Grant and Larry,
I understand that discussions about the status of the Labour Studies Program are proceeding. As someone with an interest in the Program, I would like to offer my observations.
Two matters merit attention. First, it is standard practice for labour education programs to recognize the sensitivities and focus upon the needs of organized workers. Labour education programs treat labour as a legitimate denizen of pluralistic democratic societies with unique characteristics. Labour education is distinct from adult education. The industrial relations climate in Saskatchewan necessitates barring managers from labour education programs in order to avoid chilling the classroom environment. The Institute for Labour and Industrial Relations at the University of Illinois, where I studied, had and presumably has separate labour and management extension programs-- similar material, two audiences. This reflects that reality of what is necessary to make labour education programs work. Harvard’s labour education program is also exclusively for trade unionists. These university-based programs and many like them have operated successfully without being attacked for contravening a conveniently contrived university accessibility “principle”. In fact, the raison d’etre of such programs is to include a group in society which otherwise would not be served by a university. This is no different than the University of Saskatchewan’s commendable outreach programs on behalf of aboriginal people. Issues of non-aboriginal exclusion are not raised in that case.
President Hubich argues for continuation of a successful program which serves labour and 20+ year partnership with the University. Without a doubt, admitting managers into labour studies classes would scuttle the program. Labour, the program’s faculty and central administration all know this.
Second, why has this program come under attack rather than being a source of pride for the University? The SFL’s position seems to be that the problem is with the University’s central administration rather than the College of Commerce. In fact, the central administration, in transforming the University from the “people’s university” to a corporate university, has as a matter of an anti-union corporate policy targeted the Labour Studies Program. The claim of principle-based action is bogus. As noted, more distinguished universities than this one cultivate relationships with labour. The University’s stand reflects a deeply held anti-union animus and ideology, not high academic principle.
This policy is broadly reflected in the University’s poor relationships with USFA and CUPE; the curious fact that the only managers who have actually sought admission to the Labour Studies Program work in the central administration of the University of Saskatchewan; the irregularities having to do with filling an industrial relations faculty position in the Department of IROB which have seen the central administration twice withdraw the position and only approve a hiring with attached conditions which are questionable or at least irregular; the high turnover within the University’s own once highly respected and experienced professional industrial relations staff; and the University’s planning document on outreach and engagement which calls for departmentally-based outreach programs but pointedly ignores IROB’s/Commerce’s Labour Studies Program.
Nothing other than unvarnished anti-unionism explains why the central administration would attack a highly successful, low budget, low profile program which is designed to serve the educational needs of the labour community. This antipathy runs so strongly that the central administration seems willing to court political meddling in the affairs of the University and a public battle which will besmirch the reputation of the University in labour circles for a generation in order to undermine a labour-friendly program. President Hubich is correct in concluding that Dean Isaac is not empowered to reach a settlement labour could accept. The problem is not at the operating unit level but in the central administration.
I make these observations as one who helped to found and has taught in the program as well as one who has studied the province’s industrial relations for 30 years. It is with sadness that I share these thoughts. In the province which, under Tommy Douglas’ leadership, pioneered labour rights and at a publicly-funded university where President MacKinnon’s predecessors welcomed labour to campus, this is a sorry state of affairs. If this struggle continues to broaden, I feel it will be incumbent upon me go public with my views supporting organized labour’s modest request.
name withheld, PhD
Professor of Industrial Relations
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Letter from tenured U of S Professor on the Labour Studies Program
On March 5, 2007 I received the letter below from a long service member of the U of S Faculty employed in the College of Commerce. It was jointly addressed to me, and to the Dean of the College of Commerce. I have removed the author's name for obvious reasons.