Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT)’s Communications and Membership Engagement Workshop

This article, written by Philip Girvan, StFXAUT Communications Officer, appears in the Summer 2018 edition of The Beacon.

On May 10, 2018 two StFXAUT Communications Committee members, Susan MacKay, StFXAUT Executive Assistant and Philip Girvan, StFXAUT Communications Officer, attended the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT)’s Communications and Membership Engagement Workshop.

The workshop, organized by the Association of Nova Scotia University Teachers (ANSUT), was held on the Mount Saint Vincent University campus. Other Faculty Associations (FA) present included the Faculty Union of Nova Scotia College of Art & Design (FUNSCAD), the Saint Mary’s University Faculty Union (SMUFU), the Mount Saint Vincent University Faculty Association (MSVUFA), and the Cape Breton University Faculty Association (CBUFA).

The day began with a visioning exercise. Participants shared who they were, the history of their respective Faculty Association, its purpose and values, how FAs are perceived by membership (and others), and how this perception aligns or contrasts with how they would like it to be seen. Facilitators asked questions concerning the respective identities of the FAs, and who created this identity? Was it membership? If so, do they feel a sense of ownership towards it or is there an entity outside of the Union influencing this identity? This prompted a spirited discussion and segued into a conversation regarding issue-based campaigns, particularly the challenges of engaging membership in between bargaining years.

Other topics of interest discussed included inter-generational wedges between junior and senior Members in respect to service as well as the need to create pro-union spaces and feelings. The need to emphasize the “collective” aspect of the collective agreement was raised. There was discussion around a frequent perception that collective agreements belong exclusively to the membership and not the institution, and that Unions are often held solely responsible for stalling decision-making.

Following the break, the group turned to other questions. These included whether there is a need to identify single issues and build a communication strategy around each single issue. A discussion that may influence the current StFXAUT Communications Plan involved a suggestion that the communications strategy list resources, including people. The two StFXAUT Communications Committee reps agreed that recruiting subject matter experts within membership may potentially strengthen communications. In addition to content specialists, an example of this could be identifying StFXAUT Members who are adept and active with social media and encouraging them to share StFXAUT social media messaging in order to increase our reach.

We came out of the workshop engaged and feeling that the StFXAUT was in a good place. The StFXAUT has prioritized communications, and has allocated funds to pay staff to do this critical work. This investment has resulted in the development of a StFXAUT Communications Plan. Work directed by the plan includes regularly published newsletters, enhanced and dedicated social media activity, video production, and the ongoing upkeep of the StFXAUT website.

We feel that the workshop was time well spent. In addition to the exchanges discussed above, we were happy to share our experience and learnings with other participants. At the same time, the workshop provided us with suggestions that might enhance the StFXAUT communication strategy and improve our outreach.

Our thanks to all those who participated; Teresa Workman, Office and Communications Manager; ANSUT for organizing the day; the StFXAUT for supporting our participation; and a special thanks to facilitators Lisa Keller, CAUT Communications Officer, and Christina Muehlberger, CAUT Membership Engagement Officer.