U of M strike: Union accuses administration of 'sulking'

The University of Manitoba Faculty Association is accusing university president David Barnard and his administration of "sulking" after it rejected the school's latest offer.

School administration top-heavy and out of touch, University of Manitoba Faculty Association says

More than 1,200 faculty members at the U of M's Fort Garry and Bannatyne campuses went on strike Nov. 1. (Bert Savard/CBC)

The University of Manitoba Faculty Association is accusing university president David Barnard and his administration of "sulking" after they rejected the school's latest offer.

The heated language expresses the frustration faculty have been feeling after conciliation talks ended this weekend, said UMFA president Mark Hudson.

"They're sort of throwing up their arms," Hudson said of university administrators. 

"If we need to turn the heat up a little bit to get them back to the bargaining table, that's what we'll do."

University administration resubmitted a previously rejected proposal to UMFA on Monday after the talks ended unsuccessfully Sunday.

The offer accepts some of the changes the union is demanding with regard to workload management except one fundamental issue.

The union would like to see workload disputes that cannot be resolved internally to go to independent arbitration. On that, the University of Manitoba cannot compromise, said John Kearsey, vice-president of external relations for the university.

Using an independent arbitrator would take decision-making out of the dean's office, he said, arguing it would be costly and time consuming.

"It takes months to get things to arbitration typically," Kearsey said. 

UMFA: return to the bargaining table

Hudson said UMFA is ready to return to the bargaining table but Kearsey said the ball is in the union's court. It must offer a compromise, or different language, around independent arbitration.

Kearsey said it is time for the union to go back to their membership and find out how important the independent arbitrator is for faculty at the University of Manitoba.

"We believe it's time for them to bring this to their membership … and ask them about the issues and do they feel these issues are important enough to keep 29,000 [students] ... have their academic terms interrupted," said Kearsey.

The University of Manitoba Faculty Association has been on strike for two weeks. 

Both two sides have been in discussions since March, when the last collective agreement expired.

Union criticizes Indigenous studies record

Earlier on Monday UMFA accused the administration of making bold promises to support Indigenous scholarship while pouring resources into public relations and salaries and neglecting Indigenous studies.

Niigaan Sinclair, an assistant professor of native studies at the University of Manitoba, compares "top-heavy" bureaucracy at the university to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. (CBC)

Administration at the school is "top-heavy and out of touch," the faculty association said in a news release Monday.

Frank Deer, acting executive lead for Indigenous achievement at the University of Manitoba, acknowledged staffing challenges in the Native studies department but said the university has created special funds, including a $750,000 non-research fund earmarked for Indigenous achievement.

"I know that, like many other departments at the university, Native studies has had some challenges in staffing," said Deer.

"We have a strong commitment to Indigenous studies."

Deer also defended the size of the University of Manitoba's administration.

"Large U15 institutions [Canadian research universities] with 80 academic units and many other administrative units require some form of management in order to manage operations," he said.

Niigaan Sinclair, assistant professor and acting head of Native studies, compared the administration to the bureaucracy at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

Sinclair's department teaches 1,000 undergraduates annually, the release said. The number of Indigenous faculty at the university is comparable to a much smaller institution like Brandon University, the faculty association said.

Sinclair said Indigenous teachers often face huge demands on their time compared to non-Indigenous faculty. Along with teaching his students, Sinclair said he often finds himself instructing other faculty and administration on Indigenous issues.

That means long work weeks of 50 or 60 hours, he said.

Deer said the university is not happy with the ratio of professors to students and said the school has created six new professor positions in the last year to try to correct the imbalance.

According to the University of Manitoba, the school has one of the largest Indigenous student populations in Canada, with more than 2,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit students, including more than 180 graduate students.

with files from Darren Bernhardt