Arbitrator’s decision settles faculty pay, delays on SETs

An arbitrator has resolved most of the outstanding labour issues between Mount Allison’s administration and faculty. The decision gives new insight into the issues that caused the three-week strike earlier in 2014.

The awards resolved differences between faculty and the administration on compensation, sabbaticals and the length of the new collective agreement. An impasse on SETs was sent back to the parties for another chance at negotiation.

Arbitrator Kevin Burkett finalized his decision Nov. 17. The two sides still need to sit down together and approve of the text of a new agreement.

“I don’t think there’s a strong feeling one way or the other about who won or who lost. I think people are saying ‘it is what it is,’ and we move on,” said Robert Campbell, Mt. A’s president. Mt. A communications staff told The Argosy that Campbell would not be in a position to discuss specifics of the arbitrator’s ruling or the collective agreement.

Arbitration for the full-time collective agreement dealt with university proposals to force the use of SETs in hiring, tenure, and promotion and evaluation decisions, and sabbatical deferral for some faculty; a faculty proposal for salary increases; and disagreement on how long the new collective agreement should last. Burkett decided on restricting payments in lieu of benefits, compensation and contract length for the part-time collective agreement.

Burkett cut a middle path on money, awarding full-time faculty salary increases for the next three years, and a boost to part-time compensation.

Full-time faculty received a 1.75 per cent raise from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014, two per cent for 2014-2015, and 2.25 per cent effective July 1, 2015.

Part-time faculty will see their per-course stipends increase from 8.75 to nine per cent of the full-time salary floor in January.

The parties are currently in the process of working out retroactive pay and benefits.

Burkett awarded a three-year collective agreement, rejecting a university request for a four-year contract. While the administration sought stability, Burkett noted a lack of precedent and strong union opposition. Mt. A’s faculty have never had a four-year collective agreement.

Nearly one-third of the decision’s text dealt with how much faculty would be paid, but salaries, said MAFA President Loralea Michaelis, were not among the issues that ultimately triggered the strike.

Money was not as important as matters of tenure and promotion, sabbatical review, intellectual property and teaching evaluations to the faculty.

Ironically, many of these issues were not included in the final submissions to arbitration.

“The ambitious changes that the employer was seeking in this round of collective bargaining, which put us on the picket lines last year, were not settled through the arbitration decision. They were withdrawn in the course of bargaining, during a couple of sessions that were held in mid-August,” Michaelis said.

The issue of SETs, which was sent to arbitration by the university, may not be resolved until mid-2015. Burkett declined to decide on whether to incorporate SETs formally into the university’s evaluation and promotion mechanisms, writing that the “complex, multifaceted and divisive issue … goes to the heart of what Mount Allison University is as an institution.” He will make a decision if no agreement is reached by June 30, 2015 or a later date agreed upon by the parties.

Right now, most faculty applying for tenure voluntarily submit SETs as part of their applications. The university “argues that the voluntary use of SETs by individual faculty members does not sufficiently inform university decision-making,” Burkett wrote. It proposed to make the questionnaires a mandatory part of applications for tenure or promotion. The Mount Allison Students’ Union indicated its support for mandatory inclusion of SETs in 2013.

Faculty balked at the idea.

Faculty have a number of reasons to object the mandatory use of SETs, or “anonymous student questionnaires.” Among them are concerns about statistical validity and interpretation, a lack of scholarly consensus on the best uses for SETs, and a fear that using course evaluations in hiring, tenure and promotion decisions “will select for white males, dressed in suits, for whom English is their first language, teaching easy courses.”

Burkett sided with the university on a proposal updating collective agreement language on deferred sabbaticals for individuals nearing retirement.

The abitrator decided against a faculty request for what Burkett called “signing bonuses” of $1,000 for part-time and $1,800 for full-time faculty, for the university to pay professors’ shares of their benefits plans for the strike period, and the creation of a $100,000 bursary fund for students using money faculty said the university saved during the strike.

With files from Richard Kent.

Jean-Sébastien Comeau