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AASUA Open Letter 2013-08-08




8 August 2013

Kevin Kane, President

Association of Academic Staff University of Alberta
1600 College Plaza
8215-112 Street
Edmonton, AB  T6G 2C8

Dr. Kane:

We write to you in response to your announcement that the AASUA will not engage in an effort to re-negotiate our compensation package.  As members of the AASUA and as department chairs, we encourage you to reconsider this decision, to promote a discussion among members, and to hold a vote on this issue.  Below are our reactions to the four points in your announcement of July 30. 


1. The financial situation facing the University of Alberta at this time is such that horizontal cuts will not provide a long-term solution.

We agree that horizontal cuts are not a solution to our long-term financial situation. We believe strongly that difficult (and therefore inevitably controversial) decisions were and are needed on the part of the Central Administration. Unfortunately, this has not happened. 

2. The financial challenges facing the University of Alberta at this time are such that cuts to compensation will not address the long-term structural deficit.

We find this to be misleading. We agree that cuts to compensation do not necessarily address our long-term structural deficit, but we would have expected you to admit that cuts to compensation can help us solve our immediate need to balance the budget. 

The reality, as you are certainly aware, is that we have been mandated by the Minister to balance our budget this year. We all agree that this is an unreasonable, capricious and shortsighted request. Yes, we should argue in a compelling fashion that investing in higher education and knowledge is a worthwhile endeavour for the Province. This is of the utmost importance, but it is tomorrow's assignment. The task today is to balance the budget without destroying the Institution in the process. This, for us, is the absolutely crucial and essential issue. Allow us therefore to elaborate in some detail on this point.

In the next round of salary negotiations the University will have no choice but to recuperate lost ground, and they will. We therefore view our salaries in three years time as having been already determined: Our salaries will be (retroactively) whatever it takes for the University to balance the budget this year. We can reach this already determined number in two different ways.


(a)   Compromise. This is not at all unreasonable. Indeed the University agreed to the current compensation package under a promised 2% + 2% + 2% model from the Government, which has since become a nightmarish -7.2% + ?% + ?% model. Given this radical change in conditions, the University has to make significant adjustments.  The AASUA can and should be part of this process.


(b)  Not compromise, the course of action you have decided to take.

The final outcome (our salaries in three years time) is independent of whether we march along path (a) or (b). But the effect to the institution is far from being the same. If we take path (b), the institution will be severely damaged. A 5% base cut will render most of our Departments dysfunctional. A 7% cut--let alone 10%--in many cases cannot be implemented. It is not a question of will or desire to help. It simply cannot be done. Path (a), however, would give us some room to breathe. It is not, we agree, a long-term solution. But it will keep us alive. Furthermore, it will show that we academics are willing to be part of the solution. 

We take for granted that you had the legal right to "respectfully decline" the Administration's offer to reopen salary negotiations. Yet, we believe that this decision was unfortunate. You should have called for a vote of the AASUA membership. If the University's request came on July 9th, then three precious weeks went by during which the academic rank and file were kept in the dark about a decision that will seriously affect their lives and careers. Whether all academics wanted to be part of the solution, we do not know. The fact is that members were never given the opportunity to express their opinions.


3. The 2013-2015 Compensation Agreement specifically contained the creation of the Renaissance Committee to provide thoughtful and reasoned solutions to these long-term challenges. The Executive believes this is the best process to follow.

If we take path (b), the University will be so damaged that, for all practical purposes, it would cease to be the institution we know and the Renaissance Committee likely would have to start over.  As department chairs we see the damage done by past and projected budget cuts first hand.  We need to emphasize that we cannot absorb the projected budget cuts without doing severe and long-term damage to the quality of our teaching and research.


4. Reducing compensation will have a detrimental effect on the quality of teaching and research for which the University of Alberta is known. Long-serving members will recall the cuts of the early 90’s (the Klein era), and that it has taken the academy some 20 years to recover from that impact.

We did survive the Klein era, but it is not clear to us at all that we will survive marching along path (b), the path to which you have committed us. We again find misleading your conclusion that reducing compensation will have a detrimental effect on the quality of teaching and research. Your concerns are about our (uncertain) future. In the here and now, the exact opposite is true.  Unless we agree to reduce compensation, the detrimental effect that you are trying to avoid will take place and it will be substantial. Imagine a world where faculty have to do everything that support staff do now, plus teach more courses to cover for the loss of contract academic staff. Faculty members, who now have high quality research and teaching expectations, will have no support staff, fewer (if any) TAs, and an increased teaching load. To these already untenable outcomes, add laboratories with no technicians, fewer graduate students, and no direct IT support. This is the scenario that a 5% cut will place us in. How can this not possibly have detrimental short-term and long-term effects on our teaching and research?




We ask that you please reconsider your decision, and call a vote to decide whether to reopen salary negotiations. If you are given the mandate to renegotiate, we expect you be our advocate in front of the Central Administration so that our financial contribution is used judiciously to mitigate the damage to the teaching and research mission of the Institution. Several of the measures contemplated by Central to balance the budget simply do not make sense; financial or otherwise. We have tried--repeatedly, but not always with success--to make our voices heard on these matters. With the mandate of the academy in your hands, and a non-negligible amount of financial relief that you could provide to Central, you will be in a strong position to ensure that our concerns and expectations are met in the process of balancing the University's budget.




 J. Bisanz (Psychology), D. Coltman (Biological Sciences), J. Harrison (Chemistry), H. J. Hoover (Computing Science), A. Pianzola (Mathematical and Statistical Sciences), M. Sacchi (Physics), M. Sharp (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences).




H.James Hoover,
Aug 8, 2013, 12:54 PM