CAUT’S New Activist Workshop

Written by Susan MacKay, this article originally appeared in the Winter 2016 Edition of The Beacon.

On Thursday, November 26, I had the opportunity to participate in the inaugural New Activist Workshop, hosted by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) in Ottawa.

Before I reflect on what I learned during the workshop, let me begin by expressing my appreciation to the StFXAUT Executive Committee for supporting and encouraging my participation in, what I deem to be, a significant professional development and educational opportunity.

The goal of the day-long workshop was to encourage a new generation of academic staff to become involved in their associations and to explore challenges confronting academic workplaces and current post-secondary education (PSE) issues, such as collective bargaining, grievance handling, equity, casualization, academic freedom, communications and media relations, and membership engagement.

The format of the fast-paced workshop consisted of open discussions; small group discussions; the opportunity to present and summarize learning with the larger group and CAUT staff members who were present that day; and plenary presentations.

The day began with the eighteen faculty members from various Canadian faculty associations being divided into small working groups who would remain together for the duration of the workshop.  I had the privilege of learning alongside quite a dynamic group:  Dr. Marie Battiste (Saskatchewan), Dr. Gul Caliskan (St. Thomas), Dr. Étienne Dako (Moncton), and Dr. Matt Reid (Northern BC).

Before our small group morning session, a larger discussion took place about important issues affecting academic workplaces and current PSE issues, of which four main challenges were identified:  casualization, corporatization, equity, and membership renewal/mobilization engagement.

Our group was tasked with identifying and analyzing issues of equity and how these affect faculty associations and academic environments.  After an engaging group discussion, Gul and I presented the summary of our discussion to the larger group, and I then shared some examples of how members of the StFXAUT are engaged in their ongoing commitment to creating an equitable campus environment:

  • The AUT hosted a CAUT Equity Workshop in November 2014;
  • The Status of Women and Equity Committee (SOWE) members contributed an article to the 2015 Winter edition of the Beacon to further educate and raise awareness about equity issues;
  • The SOWE released an anonymous survey to the membership in August 2015;
  • AUT members were invited to participate in StFX’s first Equity Summit held in September 2015; and
  • The recent campus-wide Unionversity poster campaign, in collaboration with four other campus unions, including the Students’ Union, to highlight the value of all campus labour and how it directly contributes to and supports students’ academic experiences (several participants viewed the posters and thought they might also incorporate this idea on their campuses).

The intensive day of learning culminated with each group applying their newly-acquired knowledge and activist skills into one of four scenario-based, skills-building exercises:  formulating and presenting a grievance strategy, preparing a poster and event campaign, producing a movie using one’s smart phone, and preparing and hosting a press release.  Our group created a poster campaign around whose theme was engaging the campus and greater community about the importance creating healthy, equitable university campuses.

The workshop was beneficial in numerous ways.  I further solidified my understanding and knowledge about PSE issues in Canada and how they significantly affect AUT members and our academic community (e.g., the continual reliance on Contract Academic Staff (CAS), representing approximately 30% of faculty association members in Canadian universities; academic freedom; and the corporatization of education).

What is most significant is that I learned that my role as executive assistant is an activist one—not solely administrative, as I had previously thought it to be.  It is about educating; communicating, connecting, and engaging with; serving; and, especially, listening to you, the members, as we collectively strive for and commit to creating a collegial, respectful, and equitable campus community for all.