November 23, 2023
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Treaty 1 – The Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations (MOFA) affirms the importance of academic freedom, particularly in times of conflict, and recognizes the vital role of scholars and educators in initiating and guiding what can be difficult conversations. MOFA also reiterates the freedom of academics to engage in both university-based and public debates.
MOFA is gravely concerned about comments made by prominent Manitoban politicians about an event scheduled for November 24 at the University of Winnipeg, entitled “Palestine and Genocide: Reflections on Imperialism, Settler-colonialism and Decolonization.” These comments suggest that such an event must be deemed “balanced” and “diverse” by Manitoba’s political leaders and university administrators in order to proceed. Such attempts to influence university administrators are a threat to the autonomy of scholarship and public debate, which depends on the ability of researchers and educators in Manitoba’s universities to share their opinions without threat of retribution from university administrators, or from politicians who make demands of those administrators. MOFA categorically rejects such interventions by politicians of all parties and in all levels of government.
Academic freedom requires neither neutrality nor ‘balance’ but entails engagement and commitment to an honest search for knowledge and understanding. MOFA stands in solidarity with UWFA colleagues and with all academics committed to public engagement and critical debate.
Further, MOFA calls on the administration of the University of Winnipeg to immediately affirm its commitment to academic freedom, including its contractual obligation to refrain from censoring or disciplining UWFA members for exercising their academic rights and duties to free expression and free inquiry into matters of public interest and importance.
MOFA President, Allison McCulloch, underscores that “political intervention puts undue pressure on the university to cancel critical events and on academics to censor their analysis.”
MOFA is comprised of four faculty associations, which represent over 2,000 faculty and academic staff at the University of Winnipeg, University of Manitoba, Brandon University and Université de Saint-Boniface.
August 3, 2023
This afternoon the provincial Justice Minister announced in a news release that the Progressive Conservative government will not seek to appeal the Court of Appeal’s decision to uphold the $19.4 Million in damages awarded to UMFA Members. These are the damages for that same government’s 2016 violation of your Charter right to freedom of association.
What are the next steps and when will the $19.4 Million be released?
While the government has made a public, non-binding announcement, nothing formal has been communicated to UMFA or UMFA’s external legal counsel. Our external legal team has now reached out to the government’s legal team to verify the announcement, and we await the government’s formal response. I will update you each time we have new information and move to the next steps of this process. Please be aware that once the announcement is confirmed, it could be months before the damage award is made available to UMFA to distribute to you.
You should not rely on this money until you have actually received it, and that there is a strong likelihood that the damages will be subject to income tax.
How Will the $19.4 Million be Allocated?
Once UMFA is actually in receipt of the damages, a process will be created to determine and review the precise amount allocated to each of you.
While everyone hoped that today’s announcement would signal a change in this Progressive Conservative government’s respect for the public sector, and unions’ rights to bargaining freely with their employer, it appears that it is business as usual for this government, with continued threats to Manitoba’s public sector: Manitoba Hydro workers only recently halted their strike to review a tentative agreement; Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries workers are locked out; and Manitoba Public Insurance workers are preparing for a strike vote.
July 17, 2023
Sent via email
Dr. Michael Benarroch
President, University of Manitoba
202 Administration Building
Fort Garry Campus
Dear President Benarroch,
RE: Masking, Ventilation Standards, and other Health and Safety Matters
Despite much of the normalcy that has resumed amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, COVID-19 is not a trivial ailment, even for healthy people who are up to date with their vaccinations, and it continues to pose a severe threat to the most vulnerable among us. The ongoing circulation of SARS-CoV-2 in Winnipeg makes it a workplace hazard, but one that can be mitigated.
On April 24, 2023, you announced that the mandatory mask mandate would be lifted as of May 1, 2023. It was replaced with the imperative to respect the decision of others to individually determine whether or not to wear a mask in University of Manitoba (UM) spaces.
As we are all aware, masking is especially important for reducing transmission of COVID-19 because it is most infectious before individuals develop symptoms. While it remains imperative for UM administration to direct people with symptoms of COVID-19 to stay home when sick, this is insufficient to prevent transmission on UM campuses.
The administration is obligated to take every reasonable measure to protect people from workplace hazards. Given the above factors, UMFA takes the position that the mandate should be expanded from its current form and enable UMFA members to mandate mask-use in the laboratories, classrooms, and office spaces over which they have direct control while performing their university duties. The Association further holds that students who are immunocompromised, or can otherwise demonstrate a need for accommodation with respect to protection from exposure to COVID-19, can apply through Student Accessibility Services to have a mask mandate imposed on particular learning spaces, as arranged in consultation with UMFA members per the University’s Student Accessibility Policy and Procedures. Accommodations such as these already exist for individuals with severe allergies (e.g. mandating peanut-free or scent-free spaces) and expanding such measures to include mandatory masking is an appropriate response based on what we have learned throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
The administration has also communicated to the University community that its ventilation systems have been reviewed in the past few months and that almost all University spaces are up to acceptable standards. However, the Association continues to be concerned that the administration’s air testing techniques are flawed and inappropriate (e.g. testing air quality in empty buildings), and continue to question whether the standards being tested against are those that have been updated since the start of the pandemic. Ensuring the quality of the air in classrooms, labs, offices, and other spaces on campus is essential, and the administration should be open and transparent with all testing procedures used, and their results. The Association continues to hold that University-wide ventilation standards should utilize the most up-to-date air quality standards to minimize the circulation of COVID-19, and we note that the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has recently approved Standard 241, “Control of Infectious Aerosols”, which the University should adopt. The administration should create publicly accessible webpages where the locations, dates, and results of air-quality testing are reported. In the event that a space does not meet the new ASHRAE standards, the administration should immediately acquire, and pay for from central funds, portable ventilation units to immediately improve the indoor air-quality, until a more permanent ventilation solution can be implemented.
The administration has taken some steps toward reminding members of the University committee of the benefits of wearing masks and the importance of staying home when sick. To help ensure these directives are effective the administration should redouble its efforts to advertise the benefits of mask use and to make available KN95 or equivalent masks, and should redouble its efforts to encourage staff and students to stay home when they experience COVID-19 or flu-like symptoms. To this end we request that the administration develop an appropriate plan of action on these issues, to be implemented in the lead up to the Fall 2023 Semester when it is reasonable to anticipate cases of COVID-19 will again be on the rise.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the necessity of clean air in our indoor spaces, and the administration must act expediently to ensure our workplace is safe, and not ignore the vitally important lessons we have learned over the last three years.
President, University of Manitoba Faculty Association
July 18, 2023
Sent via email
Dr. Michael Benarroch
President, University of Manitoba
202 Administration Building
Fort Garry Campus
Winnipeg, MB R3T 2N2
Dear President Benarroch,
RE: Response to “What We Heard” report as part of UM Strategic Plan
We have reviewed the President’s Task Force’s “What We Heard” report and have several concerns about the document to articulate before the strategic planning process continues. Our concerns centre on the non-academic form the plan appears to be taking, and issues of academic freedom.
Key Information and Sources Not Included in the Report
The “What We Heard” report is presented as if it were without author, does not detail who produced it or who participated in the process of submitting ideas and opinions, presents contentious issues that are surely matters of debate as if there were consensus, and closes with the logo of the external consulting firm that was hired to help write the report and guide the strategic planning process. From an academic perspective, the report lacks the markers that one would expect to find in a document intended to present a university’s strengths and weaknesses and prepare the way to plotting a path forward.
Further, the report claims to be based on input from members of the university community, yet it is impossible to determine to what extent the assertions made in the report accurately reflect what was said to the Task Force’s facilitators in their consultation sessions. In the “What We Heard” report’s introduction, it is noted that in phase one of the strategic planning exercise 650 faculty, 560 staff, 70 students, and 70 others were consulted, and that in phase 2 approximately 500 students and 500 faculty and staff were consulted (p. 3). Beyond these basic descriptive statistics there is little to no backing for the claims made in the report. From the Association’s perspective, the document lacks any grounding that would inspire confidence that it accurately reflects what was said to the administration about the current and future needs of the University.
While not without its flaws, the University’s May 1997 lead-up to its September 1997 Strategic Plan (entitled “Taking Stock: What the Task Force Heard”) provides an important contrast to what the University has recently released: the 1997 document was written in the voice of the University Task Force that produced it; it includes a three-and-a-half page list of the names of everyone who made a submission to the task force; it is 40 pages long, and contains academic references along with a list of the members of the Task Force that were responsible for the report’s drafting; it provides relatively detailed options for what might be done to improve the UM’s graduate and undergraduate learning opportunities, its technology and computing facilities, the libraries, the efficiency of its administrative processes, issues with the operating and capital budgets, the recruitment and retention of faculty, and more; it notes where there are competing ideas on certain issues and that certain choices will have to be made and priorities chosen; and, lastly, the Task Force’s external advisor was not a private-sector consultant, but a Professor Emeritus and former Vice-President (Academic) of another university. It is this level of detail that we deem appropriate for such a pivotal academic work.
Since 1997, academia, including the UM, has adopted and encouraged open data, and the sharing of raw data. With large open data repositories, including the UM’s Institutional Repository, MSPace, it is not only appropriate to share such pivotal academic work, but the infrastructure now exists to share it, in ways that were not available in 1997. Before the current process proceeds any further, we request that the administration release a formal report of the information it has collected, along the lines of the 1997 report. Without such an assessment, the strategic plan that follows risks resembling a corporate public relations press release more than a self-assessment undertaken by an academic institution.
Survey as an Opinion Poll, Not Formal Assessment
Our concerns about the current report are reinforced by the fact that the survey on the University’s website, which will form part of phase three of the strategic planning process, asks if the five priority areas identified in the report “resonate” with the survey respondent, and further asks what “aspirational goals” the respondent would like added to those outlined in the current report. These types of questions undermine any imperative by those most familiar with the University (i.e. its faculty, students, and staff) to critically assess the institution’s current strengths and weaknesses. These survey questions make clear that the survey is an opinion poll rather than a formal assessment of the current state of the institution. The strategic plan should be the latter and not the former.
Academic Freedom is Missing from the Report
The principles of academic freedom – as they appear both in the UMFA/UM Collective Agreement and the University’s policy on academic freedom – demand the critical assessment of any and all received doctrines. We are concerned that the “What We Heard” report does not once reference academic freedom, nor reflect it as a core principle, and instead presents matters of debate as matters of consensus or neutral administrative policy. The ability to have frank, open discussions that are deliberative and substantive in their outcome is central to the learning, teaching, and research done by the University’s community. The “What We Heard” report, and the Strategic Plan that will follow, must be explicit of the centrality, importance, and role of academic freedom. The continued further strategic planning process must be explicit about the principles of academic freedom, and in addition to releasing the data upon which the current report is based, the President’s task force should revise and resubmit the current “What We Heard” report with the principle of academic freedom in mind.
Corporatization of Strategic Planning Process
The process used to develop the “What We Heard” report is one of the sources of the larger trends plaguing our university. As described in the report, the UM struggles to “expand upon avenues for progress and innovation” and there is “a decrease in public buy-in for, or at the very least the questioning of, the value of university-level education and other universities activities” (p. 4). This is not only an external problem, but also one internal to our University, one that is in part a product of the administration’s tendency to keep its processes and deliberations confidential and rely on highly paid external consultants in place of open deliberation and decision making in the University’s collegial bodies. This top-down, secretive, private-sector style approach is a barrier to students’ and faculty members’ ability to properly engage in processes to which they would otherwise naturally gravitate. This is true of the Board of Governors general reliance on closed meetings and the University’s by-and-large opaque budgeting and financial reporting processes. This style of governance also in part explains attendance levels of faculty members at formal meetings of department and faculty councils: when such meetings are largely “consultative” and top down they displace collegial self-governance and drive people away, rather than bring them closer.
The University of Manitoba should get Back to the Basics
During our consultation session, UMFA representatives conveyed the importance of returning to the basic principles of the university: emphasising the importance of academic freedom in all aspects of academic life; investing in students and faculty to improve student outcomes and experiences; re-investing in existing core infrastructure (e.g. modernizing ventilation in buildings on all campuses; improving teaching and research facilities; etc.). Though some elements of the “What We Heard” report reflect this in abstract ways (e.g. “developing life-long learners skilled in creative, critical, and adaptive thought”), others completely miss the mark of core academic principles (e.g. “UM graduates are the university’s brand” or an emphasis on “specific fields” of research). The most productive way forward is through the reaffirmation of core academic principles, including collegial governance, academic freedom, basic research, and excellence in teaching.
We look forward to the administration releasing the information collected during its consultations, and that moving forward the process will emphasize and rely on academic principles.
President, University of Manitoba Faculty Association
Are you passionate about making a difference? Do you have ideas and a great enthusiasm to share them? Do you have a knack for organizing social events? Maybe you're passionate about politics and want to see elected officials do more for post-secondary education.
Now is the perfect time for you to join one of the UMFA Organizing and Communications Committees. Choose from the Listening Tour Sub-committee, Election Action Sub-committee, Social Events Sub-committee, Safe Air Sub-committee, and the Bargaining Sub-committee.
Listening Tour Sub-committee
The best way to keep your colleagues connected to the Association is to talk to them one-on-one. Members of the OCC Listening Tour Sub-committee will be reaching out to UMFA Members throughout the year to hear what they have to say about their workplaces, and about how working conditions can be improved. Training and support provided!
Social Events Sub-committee
Have a knack for organizing social events? Join this OCC Sub-committee and help get your colleagues together for coffee, conversation, and other social activities.
Safe Air (formerly the COVID-19) Sub-committee
The Safe Air sub-committee works to educate and advocate for safe, clean air for everyone on our campuses. We advocate for improved ventilation to reduce transmission of airborne viruses and pathogens, create materials to support precautions in our workplace (masking, COVID-19 Teaching FAQ) and work together to advocate for a future of safe air on campus that goes beyond the current and on-going COVID-19 pandemic.
This committee is a new initiative to help support the bargaining team, Collective Agreement Committee (CAC), and Executive with member mobilization initiatives.
Whether you're a seasoned expert or you just want to bring a fresh perspective to the table, your unique skills and ideas are valuable assets that can help shape the committees' initiatives.