The Reach of Rumor

Susan Knutson

A rumour reached me – a wild idea roaming and running at large. It is a crazy idea but compelling, and I am compelled in turn to respond. Here is the idea: “the interests of the faculty and those of the ‘university’ are in opposition.”  Let us look closely into this assertion.

In its nature, this is a simple, binary proposition, placing “the university” in the centre, and the professors in another location, one apparently outside the university: invaders, or parasites.  However, in reality, professors are located within and are part of the university body, by definition.  A scholarly teacher with a PhD who is not located within a university is not, cannot be, a professor; furthermore, a teaching institution without professors cannot be a university. The binary simplicity of the rumoured notion – that the interests of the professors are not those of the university – is its major weakness, yet this simplicity also gives the idea its ready appeal. 

A related metaphor, also footloose at the moment, suggests that the professors – again in their guise as outsiders – are trying to enlarge their “footprint” at the university.  I guess this means that they are trying to have more of a say in university governance. This idea is more complex, but as it happens, neither metaphor accurately models the reality of Université Sainte-Anne. Both are misleading.

Ideas are never born in a vacuum (Hermeneutics 101).  What context has generated the notion that the interests of the professors are opposed to the interests of the “university”?  Could this compelling idea be the product of decades of stressful budget-keeping, during an era when multinational corporations as a matter of course relocate to parts of the world where labour is cheaper? When the real wages of working people in the wealthiest western countries have declined? Decades during which higher education in Canada has been chronically underfunded, and small, unique francophone universities such as ours have been exposed to continuous stress and risk?  Eric Tufts, our Vice-recteur d’administration, has shepherded our budget well, through these dangerous times. Unlike l’Université Laurentienne, we are in pretty good shape financially; however, it cannot have been easy.

But – to return to our main point – it is an illusion to imagine that the interests of the faculty and those of the “university” are opposed. The University cannot be divided in that way. 

The faculty – scholars, teachers, researchers, librarians – do the work that defines the university as a university; they produce the products for which the university is known. Faculty work creates the value which the university offers on the world market; value which we hope to enhance in coming years, as announced in our latest Strategic Plans.  Professors’ work – university teaching, learning, and research – is the indissoluble heart of the university. It is what makes us a university at all. 

At this time, the faculty are demanding more respect at the bargaining table; more of a voice. What are the faculty voices trying so hard to say?

Faculty voices are calling for fairness and equity, especially for the more vulnerable among us: those working in the college programs, and those who get by year after year on fixed-term or course-by-course contracts. They are calling for collegial, transparent governance.

Faculty voices are also talking about physics, math, poetry, pedagogy, marine eco-systems, the social determinants of health, francophone cultures and spaces, linguistics, rural economies, biochemistry, community development … and a lot more.  These talkative professors are passionate about knowledge and the university is an energy hub for their informed conversations: this is why and how our students thrive. This is the core of our identity as a university. This is how we support young bilingually literate critical-thinking citizens, future nurses, doctors, social workers, lawyers, scientists, teachers, bankers, entrepreneurs, accountants, translators, journalists, therapists, professors, poets, and more.

There is also the matter of faculty service to the community and to the university: committees, counselling, citizen science programs, program development and quality control (on which the university depends). Faculty voices are needed in those arenas too.

Without all this faculty work, Sainte-Anne would not be a university. At the least, our propositions and ideas, our voices and our demands, should be given a civil and fair hearing and receive good faith responses at the bargaining table and on committees.

The notion that faculty interests are opposed to the interests of the university is just wrong.  

This current atmosphere of opposition and conflict, which all of us are suffering from now – this is opposed to the interests of the university.  This is taking up too much much of a footprint.  Lack of care and respect for our fellows – professors, students, staff, and admin – is toxic for all of us and is clearly opposed to the university’s interests.

Susan Knutson, PhD (UBC 1989), is Professeure titulaire and Chair of English. Trained as a Canadianist and feminist scholar, she was the founding editor of the university’s peer-reviewed journal, Port Acadie, and the First Dean of Arts and Sciences at Université Sainte-Anne (2002-2007).