Dear Dr. Chakma,
Thank you for your public apology for accepting payment in lieu of administrative leave and also for the repayment to Western. We know that you have done this with the best interests of the university in mind. That being said, your negotiated contract is not the real problem but merely a very blatant symptom of the real problems: an out of touch senior leadership and a misguided financial model. You have said that you are open to all ideas and that you want to hear from us. The Executive Committee of the University of Western Ontario Staff Association on behalf of its members appreciates this opportunity to address some of the points you made in your recent address to Western’s Senate.
You have said that the issues are not only about your pay but also about the way Western has been run under your leadership. The issue is not isolated to you alone. It is the current model, based on a business, rather than a publically-funded higher education institution. Over the past several years, faculties and service units across this campus have been forced to tighten budgets by 3%. Department heads are forced to decrease staff through retirement incentives, leave staff positions vacant, redistribute workload to remaining staff, and lay off. Contract staff and faculty outside of bargaining agreements are hired to fill the gaps. Education programs are compelled to increase student enrollment. The cost of a quality education and the “best student experience” have taken a toll on the staff, faculty, and students at Western, all to increase profits. The Board of Governors, and the absent Chancellor were put in place to check the finances, but their misallocation of public monies has thrown this entire university out of balance.
You have said that the issues raised in regards to your contract have, “brought into stark reality that the Board, the Senate and our broader campus community do not have a shared understanding of the most constructive ways to conduct the business of the academy.” You are right. We agree that there is not a shared understanding. The broader campus community largely has an opposing view of how to operate a publicly-funded institution of higher education. Run this publically-funded university as a publically-funded university, not like a privately-funded university or worse, as a private corporation.
You have said that we must identify the real problems that keep the Board of Governors and Senate in silos and that, “we must find real solutions for breaking down those walls, while preserving the unique role each plays in guiding our institution.” The Senate is transparent; the Board of Governors is opaque. Perhaps the Board of Governors could learn from Senate and its proceedings be transparent. The Board’s indifference to your contract forces us to ask why, (as has been reported in the press) did Board of Governors members misunderstand the wording of your negotiated contract, and why was it approved as written?
You have said that the spotlight on your salary and administrative leave “has also started a critical conversation about how universities attract and retain leadership talent, and the broader fiscal realities facing higher education in our province,” which is why you have endorsed the independent and impartial review of your contract. Our issue is not about recruitment and retention of senior leadership. Our issue is about a broken operational model, based on a business model. Our issue is the treatment of people (staff and faculty) as overhead, rather than the intellectual resources that support the university’s overall mission. Our issue is the treatment of students as easy revenue streams instead of our future provincial and national leaders. Our issue is wasting more money to conduct an independent review of a contract that was legally bound as written. A legal contract, yes, a fiscally responsible one, no. Perhaps it would be more beneficial to conduct an independent and impartial review of the university’s current operational budget and current allocations?
You have expressed how difficult the last two weeks have been for you and your family. As staff, we can appreciate how hard the criticism must have been and we are genuinely sorry to hear about the personal attacks. In light of this, we ask you and the Board of Governors to appreciate the current difficulties of our staff members and their families who were recently laid off due to budget reductions. We ask you to appreciate the increased stress of current staff, anxious that their current positions will be eliminated. We ask you to understand how difficult it is for current staff to produce quality service to faculty, undergraduate, and graduate students with increased workloads due to staff reductions.
We truly appreciate that you are pledging to dedicate your attention to internal matters at Western and we appreciate that you are going to engage and consult with the broader campus community. We look forward to seeing a concrete version of this plan as well as a report on your findings. The non-confidence votes of our UWOSA members, as well as UWOFA demonstrate that we are deeply concerned about Western’s senior leadership and how it is managing this university. We are dedicated to changing Western for the better. We support the university’s mission and ask that you, the Board of Governors, and the senior leadership team demonstrates that same support by investing in students, investing in teaching, investing in research and scholarship and investing in staff and faculty. You have promised to hear us. We look forward to that conversation.
Thank you again for your apology, and we hope to hear the Board of Governors’ apology soon.
The UWOSA Executive Committee