UNBC faculty concerned over ’emergency power’ suspensions

BY BILL PHILLIPS

bill@pgdailynews.ca

The UNBC faculty association is concerned that president Daniel Weeks is ‘arbitrarily’ using a clause in the collective agreement to suspend faculty.

It raised the issue in a letter to Tracy Wolsey, chair of UNBC’s Board of Governors following a unanimous vote by faculty at an April 18 emergency meeting.

“The emergency powers of a university president are reserved for the most egregious cases in which there is a danger to people or property,” said Jim Johnson, president of the College and University Faculty Association of B.C. “In our view, the use of emergency powers at UNBC is just the latest in a series of aggressive and confrontational tactics. From our perspective labour relations at UNBC are a curious mix of malevolence and incompetence, and we have now reached a breaking point.”

The university agrees that the provision is in place to offer protection when there is a danger to people or property. Such complaints can involve everything from harassment and bullying in the workplace, to theft of property, to sexual harassment. Barb Daigle, Associate Vice President, People, Organizational Design and Risk at UNBC, says the university is following normal human resources practices and stresses the provision is in the collective agreement that both the university and faculty association agreed to.

“If there’s a complaint and we need to do an investigation then yes, (the president) will suspend a faculty member, pending an investigation, with pay, to protect them and the complainant, so that a full investigation can be conducted,” said Daigle.

The faculty association says in the past 18 months emergency powers have been invoked five times and in each case the member has been relieved of all duties under the provision. Prior to the recent spate of suspensions, the provision had never been used at UNBC.

Daigle refused to confirm how many times the provisision has been used.

“I’m not going to talk about numbers out of concern for privacy of individuals,” she said. “The circumstances dictate how often (the provision) is used, the numbers are irrelevant really. The president has an obligation to act on complaints … We’re a very small community here, most of our faculty and staff know each other. To get into numbers then creates attention on the wrong things. The important thing is, when necessary, the president will take action to keep our work environment positive and safe.”

Daigle did confirm that the university is fielding more such complaints due partly, she says to the #MeToo movement which has encouraged more people to speak up, and to the university’s new sexual harassment policy.

The faculty association is asking the board of governors to intervene.

 “When faculty lose trust in the fairness and professionalism of university administrators, tenure and academic freedom are imperilled,” said Johnson. “As is clear from the UNBC FA letter the adversarial regime of labour relations at UNBC is a direct attack on the hallmarks of a research university — tenure and academic freedom.”