What’s happening at Nipissing University?

NUFA and its allies picketing at the Muskoka campus in Bracebridge.
NUFA and its allies picketing at the Muskoka campus in Bracebridge.

By Susan Srigley, NUFA President

On Nov. 2, full-time faculty at Nipissing University, represented by the Nipissing University Faculty Association in North Bay, Bracebridge, and Brantford walked off the job after months of negotiations and failed provincial conciliation. The issues remaining on the table are: governance, job security, faculty complement and compensation.

North Bay, a city of 50,000, has quite a different make-up from its northern neighbours, most of which have a strong union presence and are resource and mining-based economies.

North Bay, on the other hand, has a more diversified economy where the biggest employers are the hospital, the university, and the province. Typically, the district runs Conservative to Liberal and has not been a strong union town. But times are changing.

The Issues

Since going on strike, we have received incredible support from our provincial and national academic labour organizations, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA), the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) and the CAUT Defense Fund. Representatives from universities across the country have flown in to join us on the line and we keep hearing that our issues are everyone else’s too.

There is not much to say about compensation. We are the lowest paid faculty in the province and we’ve asked only for what is the average settlement in the province in the last few years. At the end of our next contract, we’d still be the lowest paid in the province, but the gap will have remained more or less the same. The senior administration, whose own salaries are set according to parity with administrators at other similar institutions, is offering us less than half the provincial average settlement.

The governance and contract teaching issues are more complicated but are at the heart of how we ended up on strike. Nipissing has experienced an extraordinary turnover of senior administrators in recent years. The new administration has been marked by an unprecedented number of grievances brought by our faculty association, and the break-down of the culture of informal resolution of grievances, which has characterized Nipissing for decades.

Significant decisions with serious impacts on the university have been made unilaterally by the senior administration in violation of both the collective agreement and the provincial act that established Nipissing as an independent university. Governance at Nipissing, as with most universities, is shared between faculty and administration, and administered through a senate /board structure.

In early 2015, the administration announced that it would be terminating all limited-term faculty contracts as a cost-saving measure, which entailed the loss of 22 full-time faculty and a large number of courses. For some small programs, the loss has jeopardized their ability to offer their degree programs.

And in June of this year, the VP and the president took the decision to close a satellite campus of the university in Bracebridge, and suspend all academic programming there without consulting the senate or the local community – even the board of governors were offered no more than the opportunity to rubber stamp the move.

These are just two examples of top down decision making that violates governance processes at Nipissing.

In an effort to gain more control over hiring and to ostensibly cut costs, the employer is proposing to remove the existing limits we have on limited term contract faculty. Instead of the current situation, whereby there are some provisions to convert temporary contracts to full-time, job-secured, tenure track contracts, the employer is proposing unlimited short-term contracts beginning at 5 months and with no upper limit. This is an example of entrenching casualized, precarious labour at universities, which we are determined to resist tooth and nail.

What’s Happening in North Bay?

The issues we are striking over are about the long-term health of the university, and its ability to function and to attract students and faculty to North Bay. Our administrators are happy to be hatchet men, and evidently think that being so is the sure path to bigger and even better paying jobs elsewhere.

But the faculty on strike at Nipissing are quickly becoming a part of a broader set of concerns about the health of North Bay, which all of the sudden is looking like ground zero for austerity in the province.

A four-year freeze to hospital funding in Ontario has seen the North Bay Regional Health Centre lose 350 full-time equivalent jobs in the past couple of years. The most recent round of pink slips were delivered to 158 people – many of them members of CUPE and OPSEU – just last week.

The Ontario Nurses Association believes that the expensive P-3 funding model used to build the hospital has made the situation in North Bay one of the worst in the province. Finally, this week, 195 members of Unifor local 103 – bus and rail mechanics – were issued a 72-hour lockout notice by the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission, a Crown corporation of the province that has been under threat of a selloff for three years. The mayor and our provincial MPP have begun to express worries about the impact of these labour disputes and layoffs on the broader local economy.

Morale among the striking faculty is high as we complete our second week on the line. We have been amazed by the support of other local unions. We are working on ways to return the favour and figure out how labour as a whole might support each other and become central to the conversation about what’s happening in North Bay.

To help striking faculty, contact the President (miked@nipissingu.ca), the VP Academic and Provost (harleyd@nipissingu.ca), and/or the Chair of the Board of Governors (mariannb@nipissingu.ca), and tell them to return to the bargaining table. We have daily updates at both nufastrike.ca and on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/nufacultyassociation/

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