Slate challenges MAUT

DANIEL McCABE | The current election for positions on the executive and council of the McGill Association of University Teachers is shaping up to be a hotly contested and unusual in the organization's recent history.

Every position that's currently up for grabs is being fought for -- which is already out of the ordinary. In recent years, many MAUT executive positions have been filled by acclamation due to a lack of candidates.

What really makes the election stand out, however, is the involvement of the "democracy slate" -- a team of candidates who charge that MAUT's leadership is a closed clique that doesn't welcome ideas from anyone outside its circle.

The slate's candidates also argue that the academic community doesn't play a large enough role in formulating policy at McGill. MAUT, they believe, has done little to challenge this.

Johanne Hebert is one of the candidates running against the democracy slate. The associate librarian of the collections department for the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, Hebert is MAUT's current vice-president (internal).

She takes exception to the slate's sniping. "MAUT has always done an excellent job," says Hebert.

"[MAUT president] Barbara Hales has been a determined negotiator for better academic salaries and she has gotten the administration to acknowledge that our salaries are far below the average salary paid to professors [at Canada's top 10 research universities]."

MAUT lobbied for and helped pay for the study by an outside consulting firm that confirmed the sorry state of McGill academic salaries, adds Hebert.

David Levy, the program director for the Centre for Continuing Education's Department of Languages and Translation, is part of the democracy slate and is running for vice-president (communications).

"We need to open up the channels of communication," says Levy, adding that he believes MAUT has done little to foster discussion amongst academics about some of the tougher issues facing the University: the budget cuts and the resulting downsizing of McGill's teaching corps, for instance.

"There seems to be a smaller number of people making the decisions at McGill. We need to broaden the base of consultation. [MAUT] needs to play a bigger role."

Economics professor Myron Frankman takes on the presidency of MAUT later this month. (MAUT presidents are elected a year ahead of their terms. They serve as president-elect for 12 months before becoming president.) He refuses to take sides in the ongoing election.

Frankman says the current MAUT executive hasn't done a bad job. "I think we've made some headway on the subject of salary policy, for instance." MAUT lobbying had a role to play in recently earning all professors a $2,000 raise, he argues.

"I certainly believe in openness," says Frankman, calling the issue his "pet hobbyhorse.

"In fact, I would like to see MAUT become a model of openness for McGill." Frankman believes the University is currently suffering from a shortage of the stuff.

"I would like to see more transparency in the selection of deans, vice-principals and principals, for instance. When Frederick Lowy was being considered for the rector's job at Concordia, he and the other final candidates gave public lectures. It might be nice to see that sort of thing happen here."

Frankman is wary of a recent trend he believes he spots in Senate: when major changes are being made to policies such as parental leaves or cyclical reviews, senators aren't given enough information. He thinks senators should receive complete copies of existing policies and proposed changes so they can make careful comparisons. According to Frankman, senators often only receive copies of the revised policies with no way of knowing about all the changes that have been made.

Physics professor Shaun Lovejoy is a member of the democracy slate. He is running for the position of secretary-treasurer. According to Lovejoy, "we have to get away from the model that says there is a small group of people who know what's best for everybody."

According to Lovejoy, all but one of the articles published in last year's MAUT newsletter were co-authored by one of three members of the executive. "The newsletter is a tool for transmission, not a forum for discussion."

Lovejoy says that the executive, with the exception of Frankman, seemed to be resistant to the notion of creating an electronic listserv for MAUT members until just recently -- he thinks their belated interest is a direct result of the democracy slate's use of e-mail to reach potential voters.

Lovejoy believes that the executive has shrugged off any attempts by MAUT members to start discussions around the subject of the possible unionization of McGill's teachers. He adds that the nomination process for MAUT executive positions also leaves something to be desired. Members of the executive wield "an inordinate amount of influence in determining their successors."

Hebert responds that if MAUT executive members have actively recruited their replacements in the past, it's because they had little choice. It's often difficult to convince faculty to get involved in MAUT, she states. "We've had Russian-style elections," jokes Hebert. "But only because it's been so difficult to find one candidate for each position. We've had to twist arms."

If the MAUT executive is careful about who it approaches, Hebert says that's because she and her colleagues want to make certain that both campuses and all faculties are represented.

Lovejoy says the University is making major changes on the academic front and MAUT seems to be doing little in response. "We've lost 22 per cent of our academic staff in the last four years. MAUT did nothing to oppose it."

"I don't think there are any good solutions in a time of extreme financial pressure," says Frankman. "No matter what's proposed, somebody is going to get hurt."

Levy says that, contrary to what some people are saying, the democracy slate "is not a pro-union slate.

"We have people [in the slate] who are very pro-union and we have people like Tom Velk who don't even want to hear the word," says Levy.

Levy, Lovejoy and the other members of the democracy slate agree that there ought to be a memorandum of agreement between McGill and MAUT. They say such agreements exist between the universities of Toronto and Victoria and their respective faculty associations. The idea would be to formally acknowledge the role that academics play at McGill and to recognize that they should have an important and influential say in major decisions that affect the institution.

Hebert sees things differently. "We're not a union. We don't have that kind of clout. But we are constitutionally a part of the governance system. MAUT is officially represented on bodies such as the staff benefits committee and the academic salary subcommittee. MAUT is working."

She says she would like to be re-elected to continue her work on the academic salary subcommittee. The other MAUT representative is stepping down and Hebert says, "I would like to be able to provide some continuity." She says she would welcome the opportunity to represent MAUT on that committee along with Velk, the democracy slate member who is running against her.

"Whatever happens, we've started a discussion that is going to continue once this election is over with," says Levy.