Faculty and administration at a small Christian university in British Columbia are butting heads over a decision to unionize.
While many members of the faculty said they believe unionizing would be beneficial on multiple fronts, Trinity Western University’s (TWU) administration said they fear a unionized faculty would take away from the university’s mission and philosophy.
“The strength of Trinity Western is the strength of its community and the ability to work through challenges together,” provost Bob Wood said.
“Bringing in a union will result in a change to the TWU community ethos.”
But TWU philosophy professor Myron Penner said he doesn’t agree. Although there are some people who fear a union would bring about a “loss of collegiality,” he said he doesn’t believe this is true.
“My own view is that these are not necessary or even likely consequences of unionization and can be easily overcome by faculty and administration bargaining in good faith and with good will,” he said.
Chris Montgomery, a fifth-year communications and political studies student and editor of the TWU student paper, Mars Hill, believes the loss of donors could be an important factor.
“The ones who have money are politically conservative Christians and the reality is they don’t like unions. They don’t like the word ‘union,’” he said.
“We might lose a huge chunk of donations, which could cripple the university.”
Montgomery added that while most students on campus don’t seem to be very invested in the matter, he believes the ones who are interested are primarily against unionization.
But Penner said he believes the unionization is a move in the right direction. He said the current structure in place just simply doesn’t suffice.
“TWU does have a faculty association, but [it] has no real decision-making authority, no legal status, no budget, and therefore no real influence,” he said.
A union would address the problems with the current system, Penner said.
While money certainly isn’t the driving factor, he added, it’s still important.
Trinity Western University consistently ranks an A+ in quality of education from Maclean’s university rankings but it scores an F in faculty compensation.
“TWU faculty are the lowest-paid university faculty in Canada, ranking 58th out of 58 universities surveyed by StatsCan,” Penner said.
According to the 2012 survey published by StatsCan, the median of TWU faculty earnings is less than half of that at the top-ranking school, University of Toronto.
The faculty has chosen to try to unionize with the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC).
“One option could have been for faculty to attempt to legally certify the existing faculty association. However, that is an expensive process,” Penner said. “CLAC has provided both the expertise and the legal support for faculty throughout the organizing drive.”
But once again, the administration would rather go in a different direction.
“Senior leadership at Trinity Western University would much prefer to continue to conduct university business in direct relationship with faculty rather than through an external third party,” Wood said.
“While all of the issues have not been made known to us, senior leadership is committed to working with faculty to seek an alternative to a union so that faculty concerns are addressed.”
The faculty have voted, but are waiting on a mid-February ruling from the Labour Relations Board as to whether or not TWU and CLAC’s union bid will be accepted.
Until then, Montgomery said it’s impossible to predict what could happen.
“The important thing to emphasize is an unknown. There’s possibilities, but because we’re the first university of this type to go this way, there’s a lot of unknown.”