by Jeremy Richards
Thoughtful people must not cede all power to politicians and business interests; we must make our voices heard across the full range of professional, social, and civic circles.
(p. 95: Karr, J.R., 2008, Protecting society from itself: Reconnecting ecology and economy, in Soskolne, C.L., ed., Sustaining Life on Earth: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, p. 95-108)

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

General Meeting tomorrow to go ahead

Early indications are that the General Membership Meeting called for tomorrow will proceed, so please still plan to attend and vote. It is not clear what will happen if tomorrow's resolution passes, alongside the motion just passed at Council.

Motions on Bylaws Review passed by Council — GoA grant cut by 1.4% next year, 2.7% the following year

AASUA Council today passed two motions to create a review process for the Association's Bylaws (25 in favour, 18 against) and the constitution of the Bylaws Review Committee (24 in favour, 13 against).

All this while the GoA was announcing cuts to the Campus Alberta grant of 1.4% this coming year, and 2.7% in the following year. Summary details of other measures in the Edmonton Journal.

A double dose of red wine tonight, I think (sadly the effects will be additive, not countervailing).

2,000,000+ visits

Whither has now clocked up over 2 million hits since it was launched in 2010. Thanks for the interest!

GoA Budget Survey

The GoA's on-line budget survey suggests that Albertans (or at least the 40,512 who responded) don't rate higher education very highly — certainly below healthcare and schools.

In answer to the question "Where would you tolerate cuts?", cuts to universities were preferred well above healthcare and education (excluding administration), and even above infrastructure (including roads, bridges, hospitals, and schools).

In answer to the question "Are there options you feel should NOT be touched?", universities were again ranked well below healthcare and education (excluding administration), and below infrastructure.

On the other hand, respondents voted strongly for an increase in the corporate tax rate, a graduated personal income tax, and taxes on cigarettes and liquor to raise revenue, but against healthcare premiums and a PST.

I guess we'll see how much attention the government paid to this survey later today (hopefully not too much on the university funding issue!).

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Budget to be resolved by health care premiums and public sector salary suppression

In Premier Jim Prentice's televised speech in advance of tomorrow's budget, he indicated that health care premiums would be reintroduced (few details yet as to how they will be charged, except a hint that they will be "progressive" and will be charged through the income tax system), and hard bargains would be driven when public sector salary contracts come up for renewal. Prentice disingenuously said that public sector workers "will be treated with respect" in negotiations, while clearly indicating that he viewed their salaries as being a major part of the problem. "Salaries are a major cost driver.... We will honour contracts for our employees. But as contracts expire, we need to seriously examine how we structure those contracts."

There will be no sales tax, no changes to the hydrocarbons royalty structure, and no roll-back of corporate tax breaks.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Motion for AASUA Council

This morning I sent the following motion to the AASUA President, requesting that it be included on the agenda for this week's Council meeting (2-4 pm, 26 March, ETLC 6-060). The intent is to achieve a full review of the Association's Bylaws by a process that is itself consistent with the Bylaws.

The motion arises from discussions with a number of people from several different constituency groups within AASUA, and although initial discussion occurred at an open meeting of the Academic Faculty Committee last week (at which members of other constituency groups were present and contributed to the debate), the motion does not come from that committee, and was not voted on or approved by that committee.

If the motion is passed at the Council meeting, then I would expect the resolution scheduled for debate at the general membership meeting on March 27 to be moot. If the motion fails, then so be it, but at least Council will have had a voice in the process.

I'll keep you posted!

***************************************************************
Motions for March 26, 2015, AASUA Council meeting

1. Motion to revise Bylaws
  1. Council affirms the need to revise the Bylaws in a democratic, member-driven process. Given the urgency of the matter, Council creates a new committee, called the Bylaws Amendment Committee, and seeks nominations for its membership from any interested and qualified AASUA member. The composition of the committee will be determined by Council, and the final committee membership will be decided by a vote or election at the next Council meeting in April.
  2. The Bylaws Amendment Committee is charged with reviewing the Bylaws to ensure their compliance with the PSLA, to improve clarity, remove any ambiguity, fill any gaps, and incorporate organizational changes as desired by the Association’s membership, subject to regulatory compliance. In particular, it is charged with formulating language that will allow direct election of the Officers and standing committee chairs of the Association by the membership. The Bylaws Amendment Committee may hire a consultant, who will be expert in the bylaws of associations with similar constitutions to AASUA, to assist with drafting language. The Bylaws Amendment Committee will also retain legal counsel to advise on compliance with the PSLA.
  3. The Bylaws Amendment Committee is further charged with organizing a consultative process that will inform members about a range of possible governance models for the Association, and will centrally involve members in the identification of core values and principles to guide the writing of the bylaws.
  4. The Bylaws Amendment Committee will report on the results of the consultation with membership, in a written report to be made available to all members.
  5. The Bylaws Amendment Committee will then draft a full revision of the Bylaws in accordance with the values and principles identified by the membership. Prior to the presentation to Council of the first draft, the revisions will be reviewed by legal counsel to ensure their compliance with the PSLA.
  6. The Bylaws Amendment Committee will deliver a full revision of the Bylaws to Council for approval no later than December 2015. At this time, Council may accept the revisions, recommend specific changes, or return the draft to the Bylaws Amendment Committee for further revision.
  7. If the proposed revisions are not approved by Council, the Bylaws Amendment Committee will reconvene to consider the reasons for rejection, will re-draft language accordingly, and will return new revisions to Council for further consideration at the next scheduled Council meeting. This review process will be repeated until Council approves a final draft.
  8. Once Council has approved the revisions to the Bylaws, it will call a Town Hall meeting of the Association’s membership at which the draft language will be presented by the Bylaws Amendment Committee and discussed. The draft will have been circulated electronically to members at least two weeks prior to the Town Hall meeting, along with detailed explanations of any substantive changes (preferably as a side-by-side document where the old and new language can be directly compared). The Bylaws Amendment Committee will consider additional revisions to the language arising from this process, and will bring any further proposed changes back to Council for approval. If the changes are substantial, or if Council does not accept the changes, the process will revert to step 7.
  9. Once Council is fully satisfied with the amendments, and following a final review by legal counsel, the document will be sent to the AASUA membership for ratification by a 2/3 majority vote.
  10. Should the revised Bylaws be rejected by the membership, a further consultation process with members will be undertaken by the Bylaws Amendment Committee to identify the reasons for the rejection and to revise accordingly, returning to step 6.
  11. The Bylaws Amendment Committee will make its best efforts to complete this process by early 2016, in time to allow election of Officers and standing committee chairs of the Association by the membership for the 2016-2017 academic year.
  12. Once this Bylaws review process is complete, the Bylaws Amendment Committee will be disbanded, and the role of regular Bylaws review will revert to the Governance Committee.

2. Motion to constitute the Bylaws Amendment Committee

The Bylaws Amendment Committee will consist of two parts:
  • A Drafting Committee, made up of four individuals elected from the AASUA membership who are skilled at drafting bylaw language. The work of this committee will be to draft revised language under the guidance of an Advisory Committee, consulting legal counsel as needed to ensure compliance with the PSLA and any other applicable regulations.
  • An Advisory Committee, made up of eight people elected from the AASUA membership who represent one each of the Librarian, APO, FSO, TRAS, SOTS, and CAST constituencies, and two members of the Academic Faculty. The work of this committee will be to:
  1. consult with the AASUA membership and more widely about possible governance models;
  2. formulate a preferred model;
  3. communicate that model to the membership and to the Drafting Committee;
  4. arrange Town Hall meetings and any other consultation processes deemed necessary.
  • Nominations will be sought by Council from any interested and qualified AASUA members to serve on these committees.
  • A vote of the full membership will be held in the case that more than four nominations are received for the Drafting Committee.
  • A vote of individual constituency groups will be held if more than the prescribed number of nominations for the Advisory Committee is received from that constituency group.

Friday, March 20, 2015

An acceptable solution?

The Academic Faculty Committee (AFC) had an interesting open meeting this afternoon in which the resolution to be put to the general membership meeting (GMM) on March 27 next week was discussed. At issue was the process that is being proposed by which changes to AASUA’s Bylaws are to be made. It was argued that this process is inconsistent with the Association’s Bylaws on several counts:
  1. Bylaws 4.3.2 states that “A general meeting of the membership may consider and vote upon a resolution for vote in a subsequent referendum.” This will not happen — the vote at the GMM will be the final vote on the resolution. Several people at the meeting this afternoon suggested that this was unfair, because they would not be able to attend the GMM, and therefore would not be able to vote. The Bylaws provision is there exactly for this reason, to give the full membership a chance to vote on the matter.
  2. The resolution excludes the elected Council from any role in this process, despite its carriage of bylaw review matters (Bylaws 11.2: “The bylaws shall be reviewed periodically according to policy established by Council”). Council has already established a policy for Bylaw review, which is to be conducted by the Governance Committee.
  3. The resolution creates a “Bylaw Amendment Committee” that Council has not approved and is not subject to Council, in contravention of Bylaws 5.2 (“The Council may establish or abolish committees of the Association and fix or alter the composition, membership and functions of any such committees”) and Bylaws 5.3 (“All committees of the Association are responsible to the Council and may not commit the Association unless specifically authorized to do so by the Council”).
No-one at the AFC meeting disputed the need for the Bylaws to be reviewed, and it was indeed the AFC that had specifically requested a revision to enable the Officers of the Association to be elected by the full AASUA membership, in accordance with the requirements of the Post-Secondary Learning Act (PSLA). However, the process by which the President has decided to enact these changes is unconstitutional. For that reason alone, the resolution should be voted down at the GMM next week.

I venture below to offer a more acceptable process for revision of the Bylaws, which is in compliance with the current Bylaws (which must be assumed still to be in effect — if not, we really are doomed!).
  1. At the March 26, 2015, AASUA Council meeting, Council affirms the need to revise the Bylaws. Given the urgency of the matter, Council creates a new committee, called the Bylaws Amendment Committee, and seeks nominations for its membership from any interested and qualified AASUA member (the final committee membership to be decided by a vote or election at the next Council meeting in April).
  2. The Bylaws Amendment Committee is charged with reviewing the Bylaws to ensure their compliance with the PSLA, and to improve clarity and remove any ambiguity. In particular, it is charged with formulating language that will allow direct election of the Officers and standing committee chairs of the Association by the membership. The Bylaws Amendment Committee may hire a consultant, who will be expert in the bylaws of associations with similar constitutions to AASUA, to assist with drafting language.
  3. The Bylaws Amendment Committee will deliver a full revision of the Bylaws to Council for approval in Fall 2015.
  4. If the proposals are not approved by Council, the Bylaws Amendment Committee will reconvene to consider the reasons for the rejection, will re-draft language accordingly, and will return the revisions to Council for further consideration at the next scheduled Council meeting; repeat as necessary.
  5. Once Council has approved the revisions to the Bylaws, it will call a Town Hall meeting of the Association’s membership at which the draft language will be presented and discussed (the draft will have been circulated electronically to members at least 1 week prior to the Town Hall meeting, along with detailed explanations of any substantive changes). Council will consider any additional revisions to the language arising from this process, and may also revert the process back to the Bylaws Amendment Committee if substantial issues are identified.
  6. Once Council is fully satisfied with the amendments, it will send the revised Bylaws to the AASUA membership for ratification by a 2/3 majority vote.
  7. This process is to be completed in or before early 2016, in time to allow election of Officers and standing committee chairs of the Association by the membership for the 2016-2017 academic year.
The only down-side to this process is that it will not be completed in time for the election of Officers for 2015-2016, but that is a small price to pay for getting the process (and result) right.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Time for a major shake-up of AASUA?

Several commentators on the recent events reported on this blog have noted that a complete rewriting of the Association's Bylaws could be an opportunity to drastically reorganize AASUA, and to deal with many longstanding problems that have plagued the Association for years. Setting aside for now the issue of how the process of revisions is to be achieved, maybe it is indeed time to grasp the nettle that is AASUA, and reform it in such a way that it better represents its various members' interests?

The primary external constraint to complete reformation of the Association is the Post-Secondary Learning Act, which states:
60(2)  The board of a public post-secondary institution other than Banff Centre may, after consultation with the academic staff association of the public post-secondary institution, do one or more of the following:
(a) designate categories of employees as academic staff members of the public post-secondary institution;
(b) designate individual employees as academic staff members of the public post-secondary institution;
(c) change a designation made under clause (a) or (b) or under section 5(2) or 42(2).
The current composition of AASUA, which includes seven different academic staff categories, each with its own collective agreement, is the broadest of any faculty association in Canada, and has accumulated as a result of decisions by numerous Boards over the last few years. These decisions have been made over the opposition of AASUA in several cases, "consultation" implying no obligation on the part of the Board to act on the Association's concerns.

Clause 60(2)c holds out the hope that this structure could be changed, but the arguments would have to be pretty good to get the Board to agree. Those arguments were ignored in the past when the original designations were made.

So, assuming this doesn't happen, the next suggestion that some people have made is that we break the Association up into separate bargaining units for each of the seven constituencies. This we probably could do, as the current and past practice of "bargaining at a single table" is not mandated in the PSLA — it is just a position that AASUA has adopted on the principle of strength in numbers. It also serves to protect more vulnerable groups such as CAST and SOTS (contract academic staff) who would have little bargaining power on their own. Some groups (e.g., Academic Faculty, APOs) might think that they could get a better deal bargaining separately, but other groups would almost certainly lose out. Despite the unwieldy nature of the current AASUA, it has opted over the past many rounds of negotiations to bargain collectively as a single group for the protection of its more vulnerable members. It would be a brave person to argue publicly (rather than anonymously on a blog) that this practice should change.

OK, next for the governance structure of AASUA. Assuming that our elected Council is equivalent to the "executive" described in the PSLA, we are in compliance with the Act:
86(1) The business and affairs of an academic staff association shall be managed by an executive, the members of which shall be elected by the academic staff members.
Problems arise with our Executive Committee, which is not elected directly by the membership. In the past, where the Executive Committee has fulfilled its mandate as merely a committee that "direct[s] the affairs of the Association between meetings of the Council and to act on resolutions of Council" (Bylaws 7.2.1), this has not been a problem — it is just a management sub-committee of Council. But more recently (viz. the current circumstances) the Executive Committee and Officers have been acting in a way that implies they are superior in authority to Council, and that they are the primary decision-makers (after the membership) and can ignore Council. That is problematic, because it places the Executive Committee in the role of the "executive" as envisaged in the PSLA, but it has not been elected in accordance with the PSLA's regulations. The Executive Committee is therefore non-compliant with the PSLA.

So a shake-up between the AASUA Council and Executive Committee is in order — either the Executive Committee resumes the role set out for it in the Bylaws, or one or the other of Council and the Executive Committee must go, or be redefined.

I suspect this is really what is happening behind the scenes in this rush to change the Bylaws without due process. My guess is that the abolishment of Council will be proposed, with the Association to be run by a member-elected equivalent of the current smaller Executive Committee. This might be a viable model, but it requires full debate. On the plus side, it would probably be easier and quicker to arrive at decisions, sidestepping the lengthy debates of a large Council. But on the negative side, it is those lengthy debates that allow a full airing of issues, and hopefully a more balanced and representative final decision, even if the process is a bit messy and time consuming. But such is democracy.

If such a change is to be proposed, it requires and deserves wide consultation, debate, and discussion across the full range of AASUA's members. Rushing the process through with minimal discussion and debate, and ignoring procedures set out in the Association's governing documents is not the way to do it.

I hope that this post will clarify that I (and others) are not opposed to changing the Association's Bylaws. But it needs to be done properly and extremely carefully, and definitely should not be done in haste.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Housekeeping (CAPTCHA troubles)

Several people have reported problems with not being able to submit comments to this blog. The word verification (CAPTCHA) box doesn't appear, and the comment disappears as soon as the submit button is clicked.

According to comments on the Blogger help forum, this is likely a browser incompatibility problem, or restrictions on acceptance of 3rd party cookies, and seems to be a recent problem. If you are having trouble, please try a different browser, and check that cookies are not blocked.

I tried turning CAPTCHA off but immediately got flooded with spam, so I'm afraid it's back on again. Thanks for your patience and understanding.

Rhumblines procedure unconstitutional

Irrespective of other concerns (previously voiced here), the process outlined on Rhumblines for acting on the resolution to be presented to a General Meeting of the AASUA Membership (GMM) on March 27 contravenes the Association's Bylaws. The Rumblines article states:
Revisions to the Bylaws will require a two-step process: 
1. Membership to consider and vote (simple majority by show of hands) on a resolution (process) to effect substantive Bylaw amendments at this GMM.
2. If this resolution is adopted, members thereafter will be asked whether to adopt the Final Draft of the Revised Bylaws in a subsequent electronic voting process, which will pass by a majority of not less than two thirds (2/3) of the members who vote. Members will receive a minimum of thirty (30) calendar days’ notice before voting (Bylaw 11.1).
Assuming that the Bylaws are still extant and applicable, this process misses a key step. Bylaws 4.3.2 stipulates that adoption of a resolution at a GMM then triggers a referendum of the full membership:
Bylaws 4.3.2: A general meeting of the membership may consider and vote upon a resolution for vote in a subsequent referendum.
and
4.3.4  The final authority of the Association for purposes of approving a resolution shall be a referendum determined by a ballot of all members of the Association.
Consequently, if the resolution passes at the GMM, the same resolution must be sent to the full membership for a referendum before the provisions in the resolution can be acted upon.

However, the Rhumblines article instead envisages that approval of the resolution at the GMM is sufficient to proceed directly to Bylaws revision, with a referendum only at the end of the process on the revised Bylaws.

Either President Kane is unaware of these provisions in the Bylaws, or is deliberately disregarding them. It would appear that the latter is the case, because he has previously implied that the Bylaws are invalid. This is tantamount to a constitutional coup, and replacement with presidential rule by decree in advance of a promise of constitutional reform by a process and in a form of the president's choosing.

In describing constitutional coups, Katja Newman (2011) suggests:
Imagine playing a game where the most powerful player also makes up the rules of the game. Now imagine the game is government, the rules are the constitution, and the most powerful player is the president. This scenario would not be surprising under authoritarian rule, where elites enjoy near total control over institutions.
And goes on to say:
They [constitutional coups] rarely occur in Western democracies.
Hmmm.