bits I have the most problems with are the ability of the provincial government to dissolve the SU, and the removal of the tuition cap.

From the SU’s point of view, being able to be dissolved by the government without involving the people who elected our body is ludicrous. It doesn’t seem proper at all and undemocratic. No one really knows the process by which students’ unions are investigated or dissolved. Being audited is not a big deal, the SU does that ourselves. If anything, that is a good idea to make sure something is in place that says we must be audited. That should be made public to the students who elected the SU and it should not be up to government officials to decide if this is correct or this is not correct.

Removing the tuition cap is a huge worry for myself as a student and it should be a huge worry for every student. In the early ’90s there was a cap that was supposed to last throughout the ’90s at 20 per cent, and that got changed in the mid ’90s up to 30 per cent. Now, it’s being removed. It’s continuously moving to the point where the government wants less to do funding education but more to do with running education. I don’t think it’s really fair to students, or the people involved in university at any level from administration to students’ unions.

What is your view of the proposed changes to representation on the Board of Governors, or lack thereof?

Colijn: I met not long ago with some MLAs, who said somewhat cryptically ‘your concerns have been heard and some have been addressed but perhaps not in a way you would have liked.’ So that left us really dangling.

Perhaps they have proposed an amendment giving us representation on the Board of Governors, and if so great. But even then, we’ve heard rumours that whoever is put on the Board of Governors by the faculty association cannot be a member of the board of directors of the faculty association or the executive. I think that’s wrong, but we will live with it if that is so. It’s very important that the faculty association has representation.

Pelley: We’ve been told the faculty association will be able to nominate one of the two GFC representatives. I’ve heard the same rumor as Anton but not straight from the government’s month that it can’t be one of the executives of the faculty association that takes that position. Other than that, I’m not aware of any other changes to the Board of Governors, the only power that’s different is the natural persons power.

Hughes: I think it’s risky to be guessing at amendments. If you look at the Alberta Legislature web site, all that’s on there is the initial Bill 43. While we’ve all heard some rumours and seen some drafts of some different sections, I think it’s still premature to guess at what they are actually going to propose.

Tilleman: Currently, Local 52 doesn’t have anybody on the Board of Governors, and with Bill 43 we would. From that aspect we think it’s a good thing, but as Anton was saying, there are some caveats on that: the individual can not be from the executive of Local 52 and cannot be on the negotiating team.

I can understand the negotiating team part because there would be definitely a conflict of interest. But with the executive part, organizations tend to have their most knowledgeable and active people on the executive. To preclude them from the Board of Governors I’m not sure is the best way to go. We’re happy to get a voice and vote but it may not be the most knowledgeable voice from our organization.

Colijn: And to add to that, to what extent are they constrained in telling us, or are prevented from telling us what goes on at the Board of Governors? Why have representatives on the board if they are prevented from telling us what went on there? And if they’re not prevented from telling us, why is there a restriction on the person not being on the executive?

Hughes: Perhaps I can add something as a labour and employment lawyer, not as the Associate VP.

It may well be that the government is looking for a compromise. With bargaining, if you put your executive members from your unions on to your management decision-making body, that would be equivalent to taking a member of Board of Governors and giving them a seat on your AUPE executive or faculty association executive.

Colijn, Tilleman: No problem!

Hughes: And on the flip side, usually that’s the decision-making body for your union or association, and their deliberations are to determine what’s best for them. So their compromise may be: ‘OK, you’ve got input, but it can’t be a member of the executive.’

Pelley: But in that case, they’ve missed the boat with student associations because students associations with representation on the board are by definition those same people. If that was the argument, they should have eliminated students–I’m not suggesting they do that.

Hughes: It’s not quite the same. From the example that was given–and again we’re speculating as to what might be in these amendments†it is a little different in the bargaining area.

Pelley: Not for GSA.

Hughes: Well if they put this section in, then yes.

Colijn: I take your point on the potential conflict of interest. On the other hand, if you look at the experience in various European countries, it has worked very well, having union reps on boards of governors or boards of directors of companies, even in bargaining decisions. When this was first introduced 20 or 30 years ago, there was a great deal of reluctance as there is now, in Alberta. But it has worked very, very well and it was found that the union representatives on boards of directors of companies were very, very responsible.

In fact, it reduced labour unrest, because the union representatives could see ‘hey, this company is about to start losing a lot of money, and if we press our case too hard, they’ll go bankrupt.’

Bergen: The SU submitted seven proposed amendments and possible changes of the bill. We had some–I want to say positive but–cryptic responses. On auditing student associations, what is an irregularity? That could be taken in any way possible. From discussions with MLAs, there was a possibly changing it, but we don’t have confirmation yet.

As well, distance education was to be deregulated entirely. At places like Athabasca, courses would go at market value. That was something that was brought up, and like I said we got a positive response from MLAs. But again, no one knows for sure what exactly the outcome will be. So we have had some feedback and response but we still don’t know what’s going to happen.

Under Section 96 (1), GSAs would become the exclusive bargaining units for graduate students. How will this affect relations with the TUCFA?

Pelley: It’s a huge problem. They haven’t actually stated that they’re talking about employment with the Board [of Governors] as academic staff. As a graduate student, I had a part time job on campus working at the pool. Will the GSA start negotiating for those people too?

At the University of Calgary, I think there is a very amicable relationship between the faculty association and the GSA, and we’d have no problem delineating who is negotiating for whom.

Hughes: But right now, does not the GSA negotiate, as a matter of practice, with the group representing primarily the grad students? As a practical matter, it’s happening now. What this changes is to give you formal association status, with exclusive bargaining power.

Pelley: The University of Alberta graduate students association asked for this as a power for GSAs because it reflects current practice. At the U of A and U of C, the GSAs do negotiate these things. But we didn’t intend to make it a forceful thing. Negotiating collective bargaining agreements is something we haven’t done.

We would like student associations to have certain powers as in the original Universities Act; to levy fees, set bylaws and stuff like that. The addition of the whole section takes what we were looking for, and makes it so much more in your face. That is of some concern.

Hughes: There’s another aspect–cost. Right now, it’s an amicable agreement and the informal dispute resolution mechanism seems to work well. Applying traditional labour mechanisms of binding arbitration, which applies to faculty associations and AUPE, to grad students is a very costly, time-consuming way to settle disputes, so hopefully it would be as a last resort if we could continue with the amicable dispute resolution mechanism we have right now..

Pelley: And certainly in the short term that’s going to happen, but legislation is legislation. The old Universities Act was what, a hundred years old? So you shouldn’t be enshrining something quite that way [in legislation] anyway. We’re very concerned.

Colijn: We can probably continue on an amicable basis, but that doesn’t handle the overlapping jurisdiction problem. If a graduate student teaches a course and becomes the instructor of record for that course, automatically she or he becomes a member of the faculty association, but presumably, she or he is also a member of the GSA, so where does the jurisdictional boundary lie?

Pelley: The graduate students most affected by this change are those at the University of Lethbridge and University of Athabasca. U of L has a GSA now but it’s extremely informal, they’re not equipped to deal with labour issues, and Athabasca hasn’t actually organized their labour students yet. The U of A model should not have been applied unilaterally across the province.

How would Bill 43 affect day-to-day operations in each of your organizations?

Tilleman: This is an area where we don’t have a lot of strong feelings, other than in general we agree with the students about the tuition caps. Some of our member students are trying to pay their tuition by taking service sector jobs within the university. For support staff who are parents, most often the university opportunities for their children are here at the University of Calgary. If tuition continues to go up, unlike some people who may be in a lot higher wage brackets, our kids will be going here. People with more disposable income are willing to send their children to Harvard, Europe and other places. Support staff don’t generally have that option, so we’re very much worried about the tuition going too high.

But I think it goes back to a larger discussion that simply hasn’t taken place in the public and the government doesn’t seem to really want to engage in, and that is: is university education a public good? Where does the value of that education and research flow? Does it flow only to the person who is getting and receiving that education or is there a value to society and to the economy? If there is a value to society and to the economy, how much should the public pay? In other words, through our tax dollars, how much support should a university expect to get?

Funding to the University of Calgary has not kept up with inflation on a per student basis, and that would be an indicator to me that the government doesn’t believe that the amount of funding they currently pay into the system is appropriate. They think they should be paying less.

And this is what I want to know from the government: What is the amount of the education they feel is appropriate for the public or the government to be paying? If it’s one third, say it. If it’s a quarter, if it’s ten per cent or if it’s 100 per cent let’s have a number.

And once that number is established, then it should be automatically inflationary indexed to university inflation, not general inflation because university inflation is much higher. And it should be indexed to a formula based on students. Perhaps there should be a mechanism for the difference in costs of different programs. At this point, there’s no such discussion or debate.

Colijn: If I may reinforce what Dan said, I agree completely.

Education is a public good. I appreciate some of the noises coming out of the camp of Paul Martin, who will soon be the Liberal leader, he seems to at least be thinking in that direction. There should be a very serious open discussion on where the balance should lie.

In my native country of the Netherlands, not only is post-secondary education free, but every student is entitled to a stipend, so that they don’t have to work part time and they can concentrate on their studies. I think that this is an excellent idea, although I don’t think it will fly in this province in the near future.

We have other concerns about Bill 43 that probably don’t affect the students so much. For example, intellectual property is a serious concern to us, not so much for our own institution or full-time faculty members at our own institution, but for faculty members at institutions that don’t have intellectual property in their collective agreements where intellectual property becomes that of the institution.

Anybody from this institution who teaches only at this institution is protected because we have in our collective agreement that intellectual property remains with the creator, but if anyone from here teaches a course at those institutions, they can run into problems as well.

Hughes: It’s too early to tell whether there will be any impact on day-to-day operations. The only obvious one, if the GSAs become the exclusive bargaining power there needs to be somebody on the other side to bargain with. That’s probably going to default to Human Resources.

But until we see how the government uses these powers to intervene, or what they actually put into the regulations versus into legislation, it’s hard to see an impact on the day to day activities.

The initial bill did dilute the powers of GFC, taking terminology of responsibility for academic matters and changing it to general supervision of student affairs which to me is a bit of a downgrading, but how that will play out in actual day-to-day operations is very hard to say at this stage.

The legislation emphasizes the research role of university, both in pure research and applied research, and so there are no surprises in that area.

Pelley: With the tuition cap, the 30 per cent cap was for the two big universities, the U of C and U of A. The 30 per cent cap was never the number that was protecting anyone. We’re so far away from that, it was offering no protection. So the lifting of the cap is not going to have a huge impact. The important point in the opinion of the GSA is they’re going to put a maximum yearly increase in legislation, percentages into regulation. If that happens, as they have claimed that it will, there will still be a tuition cap. But we will no longer think of it in terms of tuition as 30 per cent of net operating expenditures, but rather how much they are allowed to increase it per year. That way, there will be no impact on students at the U of C, so that’s potentially good.

Bergen: The University of Calgary is at 24 percent of overall operating budget right now, that students pay for with their tuition fees. Places like the U of L are over 30 per cent?

Pelley: They were close and then they were bumped back. I think Lethbridge Community College right at 30 per cent.

Bergen: They’re already at 30 per cent but they’re still paying less. It will affect them a lot more than us directly. Once it reaches 30 per cent, tuition can increase by a maximum of five per cent or CPI plus two per cent, whatever is less.

So the smaller institutes will suffer?

Pelley: Everybody has always been protected by this concept of the maximum increase of 30 per cent. It was the institutions that were being penalized. One institution started saving money and that put them at the cap. It was punishment. As students we would love to see them spend their money better. You don’t want to punish them for that necessarily either.

As far as the GSA is concerned, keeping in legislation the concept of a maximum yearly increase, is key. If that doesn’t go in, then it’s chaos.

Bergen: We were concerned that would become regulation and not legislation. Do we know if that’s something that can be changed?

Pelley: Do we know? No. We won’t know it until we see it. And of course, nobody can see the amendments, but the minister has informed student stakeholder groups (CAUS, ACTISEC, Alberta Graduate Students’ Council) that it’s going into legislation. The details would go into regulation.

Bergen: The 30 per cent still worries me and the SU. It has been going on year after year after year and the cap keeps increasing.

What’s to say the government couldn’t be funding education more? I want to make sure that is clear: We definitely oppose the removal of the cap, as we have in the past under the previous rules.

Tilleman: It’s 30 per cent of what though?

And that’s what past students unions have asked. It always seems to be a changing target once you get close to whatever it’s 30 per cent of.

Pelley: Net operating expenditures at a research university can increase, not fraudulently, because your faculties are enjoying greater research success. That increases the bottom number and the 30 per cent number, but you don’t want to penalize researchers for that.

Colijn: Greater research success doesn’t necessarily help undergraduate students.

There is another point I want to ask about, rather than say something about: I haven’t heard very much about the differential fees for different faculties and programs, I think that ought to be a big concern. For example, as a law student you will pay more in tuition, and this is O.K. because the expectation is you’ll make a lot of money when you graduate. But what about the law student who is socially concerned and wants to work with NGOs and wants to work on things that aren’t incredibly lucrative? Are we preventing those people from getting into law school? I think that’s a concern.

Bergen: I have a step brother who was in law school in UBC. At one point he wanted to work for GreenPeace but he shot that idea down and wants to work for a law firm in New York City.

A question to Mr. Bergen about the provisions of Bill 43 that allow government to dissolve students’ unions?

Bergen: We try to act in the best interests of students. One of our first thoughts was tuition decisions and things like Bill 43. When these situations come about, at many times the students’ unions can do many things that can be very confrontational to the university and to the provincial government.

The moment that the provincial government has the ability to go into our finances and decide: "Well this tuition fight or this Bill 43 fight is an ‘irregularity’ and we’re going to send in an investigator," or "You shouldn’t spend X amount of dollars to send people to Edmonton to panhandle on the steps of the legislature. We’re going to remove you from office," it prevents us from properly representing much of the wishes and desires of students. It hangs a cloud of fear over our heads.

They didn’t elect us, they aren’t our constituents here, yet they would have the ability to step in and remove us. I don’t see that as being correct. It’s not democratic, and it certainly hinders our ability to wholeheartedly represent the wants of students here at the U of C.

Any concluding remarks?

Pelley: The tuition cap certainly wasn’t apparent at the first reading [that it would be removed]. If it goes back in, in some form, we’d be a lot happier. The graduate student employment agreement section and removing the right to strike sucks. Bill 43 has taken away from graduate students not only their right to associate, but also their right to strike, and those to me those are basic human rights and I think it’s contrary to the concept of a university to take away rights from people like that. For graduate students right now that’s the single biggest problem.

Tilleman: The area of democracy and the point that is very blatant is, the democratic government wants to take away the democratic rights of another organization, I think flies in the face of all reasonableness.

The right to strike issue is one that has always bothered our local and AUPE in general. It’s a basic human right.

A lot of these rights were taken away under the guise that these are essential services. If support staff didn’t show up at the University of Calgary tomorrow, I’m pretty certain no student is going to die.

There are other instances within AUPE. For instance, currently the VLT technicians do not have the right to strike because they’re "essential services." And in the past, those workers for the ALCB under AUPE didn’t have the right to strike because that’s an "essential service."

Colijn: I don’t have anything to add to that. Human rights are really fundamental, you shouldn’t take them away.

Bergen: This is my second year with the Students’ Union, and although I do run events, I do not generally deal with government regulations and things like this. I am curious why I never heard about it until this summer. I don’t know if anyone was contacted with the drafting of this bill, did anyone who has been so directly involved in it have direct input on it?

Hughes: We weren’t commenting on a draft. It was ‘what do you think of the current one?’

Pelley: We’re going to change the universities act, what do you want to do?

Bergen: Did anyone else think this bill was written up without real input from the people directly involved? Did they get real feedback from anyone? Did people say "O.K. these are the people this bill is going to affect, let’s find out what they think, lets find out what the people who are actually involved in the process," rather than "O.K., it’s time to redo the Universities Act, let’s do what we think is best from our hill up in Edmonton for the rest of the province."

Colijn: I don’t know the answers to your questions, but I do know that some parts were done in a real hurry.

Pelley: There was not a lot of input. people were asked for input, the impressions I got was ‘we need comments by next week.’ The entire bill was drafted in 10 weeks.

Colijn: And without careful thought as to how one section would affect another section and things like that. So it was really very sloppy in that sense. If they had given themselves more time and given it more thought, I think they could have come up with better.

Pelley: They’ll claim that they released it in May in order to get feed back in the course of summer.

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