As we reach the end of exams, and our various departments and offices close for the break, I would like to extend my best wishes to all of you. The past few months have been very difficult. Between the global pandemic, the provincial budget cuts, and our university’s ongoing restructuring, so many of us are facing very difficult times right now.
I would like to also mention the CAUT Refugee Foundation, which is currently raising funds to support the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. I have sent $1000 to the Foundation from the President’s discretionary fund, and I encourage you to consider supporting it too, if you are able. Here is a link to more information: <https://www.canadahelps.org/en/charities/the-caut-refugee-foundation/>
I would like to congratulate Heather Bruce, who was elected by the membership and appointed by the Minister of Advanced Education to a three-year term on the Board of Governors.
On November 26, I introduced a resolution at CAUT Council against the IHRA definition of Antisemitism. This is a definition that conflates criticism of the state of Israel with Antisemitism, and it is being used to suppress the academic freedom of academics in Canada and worldwide. AASUA was one of the first Canadian faculty associations to speak out against this definition, and I was proud to move this resolution at CAUT on behalf of our association. I was doubly proud to see CAUT Council unanimously approve this resolution (read more here).
We remain in bargaining for a new collective agreement. A final bargaining update of 2021 will be coming shortly from our Lead Negotiator, Gordon Swaters.
We had our AGM in late November, and out of that AGM came a motion to restore the Members’ Forum. Executive is currently working through various operational issues around that, and expects to have the Forum restored in January. If you would like more details, I have included them at the end of this message.
Again, best wishes to you all over these short, cold winter days. May the new year bring a new sense of hope and resolve, as the days begin to lengthen!
Details regarding the Members’ Forum:
The AASUA website had a Members’ Forum, a discussion forum usable by all members, beginning in early 2018. This forum was created as a venue for members to communicate with one another about issues of importance to them, and the discussions there helped in sharing concerns, asking and answering questions about AASUA operations, and suggesting ideas and actions for Council and Executive to consider.
From the beginning, there were operational difficulties and active discussions over the particular structure of the Forum. In June 2021, a discussion thread emerged whose content violated the policy governing the Forum. It was taken down, and immediately another discussion began which was also in violation. Executive decided to suspend the Members’ Forum entirely until Council – the body which sets and amends policy – could review the situation and determine a way forward.
At its September 2021 meeting, Council reviewed both the question of the problematic threads, as well as related issues, such as a communication survey of members that revealed, among other things, that respondents had an interest in reforming or removing the Forum. Council decided at that meeting to remove the Forum.
At the AGM on November 19, a motion was brought to restore the Members’ Forum within 7 days of the AGM, reversing Council’s September decision. Because of the number of members speaking to the motion, and the time constraints of the AGM, the question was called and the motion passed before everyone in the queue had a chance to speak.
Executive has been working to implement the AGM resolution, with due consideration to the constraints and obligations surrounding it. I sincerely apologize that we were unable to work through all of these issues in the 7 days specified by the AGM resolution.
The barriers to immediately re-instating the forum (which had all members subscribed to it in accordance with our Communications Policy) include an operational inability to turn off email notifications that members receive from every single post and reply to a topic on the Forum. When the Forum was previously active, these technical limitations led to a high volume of messages to our staff from frustrated members wanting to unsubscribe, which consumed a large amount of staff time and, in the worst cases, became harassment. Another barrier emerged when an upgrade was performed by our website developers. We discovered after the AGM that this upgrade introduced a bug which deactivated the link for members to easily unsubscribe from the Forum. This technical issue would contribute to members getting frustrated. Third, Executive has a legal obligation to our unionized staff that it cannot ignore – we will not take an action where we know they are likely to face harassment as a result. Resolving these issues with our current platform or implementing an alternative option is imperative before we can restore the forum. Legally, there is an emerging body of jurisprudence around the responsibility of online publishers around the content of forums they host. It is my opinion and that of Executive that we should have safeguards around our Members’ Forum so that we not unduly expose the Association to legal risk. Therefore, Executive has directed that the forum not be re-launched until these issues are dealt with.
Executive is actively looking at solutions, both within the current platform and through alternative platforms. It is my hope that we will be able to restore the new, improved Members’ Forum early in the new year.
Council recommended at its December 16 meeting that Executive hold a plebiscite to determine the will of all members on this issue. More information will be coming in advance of that vote, which will be held in the new year.