UWOFA president prepares for new role at the table
By Adela Talbot
March 06, 2014
While no major disruptions or grievances mark his time, the French Studies professor has worked to strengthen and unify the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA) since taking the post of president last summer.
“When I came in, the three priorities were communication, mobilization of our membership and preparation for our next round of collective bargaining that starts this spring,” Tennant said. “They are very much linked together, and the third one is kind of the key event of this year.”
On Feb. 18, Tennant’s term as UWOFA president ended early, as he stepped down to serve as the association’s chief negotiator for upcoming negotiations. Tennant, who followed English professor Bryce Traister as president, was succeeded by Alison Hearn from the Faculty of Information and Media Studies.
UWOFA represents about 1,700 full- and part-time faculty members at Western.
“One of the challenges I’ve been working on this year, and it’s continuing from previous years, regards how well the different parts of the association work together in collective bargaining,” Tennant said.
UWOFA has made a concentrated effort to reach out to its members, ask for input and feedback and streamline communication over the past year, Tennant noted. Stepping out of the office, attending departmental meetings and engaging in face-to-face conversations have been major focuses in an effort to adequately represent the voice of its members. The addition of a communications specialist to the UWOFA team has likewise strengthened its mandate.
“It’s particularly important, as we go into collective bargaining, that we communicate effectively with our membership, and also, to the broader community about issues of the professoriate here at Western, and wider issues of postsecondary education,” he continued.
In November 2010, UWOFA ratified a new collective agreement by a vote of 521-85 (86 per cent) in favour of the deal. As part of that four-year contract, UWOFA members received scale salary increases of 1.5 per cent each year.
Heading to the bargaining table this year, Tennant sees issues coalescing like job security for part-time faculty and limited-duty faculty members, the push toward online learning and resultant consequences for faculty members, as well as discussions surrounding pension, benefits and compensation.
As he moves into his role as chief negotiator, Tennant said, some things remain unresolved.
“On a global level, I think I’ve left the association in good health for Alison. She and I are working closely together in the coming weeks on this transition. (There’s) one issue that has come up that I’m passing onto her,” he said.
“UWOFA expressed very strong concerns to the administration back in the fall when some students who were handing out leaflets near Orientation Week events were instructed by campus police to move to another location. These students were not disrupting anything; they were handing out leaflets that actually presented a very intelligent, articulate critique of how aspects of a university education are being corporatized, and we were very concerned about the fact that the police intervened and asked them to leave,” Tennant said.
“I had been asked to sit in on a working group to discuss revisions to a policy governing demonstrations or protests on campus. The work of that group is still ongoing and Alison will be taking on UWOFA’s input on that. We will not consent to being associated with a policy that puts inappropriate restrictions on freedom of expression on campus. UWOFA took a stand in favour of freedom of expression, which is linked up with academic freedom, one of the central values of the university that we uphold.”
Other evergreen issues remain, among them the continual advocacy for appropriate allocation of budgeting resources, and UWOFA has been vocal about this, Tennant said, especially given the recent announcement of Western’s new Strategic Plan.
“UWOFA sees appropriate levels of funding to the education enterprise as important. Having good working conditions for the professoriate is intimately linked to the quality of the learning experience of students,” he explained.
“I’ve devoted a higher proportion of my work time than a lot of faculty members to service,” Tennant said. Previously, he has chaired a university Senate committee, served as a department chair and associate dean, and helped develop study-abroad programs at Western.
“I find (service) rewarding and I find the work for UWOFA rewarding because the work of UWOFA has a very direct, positive impact on the lives of the people who teach and do research here,” he said. “It makes this a good place, and keeps it a great place to work and a great place to learn and that gives me great professional satisfaction.”
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