OPEN LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE AASUA
8 August 2013
Kevin Kane, President
Association of Academic Staff
University of Alberta
1600 College Plaza
Edmonton, AB T6G 2C8
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
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.
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
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.
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).