Saturday, September 20, 2008

Day 03 - update 08

On the first day of the strike, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) responded to an email sent by Provost Neil Gold, which drew attention because it jeopardized the signing of research grant applications.

Today, it was reported by one-time sessional instructor for the University of Windsor, Craig Pearson, in the Windsor Star article, Rules relaxed for striking profs, that two of the three main federal grants will "will extend deadlines and temporarily waive the requirement of school support for project proposals in order to accommodate striking University of Windsor faculty members."

In response to the email from Prof. Gold, the CAUT's president Jim Turk threatened to motion for a letter of censure at the next CAUT Council meeting - which was today [Friday].

What would a letter of censure mean to the University of Windsor?

Peter Simpson, the secretary to the CAUT, Defense Fund, explains.
There's a couple of issues here. A motion of censure has to appear before the CAUT Council, and it's not exercised very often, but it's essentially a denunciation of the practices of the university. In this case threatening people with not signing their research grant applications. You understand the concept here, if you apply for one of the three federal research grants, one's medical called the SERC, one's for science and engineering, called NSERC, and one is for humanities and social sciences called SHERC, and those are acronyms. But they're federal monies made available to university faculty. They're what is called application cycles, you can't constantly apply - certain NSERC will have a due date for application, say the 21st of September. So the Friday before that you have to get an application, which in some cases can take up to a year to prepare. Gather data, and justify in very intense ways the claim to money because these are peer reviewed and a committee evaluates the different applications. It’s an intense process. The university receives them in advance of the deadline with the granting agency and what the university does is it reviews the application, makes sure it’s consistent wit the practices of the university and then signs them. Until it signs them, they can’t go in, they can only go in when the university has endorsed them because one of the things the application does is it makes a claim to university resources and the university has to acknowledge that it approves the plan and will make those resources available and so on.

There are deadlines coming up and the university determined for reasons that are best known to it, that one of the ways it wanted to respond to the strike, was to say it would not sign those applications. This seems an extremely unfortunate move, since one of the things about a strike is it can typically can be resolved without any permanent damage to anyone. For example, there’s never been a term sacrificed by a Canadian university. People experience short-term discomfort, but there’s no long term damage. The refusal to sign these applications can have a negative impact on people’s careers. It also has a negative impact on the university, by the way, because if a person applies for a $1 million grant and is successful, the host university gets another $300,000 over and above that million dollars called overhead money and that’s to build research infrastructure in the university. It’s a very strange move. It’s unprecedented in our experience and very disturbing.

When they set the strike date, they were aware of these applications, right?

Peter Simpson: But there’s no reason why! Let me give you another example, say I’ve got a laboratory experiment going on with animals and there’s a strike. Are you going to lock the doors on my laboratories and let the animals starve to death?

There is a pass that allows members to cross the picket lines in this situation.
[In cases where failure to cross a picket line will cause animal suffering, a strike pass can be obtained from the picket captain, allowing you to enter the campus for a specified reason.]
Peter Simpson: In every other university in Canada, you’ve got a pass to get your grant signed. In other words, it has not been an issue at any other university. That’s the extraordinary issue that’s at stake here.This is not a practice that we’ve seen at any other university [his emphasis].

Are there any other consequences to having a letter of censure?

There are a number of consequences primarily, it’s an alert to people who would consider accepting a teaching position at the University of Windsor. That these are practices, these are the kinds of practices that the university participates in and ways in which is punishes faculty. In effect, that’s part of the goal, to identify and expose the practices that are harmful to faculty and students who would be working on the research project and students and faculty who would benefit form the 30 per cent overhead money. The scope of the consequences here are significant. I want to make sure that that’s clear.

The Public Affairs and Communications office at the University of Windsor is fielding questions regarding the strike for the time being. Senior executive Kevin Doyle responds to the threats of a letter of censure from CAUT.

What was the impetus behind the email sent out by Gold?

Kevin Doyle: I’m not being difficult, but I’m not going to comment on Neil’s letter. It was written before the strike and it was written to provide as much clarity as it could to the people it went to. And then the president wrote a letter yesterday.

The CAUT called for a reversal. Has this been considered?

Kevin Doyle: I know that in Alan’s letter, I forget his exact words, he said “We’ll evaluate our position on this and other issues related to the university’s operations during the strike.” I don’t know what stage reevaluation is at. [Below is the statement in its context - with the particular quote]
The second matter of concern to WUFA members regarding research was that one of the consequences of them withdrawing services would be that while they are on strike the University would not sign applications for research funding.

The University understands that research funding is critical for the support of current and future graduate students and other researchers, and will re-evaluate its position on this and any other issues related to its operations during a strike.

It is worthwhile to point out that the concerns of faculty regarding the long-term impact that missing a grant application deadline might have on their research is comparable to the long-term impact that their strike action might have on undergraduate recruitment in the future. The reality is that in a strike, the consequences can be complex and long term, and for that reason it is in everyone's best interest that a settlement be found as quickly as possible.
What would a letter of censure mean to the University of Windsor?

Kevin Doyle: I frankly don’t know. I’m not I’m really not plugged in on the internal politics of all of that. We certainly wouldn’t welcome it and don’t think we deserve it, and I just hope it doesn’t happen. I don’t think anyone’s really considered what the impact would be.


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