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Thoughts on possible faculty strike action at UNBC February 13th, 2015

This is the text to a short speech I delivered on February 4th as part of a Rally and Information Session organized by the members of UNBC Faculty Association for our students:

I’d like to begin by saying how surprised I am to find myself speaking here today.  To participate in an event of this nature is something I could never have foreseen only a few short months ago.

Fifteen years ago, when I was first offered a job here at UNBC, my supervisors at McMaster University and the University of Western Ontario advised me to decline the offer, fearing that my career would suffer if I were to work at such a young and unproven institution located, as they put it, “in the middle of nowhere.”

I’m really glad I didn’t heed their advice!  Far from harming my career, UNBC has been instrumental in helping me to find success.  Although my good fortune has been the product of hard work and long hours, I owe a great debt to the mentorship of UNBC colleagues – especially including members of our senior administration.  In my early years at UNBC, for example, Dr. Max Blouw (who was our VP Research) not only helped me to land my first major research grant, but he subsequently helped me to win a Canada Research Chair appointment by providing me with a lot of hands-on advice on how to navigate the nomination process successfully.  Much more recently, when I became the first-ever UNBC faculty member elected as Vice Chair of our Senate, I had the opportunity to work closely with former President George Iwama, whose generous mentorship had a significant impact on my professional development.  These excellent collaborative relationships with Max and George – and numerous other UNBC administrators both past and present – make me confident that UNBC faculty members and management can work together harmoniously to our mutual benefit and to the benefit of the university as a whole.

Two and a half years ago, the English Department at the University of Oregon invited me to apply for a coveted endowed chair in Literature and Environment.  Although the thought of holding such a prestigious research chair was tantalizing (and would have entailed a large salary increase had I been appointed), I ultimately chose not to pursue the application, because I couldn’t imagine leaving UNBC and my home here in northern British Columbia.  I hate to say it, but given the way the relationship between our faculty and management has deteriorated since then, I’m beginning to wonder whether I made the right decision.

All members of the UNBC community – students, faculty, staff, administrators, local citizens – are justly proud of our university’s many accomplishments over its twenty-five year history.  To ensure our continued excellence, however, we must make certain that UNBC functions like a proper university.  As a faculty member who loves this institution, I see it as my duty to help ensure that UNBC respects sector norms not only in relation to faculty pay and job security, but also in terms of the democratic processes that inform properly collegial forms of academic governance and oversight.  If UNBC faculty members fail to be vigilant, we will not only put our own careers at risk, but we will help to create a situation whereby our wonderful university will find it increasingly difficult to attract top academic talent in the future.  Without such talent at the front of the classroom, UNBC students will find their educational experience sadly diminished.

Such a prospect is unacceptable.  Let’s not become a second-rate institution.  The last thing I want to do as a faculty member is go on strike.  But if it takes a strike to ensure that UNBC retains its hard-earned reputation as the best small university in western Canada, then I won’t hesitate to perform my duty by joining my colleagues on the picket line.

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