By Joe Friesen
For the first time in over 10 years more than one person wants to represent all faculty members on campus as president of the Ryerson Faculty Association.
The current race, which will be decided by a mail-in election that finished on December 11, pits David Checkland, a professor of philosophy, against Arthur Ross, a professor of politics and public administration.
The RFA is holding these elections because current president Michael Doucet has decided not to stay on for another term.
The two candidates agree that the membership’s main concern right now is the unresolved collective agreement which has left Ryerson faculty without a contract for almost two years.
But with the dispute in the hands of an arbitrator and a solution expected in the new year, neither candidate wishes to dwell on the issue. Instead, they have outlines their respective visions for the future of the RFA, which represents the interests of professors, librarians and counsellors at Ryerson.
Checkland, who has taught at Ryerson since 1993, says he wants to reduce the tension between the university faculty and its administration. Although he agrees labour relations are at an all-time low, Checkland says the RFA should be careful about demonizing the bosses.
“At every university they [faculty] hate their president and higher administration because administration has been faced with some unpalatable choices due to government budget cuts,” he said.
Ross, who resigned his post on the RFA executive in order to run for the presidency, says the administration has to take the faculty’s concerns more seriously.
“I think the administration has to come to terms with the fact that all decisions concerning the future of the university ultimately have an effect on faculty.”
Ross wants to address the academic issues that threaten the interests of students as well as teachers.
“Faculty are being called upon to teach larger and larger classes and at the same time invest a great deal of time and energy in research. The workload issue is a serious one, not only in terms of the stresses and strains on faculty, but a very serious one in terms of educational quality.”
Checkland was one of the first of the mode two professors to be hired by Ryerson. Under an agreement signed in 1991 faculty already at Ryerson were designated mode one and given special protections, including limits on their class sizes. All faculty hired after 1991 were designated mode two.
Neil Thomlinson, a professor of politics and public administration, says these distinctions within the faculty association have created a union with diverging interests.
“There’s been a lot on tension all along over this. When it was done in 1991 it was very clearly an attempt by management to get a cheap and flexible labour force. And it’s succeeded beyond anybody’s wildest expectations,” he said. “the practical result is that Ryerson’s workload and teaching conditions and everything else are about the worst in Ontario.”
Ross, who is a mode one faculty member, wants the union to focus on overcoming its internal differences. He says that “divisions among the faculty simply play into the hands of the administration.”
Checkland suggests doing away with the mode one and two distinctions entirely.
“In the long run I’d like to see those divisions eliminated so that we all have on blended workload,” he said. “Some people would teach a little more because they’re not doing research, other people would teach a little less because they are and we can accommodate things that way.”
Checkland’s primary campaign pledge is to enhance the democratic process within the union. He wants to enable mode two’s — who currently hold only four of the 13 seats on the RFA executive despite holding 60 per cent of teaching jobs at Ryerson — to make a greater contribution to the shaping of their working environment. He also wants to create a system whereby the union’s negotiating committee, the team responsible for hammering out contracts, can get feedback from the membership.
“Having been here for 10 years and seeing that certain issues have not been effectively addressed and that the union was increasingly not representative of its own members I felt a moral obligation to do something about it,” he said.
Ross said that while the campaign has not been “a full-blown media event,” he has been trying to speak to members about their concerns. He said his experience on the RFA executive is one of the things that differentiates him from his opponent and feels his term as member-at-large would make the transition to the presidency smoother.
Checkland said that, at the moment, people at Ryerson feel “overworked and underpaid and, worse than either of those, ignored or devalued by the administration.” He said union members, if they want the situation to improve, should pay close attention to what the candidates are saying.