Wednesday, September 15, 2021
An open letter to the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba leadership candidates from the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations and the Canadian Federation of Students – Manitoba
We are writing to you on behalf of the over 1,800 members represented by the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations, representing academic staff at all of Manitoba’s public universities and the largest democratically elected student advocacy organization, the Canadian Federation of Students – Manitoba, representing over 45,000 students in the province.
As the proportion of the university educated rises in a population so too does health, welfare and income. Universities provide their students with the skills to thrive in a rapidly changing and unpredictable world. They are crucial for the development of critical thinking, problem solving, communication and leadership that allow graduates to adapt quickly to novel circumstances, and the current pandemic environment is as novel as it gets.
But universities cannot perform their critical role without adequate resources, and just like business, abhor uncertainty. The Pallister-era was characterized by steadily shrinking resources, with cuts to the funding of post-secondary education year-after-year, and a planning environment that can only be described as chaos. For example, giving universities five calendar day to prepare for cuts of up to 30% is no way to conduct the necessary long-range planning for programs that unfold over years. We call upon your government to commit to affordable, accessible, and high-quality public education in our post-secondary system, and to not continue to shift the burden to students and their families with rapidly rising tuition fees.
The Pallister-era was also characterized by direct intrusion into the academic affairs of universities, under the guise of differential program fees in Bill 33, and the introduction of outcomes-based funding that provides for political interference in university programming. In our view, Bill 33 is far too similar to the now withdrawn Bill 64 in that it centralizes decision-making authority in the Premier’s office instead of relying on local leadership to guide our operations. We call upon you to pledge to to repeal Bill 33, abandon the move to outcomes- based funding, and restore the previous cap on tuition fee increases. And we call upon your government to initiate regular and substantive consultations with faculty and students who comprise the majority of the University Senate, the body that decides academic programming at universities. Similarly, we call on your to immediately commit to reverse the cruel decision to eliminate provincial health coverage for international students in Manitoba.
During the Pallister-era, post-secondary education was little more than an afterthought, as it’s only tangible role to his government was as a source of budget cuts. That must change if we are to reverse the disastrous course of the Pallister era. Given the importance of our universities to the economic well-being of our province, we call upon you provide a new direction for advanced education and that would start by making it a senior cabinet portfolio, not the entry-level position it is now.
The Pallister-era policies also included an unlawful intrusion into collective bargaining between faculty and their universities, starting with the backroom interference in 2016 at the University of Manitoba that resulted in an unfair labour practice. The courts have ruled that universities are not an arm of government, but instead are autonomous institutions, and should be treated as such. We ask that you respect and recognize that autonomy, and leave collective bargaining, a charter-protected right – to universities and faculty to resolve without more unlawful interference.
MOFA and CFSMB welcome the opportunity for a meaningful dialogue about how universities can continue to build our province. We offer an open invitation to meet with each of the candidates to discuss the critical role of our universities to the wealth and prosperity of all Manitobans.
President, Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations
Chairperson, Canadian Federation of Students – Manitoba