History of The UWFA

Background to the Unionization of the U of W Faculty and the Changeover from Heads to Chairs of Departments 

by John Ryan
[Former Professor of Geography, retired 1996]

At this stage it is reasonably certain that few members of both the faculty and the administration would know how the unionization of the faculty came about or how the system of Heads of departments was changed to Chairs of departments.

As it turned out, it was on my initiative that both of these developments occurred. Recently in going through my personal “archives”, I found all the supporting documentation for these two developments. Over the years I had meant to turn these documents over to the faculty association so they could be placed for historical purposes in the UWFA archives. But . . . somehow this never happened. This past winter I finally did organize all these documents and wrote this article, but because of the Covid issue I was unable to give them to the UWFA president until a short while ago. These documents will now be included in the UWFA archives.

These documents, however, to be meaningful, require a historical account of their significance and importance. As such, in addition to the publication of this article, a copy of it will be placed with these documents.

By way of background, I was a Geography professor at the U of W from 1964 till my retirement in 1996. When I became “Head” of the Geography Department in 1967, it troubled me that it was the Dean who appointed me rather than being elected by the members of the department. Moreover, this had been the system ever since the university was founded, and this was the prevailing system in many universities in Canada and the USA. However, a new procedure was emerging in a large number of universities where the department members would elect a Chair for a set number of years, instead of having an administration- appointed Head in office indefinitely “at the pleasure of the Dean and the Board of Regents.”

Being a junior member in the faculty, I somehow had the audacity to draft a resolution on the idea of department members electing a Chair. I then convinced the Heads of seven departments to sign this, and on February 6, 1968 we submitted this resolution to the Senate for its consideration. At its meeting on February 20, after some debate, the Senate appointed a five- person committee, with me as its chair, to examine the procedures for electing department chairs, compile a report and submit it to the Senate.

I then proposed to my committee members that we should conduct a survey of Canadian and American universities on this matter. I drafted a letter for this purpose and with the committee’s approval I proceeded to write to 35 universities in Canada and 125 in the USA. There were responses from 23 in Canada and 73 in the USA, including Harvard, Stanford, Cornell, Rutgers and other high-profile universities. Some of the letters were brief but many were two-to-three-page detailed replies and many included lengthy documents and university regulations.

Our extensive survey revealed that only a minority of universities in both Canada and the USA operated with the traditional position of Department Head. Instead, almost 80 percent in both Canada and the USA had Chairs for a set number of years. The Chairs were elected/appointed in various ways, but all had term appointments.

On the basis of this response, I drafted a 19-page report for my committee’s consideration. After a few minor amendments, in October of 1968, we recommended that the provisions of our report be adopted by the Arts and Science Faculty Council, the University Senate, and by the Board of Regents. In due course this was done, with an amendment to elect a Chair for a 5-year term instead of our proposed 3-year term. Unfortunately, I don’t have the exact date, but the provision to elect Chairs was approved in 1968. Interestingly, the University of Manitoba continued with its Heads policy for some years afterwards.

I kept all the letters from the 96 universities and these letters will now be in the UWFA archives, along with our 19-page summation report. Unfortunately, the four members who served on this committee with me have now all departed, leaving me the only survivor. The members who served on this committee with me were Vince Rutherford (History), Walter Swayze (English), Emmett Mulvaney (Economics) and Jack Dixon (French).

As for the unionization of the faculty, this was a far more involved procedure and took almost half a year to accomplish, but we succeeded in this venture – at a time when few universities were unionized.

This process started in September 1980 when I made a comment at a Geography Department meeting that for my next sabbatical leave I would apply for only a half year instead of the usual full year sabbatical. I was then told that the University had rejected the faculty association’s request for half-year sabbaticals. I was astounded to hear this because I distinctly recalled that in the spring of 1978, at a well-attended faculty meeting, there was a unanimous vote to request the administration to enact half-year sabbaticals. However, when the request was submitted to the administration, it was flatly rejected. I didn’t know about this because in early May of 1978, at the beginning of my 1978-79 sabbatical leave, I set out for an 8-month research project in Asia. During that time, I conducted 70 case studies of agricultural operations in 12 countries – from Japan to Afghanistan. Upon my return I wasn’t informed of the administration’s rejection of our half-year sabbatical proposal.

On hearing this news, I pointed out to my colleagues that the University of Manitoba had half-year sabbaticals so why wouldn’t the U of W agree to this. I was then brusquely told, “Yes, but the University of Manitoba faculty are unionized whereas we are not unionized.” And my response was: “Well, if that’s the case we too should get unionized.” One of our members was on our faculty association’s executive and so I asked him to find out if they would agree to conduct a unionization vote. Upon this member’s inquiry he was told that they couldn’t be bothered because they were certain that our members would not go along with this.

At this juncture I decided that I would go from office to office with a petition requesting our faculty association to conduct a unionization vote. The petition was straight forward: “We the undersigned faculty members and professional libraries of the University of Winnipeg, hereby petition the executive of the University of Winnipeg Faculty Association to arrange for a formal faculty unionization vote at the earliest possible date.”

It should be pointed out that by not being unionized, our faulty association at that time was essentially nothing more than a social club. It had no power to intervene on behalf of faculty for increases in salary, promotions, tenure or anything of any real consequence to faculty members.

Going from door to door I explained to my faculty colleagues the advantages of being unionized. I was not unduly surprised that most faculty members were in agreement with me and readily signed my petition. However, a sizeable minority was hesitant or even hostile to such a procedure.

In the course of my petitioning when I went to see Vince Rutherford, the Chair of the History Department, he not only signed but also offered to help me with my project. He then proceeded to sign up members in his department and others nearby.

At the end of two weeks, we contacted all the faculty members, a total of 241 at that time. I signed up 127 members and Vince signed up 36, for a total of 163 or 68% of the faculty. I then presented this petition to the President of our faculty association. To say that he was astounded would be an understatement. He called a meeting of his executive and they immediately contacted the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) for advice on how to conduct an official unionization vote.

CAUT then sent a representative to Winnipeg and he proceeded to instruct us on how to proceed. A faculty member agreeable to unionization would be required to sign a special form and pay $1.00. We formed a unionization committee of ten members with me as the Chair. Each of these members would be responsible for signing up the members from one to three departments. I in turn would be responsible for seven departments, all of which had some members who were opposed to unionization.

In my initial survey I had discovered that some departments were totally supportive while others had one or several members opposed, and in one instance, in the Chemistry department, all 12 members were opposed to unionization. Initially, a lab instructor signed my petition but then refused to sign up officially.

It took about a month to complete the sign-up process. At the end we signed up 188 members or 78% of the faculty. Near the end of November, we submitted all these “ballots” to the Manitoba Labour Board. It took until February 11, 1981 to get a response. They informed us in legalese language “that the Applicant (UWFA) was a union within the meaning of the Act. . . . etc., etc.”

To celebrate the occasion, we held a “Certification Party” on March 6 in the Faculty Club. I was assigned the task of drawing up an appropriate invitation for the members. I chose to draft it in the form of a pompous Queen’s “Proclamation”, saying near the end that “a Great Seal would have been hereunto affixed, if we had had one.” At the party a great time was had by all. Since this “Proclamation” is rather humourous, I have decided to include it in its entirety as an addendum to this article.

Fortunately, I kept all the extensive petition documents and signup sheets as well as a lengthy letter, dated February 23, 1981, from University President Harry Duckworth acknowledging the formation of the union and that “University and UWFA representatives will meet soon to begin discussions of the first contract.” All these documents will now be stored in the UWFA archives. These documents may be of considerable interest to some of our faculty members.

Shortly thereafter the UWFA executive appointed a five-person negotiation team, consisting of John Cotè, John Ryan, Geraldine Sweet, Sandra Zuk, with Claudia Wright as our Chief Negotiator. The University’s negotiation team was composed of John Clake, Stephen Coppinger, Larry Didow, Ross McCormack, Michael McIntyre, and Robert Dick as Chief Negotiator.

Prior to and during our ensuing negotiations our team could always rely on advice from CAUT, especially from Ron Levesque and Howard Snow. Also of great importance to us was legal advice from Mel Myers, an attorney from the law firm Pollock, Nurgitz, Skwark, Bromley & Myers. It was Mel Myers who advised us not to rush any part of our negotiations and to take as long as necessary to get the best possible terms for every aspect of our contract because to try to make changes later is a difficult thing to do.

We relied on Mel’s sage advice and consequently it took almost two years before we concluded our 1982 -1984 Collective Agreement, signed on September 16, 1982. We were much rewarded for our perseverance because afterwards a number of our provisions were used as models for faculty associations at other universities.

Once our contract was signed, our negotiating team and faculty members in general made some interesting discoveries. Up until then, when faculty members were hired it was solely the Dean who determined their salaries, and as such faculty members had no idea what the salaries were of their colleagues. We were startled to learn that up until our negotiated agreement the majority of women faculty members were underpaid. But it wasn’t only women who were underpaid. The most egregious case was a male lab instructor in Chemistry who wound up getting a 29 percent salary increase!

Ironically, when I initially came into this person’s office to ask if he would be prepared to sign my petition to form a union, he shouted at me, “Get the hell out of here! I am a professional! I don’t want to be in a damn labour union!” But then, some two years or more later, after our new agreement came into effect, when our first pay cheques with catch-up salaries came, many of us went to a nearby bank to deposit our cheques. While in the line, I noticed that a few persons ahead of me was this Chemistry lab instructor with his heavy catch-up pay cheque! After depositing his cheque, he saw me in line and was visibly startled. A few moments later he nudged my shoulder and said he’d like to talk to me.

He later apologized to me and I recall he said, “I trusted them! I trusted them! That’s why I acted the way I did. Now I will be a staunch union supporter.” Afterwards we became good friends.

After we were unionized there were still some problems for a few members adjusting to the new situation. I suppose it was for this reason that I decided to run for President of the UWFA and so I held that position during 1984-1985. We were extremely fortunate at that time to have Michael McIntyre as Dean of Arts and Science, a position he held from 1982 to 1992. Right from the beginning, Mike had been highly supportive of faculty unionization.

Mike and I had always been good friends and during this year we resolved a number of problems that reflected on our union. I recall one instance when Mike called me to his office and showed me a letter he had received from the chair of the faculty promotion committee. It was a request to the Dean to “confidentially” provide some information to the committee about a faculty member. This was totally contrary to the terms of our collective agreement, which stated that anything the Dean would give to a committee would also have to be given to the faculty member. We then drafted a proper response to this unjustified request.

Afterwards, to try to resolve such problems, I wrote a lengthy editorial in our UWFA newsletter on April 2, 1985, entitled “Living with the Collective Agreement – Whose Responsibility?” In it I pointed out the importance of fully understanding the provisions of the agreement. I concluded by saying “Seeing that the bulk of grievances and problems stem from peer committees, we as UWFA members must assume our share of responsibility for the Collective Agreement. And we must take care that an old Turkish proverb does not become apropos: “When the axe came into the forest, the trees said, ‘The handle is one of us.’”

In May of 1984, as President of the UWFA, I attended the annual meeting of the CAUT in Ottawa. A major item of discussion was the high amount of funds that faculty associations in Canada’s universities were paying for legal costs in grievance cases. This was done in alphabetical order so my turn for the University of Winnipeg came near the end. As it turned out, with Mike McIntyre as Dean and Jim Richtik from Geography as the UWFA Grievance Officer, we managed to resolve all grievance issues in a satisfactory manner, without the expenditure of any money for legal action. As such ours was the only university in all of Canada where the faculty association didn’t spend any money that year on legal costs. This was to the astonishment of all in attendance, and so I then explained how we managed to do this at our university.

At the May 1985 CAUT meeting, however, my efforts to make a change within the CAUT were not successful. Over the years it had troubled me that university professors were somehow agreeable to be called “teachers” instead of professors in their nationwide organization. There is a profound difference between schoolteachers and university professors. It is not a requirement for schoolteachers to engage in research and to publish articles or books on their research. In the case of professors, this is a major requirement. For purposes of promotion and tenure, professors are evaluated on both—teaching and research. The public at large is generally unaware of this distinction. And as a result, in some quarters there is resentment that schoolteachers get a two-month vacation whereas it would appear that professors get a four-month vacation. In actual fact, professors are entitled to only a one-month vacation while the other three months are to be devoted to research.

This distinction was brought forth dramatically for me while I was President of the UWFA. During the spring of that year Manitoba’s minister of finance at one point publicly derided professors for enjoying a four-month holiday, compared to schoolteachers who get only two months. I then made an appointment to see the minister to clarify this matter. Accompanied by my colleagues Tony Kuz and Reg Skene, we had a lengthy productive meeting with the minister. The minister thanked us for clarifying the situation but then inquired why the national union of professors call themselves the Canadian Association of University Teachers. We were at a loss to explain this to him.

It was shortly after this encounter that I attended the May 1984 annual CAUT meeting in Ottawa. At this meeting I put forward a notice of motion on behalf of the UWFA (agenda item #22) to change the name of the Canadian Association of University Teachers to the Canadian Association of University Professors. Prior to this I had the unanimous approval of the UWFA executive to take this course of action. Right after I put forward this notice of motion I was commended for this action by a number of professors at the meeting, and so I was hopeful that it would be approved at the May 1985 meeting. In preparation for that meeting, I later submitted to the CAUT a detailed three-page rationale for making this name change with the request that this be distributed to all the CAUT delegates at the meeting. This name change rationale was published in the UWFA newsletter on May 1, 1985.

At the CAUT meeting in May of 1985 the detailed rationale I had prepared explaining the benefits of changing the CAUT’s name was circulated as Agenda Item 19A and so members had ample opportunity to read this. In addition, I spoke at length, with additional reasons in support of the change; few spoke against it, some citing costs for new stationery! Yet to my amazement, when the vote came, with a slight majority, the proposal was defeated. And it seems that in the past 35 years no one has tried to reopen the issue. So, till this day, the CAUT helps to perpetuate the idea that professors are simply privileged teachers.

A few years before my retirement I once again conducted a door-to-door petition that was signed by 189 members or 80 percent of the faculty. More would have signed but 20 members were on sabbatical leave and I was able to contact only 4 of them and all 4 signed. This was a petition that Reg Skene, Bruce Daniels and I presented on December 9, 1991 to the University President, Marsha Hanen. This was a petition in objection to the way President Hanen had proceeded to enact some major administrative changes within the University despite strong faculty opposition. This was an important issue, as cited in our petition:

In spite of the fact that the Board of Regents has already approved a resolution proposed by the Futures Committee which would alter the Senior Academic Structure of the University of Winnipeg effective July 1, 1992, we, the undersigned Faculty members, feel strongly that these issues should be reopened and reconsidered. We are unhappy about the way the Futures Report has become “policy” without the Faculty being given an opportunity to register the extent of their opposition to some of its proposals. We particularly object to the provision that there be three Associate Deans to be responsible for subject areas and to the provisions to dismantle the present organizational structure of the office of the Dean of Arts and Science. Because this is not a large university, we would prefer the present functional division within the office of the Dean, modified if necessary, but essentially on the current model which we feel now functions as an effective and efficient unit within the University administration. 

A substantial body of the Faculty is opposed to the proposed administrative changes and the method by which they have been affected. In light of this petition, we ask that you now reopen the issue. 

In response to this, President Hanen on January 21, 1992 wrote an open letter to all Faculty, but despite its length it skated around our basic concerns and ignored the central thrust of our petition which was the reorganization of the Dean’s office. In conclusion she stated: “Creating a future means, to me, involving everyone, but it does not necessarily mean that everyone will agree on all matters.” As such, it was obvious that she ignored the fact that 80 percent of the Faculty opposed her proposed changes.

And so, on January 30, 1992 I wrote a lengthy rebuttal to the President, pointing out the shortcomings of her communication. I concluded with: “It now appears that on the central issue raised by the petition, you have chosen to disregard our views. We note this with regret. You say that in ‘creating a future . . . some disagreement is an almost inevitable consequence . . .’ That’s entirely true, but when the disagreement reaches proportions of 80 percent and is then dismissed, I have some concerns about the future. In the spirit of open communications and our own variety of glasnost in our institution, I am taking the liberty of sending copies of this memo to all members of the Faculty.”

The end result of all this was that the President ignored the views of the vast majority of the Faculty and proceeded to enact all the provisions of her Futures Report, including the highly controversial reorganization of the Dean’s office. She surely didn’t endear herself to the faculty. I kept all the documents relating to this issue and they are now in the UWFA archives.

In conclusion, the main purpose of this article was to alert faculty members to the fact that now in the UWFA archives there is a collection of all the documents that led to two major significant developments at the University of Winnipeg: first, the changeover from administration-appointed Heads of departments to faculty-elected Chairs, and second, the account of how the faculty association became unionized. I also took the liberty to explain how these changes evolved over the first few years at the University. Also, I dealt with a few other matters. Finally, I extend my apologies for not organizing all this material earlier and getting it into the UWFA archives. But now this is done.

To put faculty unionization in perspective, at present 80 percent of Canadian universities are unionized, compared to only about 20 percent in the USA. However, some prominent Canadian universities are still not unionized, for example, the University of Toronto and McGill.

Thank you to Dr John Ryan for preparing this detailed history and for his permission to publish it here.