Category Archives: Disputes

Embarrassing recent events in Canadian higher education #cdnpse #GeorgeRammell #RobertBuckingham @usask

I’ll admit to a quaint hope that universities are still places where dialogue and dissent are both possible and desirable, but two incidents in the last week leave me scratching my head. The first is the theft of professor George Rammell’s sculpture by the Capilano University administration, and the second is the firing of Robert Buckingham, Dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Saskatchewan. The issues in the two cases are not the same, but what both share is an unbelievable authoritarianism on the part of the upper administration, a willingness to trample on academic freedom and the absolute intolerance of resistance or disagreement about program cuts and restructuring. The point is not whether each of these universities plans for budget cutting and trimming are appropriate (that would be a different post), but the response to faculty and middle management who DARE to disagree with the upper administration. If this doesn’t have a chilling effect on everyone in Canadian higher education, well we are all being just too polite.


At Capilano University there have been severe program cuts. One program area in which cuts are deep is the arts. George Rammell, sculpture instructor, used his scholarly form of expression to comment on those cuts ~ he created Blathering on in Krisendom, a work in progress  depicting Capilano University president Kris Bulcroft wrapped in a U.S. flag with a poodle. The sculpture went missing last week:

“I immediately called security and the guard told me that orders were given by the top level of the Administration to seize it. I could hardly believe my ears. The Administration had ordered my piece removed off campus to an undisclosed location, without any consultation or prior discussion. I was shocked and not sure if this was Canada,” Rammell stated (as reported in the Georgia Straight).

Jane Shackell, chair of the Board of Governors, released a statement saying that Capilano was “committed to the open and vigorous discourse that is essential in an academic community.” But she had the sculpture removed because it was “workplace harassment of an individual employee, intended to belittle and humiliate the president.” A post for another time, but this might well be the most egregious, inappropriate use of respectful workplace rhetoric to create a workplace where dialogue, dissent, and discourse are not allowed.

Of course, Rammell’s work is easy for the University to steal, but the parallel for some of us might be an administration that comes to your office and wipes all of the files for that critical analysis of higher education book you are working on from your computer. After being AWOL for a week, Capilano University has agreed to return Rammell’s work, but has banned the sculpture from campus and Rammell calls that censorship. It is and it isn’t harassment either. So much for academic freedom.


Then comes the news, Robert Buckingham, Dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Saskatchewan was fired, relieved of his professorial appointment and tenure, and escorted of the campus ~ for disagreeing publicly with the administration’s restructuring and budget cutting plan, TransformUS.

In discussions of TransformUS, middle managers were ordered to get in line and on board with the plan, and threatened if they spoke publicly against it. Here’s the email from the provost:


That a University would want deans who are lackeys and submissive to the upper administration’s “messaging” says a great deal about that administration. Unlike the CapU incident, this is less about academic freedom and all about the importance of maintaining an openness to dialogue and disagreement within the University. Such a heavy handed administrative approach assaults our sensibilities about how even the modern, corporatized U operates. On top of all that, the termination of Buckingham comes a mere five weeks from his retirement and is amazingly mean-spirited.

CAUT director, Jim Turk said:

What the president of the University of Saskatchewan has done is an embarrassment to the traditions and history of the University of Saskatchewan and it’s an embarrassment to post-secondary education across Canada. It’s inexcusable.

He’s right about that!

BCPSEA backs down on free expression dispute with teachers / BCTF #bced #yteubc

Over the last decade, the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation has systematically tested the limits of free expression for teachers. Through a series of grievances, arbitrations, and court cases, the BCTF has provided one of the most important legal records for teachers’ freedom of expression. The result is nothing short of a significant precedent for the schools.

Earlier this month, a bit of cleaning up after a court decision in the spring resolved the issue of Yertle the Turtle. The BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) finally backed down on the BCTF local’s challenge to the BCPSEA’s ban of certain quotes from the venerable Dr. Seuss book. Finally again, we will see teachers quoting truth to power: “I know up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here on the bottom, we too should have rights.”

This is far from the end, as free expression and academic freedom in the schools require active, living tests of boundaries and lines. The ban lifted on Yertle the Turtle turns a page but does not yet finish the chapter. The quotes from Yertle were spoken for a larger scope of rights, including rights to bargain contracts and define class sizes. For that, the BCTF’s appeal has gone back to the Supreme Court.

Children’s book ‘Yertle the Turtle’ now OK again in unionized B.C. classrooms

Terri Theodore, Globe and Mail, October 11, 2013– “Yertle the Turtle” is no longer under ban.

“Yertle the Turtle” can gather more fans — in school districts around British Columbia.

A freedom of expression grievance has been settled between the BC Teachers’ Federation and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association based on the Dr. Seuss children’s book about a turtle trying to assert its rights.

The complaint was one of several made by the union when some school districts were banning classroom displays of union posters, buttons and T-shirts in the middle of a teachers’ contract dispute.

In one case, an administrator vetoed a quote for classroom display in Prince Rupert from the book “Yertle the Turtle,” saying it was too political.

Dave Stigant, with the Prince Rupert district, was given about 20 quotes from the book to determine if they would be appropriate to expose to students during an ongoing labour dispute.

He didn’t like this quote: “I know up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here on the bottom, we too should have rights.”

BCTF President Jim Iker said the quote was just a small example of several instances where the union felt it had a claim of unfair labour practices in the province.

“But definitely the ‘Yertle the Turtle’ one out of Prince Rupert highlighted the whole issue of freedom of expression and our constitutional rights.”

Iker said several such claims went to arbitration over the last four or five years before the issue was ironed out.

The complaints were settled based on a previous court case, a key arbitration ruling and an agreement with the employer on freedom of expression rights.

Teachers are now allowed to display or wear union posters, buttons and T-shirts.

“I’m hoping it clears it up. I think it actually gives both sides certainty and we know where the limits are in terms of materials and what we’re able to display or not display, and I think the employer knows what the expectations are,” Iker said.

He said teachers also know that they can’t discuss any kind of political or union messaging with students during instruction time.

Read More: Globe and Mail

CUPE BC launches ad campaign to avert strike in public schools #bcpoli

CUPE BC, August 25, 2013– CUPE’s education workers [launched] a radio and television advertising campaign on Monday focused on building support for the union members’ work to keep BC’s schools clean, safe, and inclusive.

“We’ve made every effort to bargain a fair and reasonable settlement with the employers, but their lack of preparation is threatening to disrupt classes this fall,” said Mark Hancock, CUPE-BC President.

CUPE education workers’ collective agreements throughout the province expired over a year ago. Previous negotiations in spring 2013 were derailed when it became clear that government had not given the BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) a mandate to reach a settlement.

BCPSEA is now directly controlled by the BC government, but it was not prepared for the latest round of bargaining in August when talks broke off for a third time.

“If the government doesn’t show a commitment to bargaining, our members will take full-scale job action,” said Colin Pawson, Chair of the BC K-12 Presidents’ Council. “They’re frustrated that we’ve had three false starts to negotiating, and the clock is ticking.”

It has been more than four years since the education assistants, clerical staff, trades, custodians, bus drivers and other education workers represented by CUPE have received a wage increase. Virtually all of the 57 CUPE locals representing education workers have had positive strike votes.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees represents more than 27,000 education BC workers in the K-12 system.

Listen to the radio ad here.
View the TV ad here.

See more at:

Secondary Students Assert Power at the BC Rallies

Over a three day stretch, secondary students organized, marched, walked, spoke, and shouted out against oppressive labour legislation in British Columbia and for their teachers and the BCTF.  It’s rare that secondary students get opportunities to unify as a political force at the provincial level, but now in this labour dispute the students are making a difference.  On Friday, 2 March, thousands of students walked out of their classes and schools and rallied across the province.  In Vancouver, the students descended en masse for a rally at the gallery.

On Tuesday, 6 March, at the BC Fed and BCTF rally hundreds of the youth marched with the unions down Government Street and to the steps of the BC Legislature.  For the crowd of 6,000, two young women, Hannah Case and Erin Galbraith, spoke a lotta truth to a power undermining their teachers’ rights.   In Vancouver, on 7 March for the rally at the gallery, secondary students Navi Rai and Melissa Wong stood together on the steps and voiced their support for the teachers’ rights and their right to a fair government.  Both were active in organizing Friday’s walkout.  And raising the roof of nature, Chandler McCorkingdale rapped.  Sorry, BC Liberals, the students and the public are standing with the teachers.

Now, where in the world are the missing BC post-secondary students, especially the Education majors?  Especially now?  I know that some are organizing online.   And I know that the Canadian Federation of Students BC is 100% behind the BCTF and the teachers.  But across three rallies not a single post-secondary student signed onto the speaker’s lists.  Not a single one spoke while thousands of the secondary students have shown their strength as a political force.  Perhaps UBC’s Teacher Education Officer John Yamamoto’s interview with the CBC’s Morning Edition on 7 March is telling.  Yamamoto advised that the Education students should, nay must, remain neutral.  Some advice for the teacher candidates– one gets the sense that he thinks he is advising 700 administration candidates!  Where are the post-secondary students and will the CFS BC organize the group to be heard or present?

BC Federation of Labour Plans Rally & Petition

The BC Fed is Rallying at the Legislature, moving on a massive petition, and planning rallies around the province.  Support the Teachers / Stand up for BC !!!

BC Teachers Strike, no Picket Line, Public on Side

Once again on the leading edge of the labour movement, BC teachers are on strike across 60 school districts within the province.  In a show of solidarity, community and labour advocates have vowed to support the teachers and the BCTF throughout the job action.  On day 1, teachers and supporters showed up in force at 7:00 to create an informational line, keep signs up, and talk to those who dropped by or others workers continuing their work in the schools.  The 7:00-10:0o shifts in Vancouver were met with inclement conditions– horizontal rain and howling wind. The weather spirits smiled on later shifts and heartfelt, with the public on their side, the teachers could smile for a few moments as well.

BC Teachers at U Hill Secondary

Within labour, an informational line is not a picket line per se.  Labour disruption proves to be an effective strategy and in this case the teachers are taking advantage of an opportunity to show their strength, generate public support, and strike before the BC Legislature passes the ominous anti-union Bill 22.  The BC Federation of Labour is rallying support and uniting the movement tomorrow (6 March) in Victoria.