ATHABASCA — It was a video which didn’t explain a lot, threw some accusations, and prompted a lot more questions.
In a 12-minute video posted 10 a.m. Aug 5, Athabasca University (AU) president Dr. Peter Scott took to YouTube to defend AU’s position regarding the new metrics imposed by the Minister of Advance Education Demetrios Nicolaides July 29 but some of what was said was pure smoke and mirrors, even hypocritical the faculty association said.
“We agree that this is overreach from the government. This is a very top-down kind of approach,” said Athabasca University Faculty Association (AUFA) president Rhiannon Rutherford. “However, we have significant concerns about the ways the university has handled this, not just in the past week, but since the beginning, since the initial announcement was made back in March and before.”
Rutherford also felt frustrated at the choice of words Scott used.
“I think that one of the main things that is really frustrating for many staff and faculty at the university, our members in particular, is to see the university administration really leaning on this idea of meaningful consultation when that is exactly our concern, our complaint, that we have been saying for years,” Rutherford said. "As faculty and staff, not just our union AUFA, but staff in general, have not been meaningfully consulted about a number of really important things that impact our lives, and our work and our ability to do our jobs.”
Scott started his speech giving historical information about how AU ended up being based in Athabasca before insinuating Nicolaides snubbed the executive by not meeting with them, but the only direct contact would be through the Board of Governors chair, Byron Nelson, which is exactly what happened.
“We received no opportunity to meet and no formal response until last Friday, July 29 when our board chair received a letter from the minister along with the new investment management agreement for AU,” Scott said.
“They put the self in self-government,” said Rutherford. “Faculty and staff all have a say (and) we are perfectly capable of managing in a collective way for the benefit of students and staff, but their version, it seems like self-government is that the administration gets to do whatever they want.”
She added it was not that long ago the AU administration accepted government overreach when it suited them.
“Professionals, like myself, lost a significant benefit because of that round of bargaining and (the) university had absolutely no qualms about accepting that level of overreach when it came to union busting and taking things away from staff,” she said. "(Until) it affects the executive directly or it's undermining these strategic plans.”
Scott went on to note a considerable number of current Athabasca-based staff, 92 per cent, chose overwhelmingly to work virtually, which didn’t capture the nuance of the question posed to staff.
“The way that he framed that was really misleading,” Rutherford said. “The near virtual process didn't allow for a fully hybrid option, and really kind of constrained these decisions to either you're fully in the office all the time, and you don't ever work from home, or you're fully from home and you can come to these hoteling spaces.”
A hoteling space is when employees share office space by reserving space only for the times they need to spend in the physical office.
Scott trotted out other old standards like how hard it is to “attract the best and the brightest,” something AUFA finds insulting for existing staff and faculty.
“(Saying) ‘the best and the brightest' is just really, really problematic,” said Rutherford. "There's a lot to unpack there and also, again, you say it's impossible to attract the best and the brightest, but have you tried anything?”
She laughed wryly when relaying a proverb someone recently told her, “When two elephants are fighting, it’s the grass which gets trampled.”
“We, faculty and staff, should be consulted meaningfully and our agency should be at the centre of this, of what staff actually want,” said Rutherford. “And not just as the grass that gets trampled.”