Striking faculty walk the line in front of Algonquin in early November. An arbitrator delivered his decision on key issues Dec. 20. Photo credit: Devyn Barrie

Academic freedom will for the first time be an article in faculty’s collective agreements with colleges, thanks to an arbitrator’s decision handed down on Dec. 20.

Arbitrator William Kaplan’s binding decision will form the basis of a new collective agreement to retroactively begin Oct. 1, 2017 and expire Sept. 30, 2021. Most key to the resolution of the dispute is Kaplan’s inclusion of academic freedom in the language of the new agreement.

The language decrees academic freedom is “fundamental” for colleges and must be protected. It says all faculty members have the right to exercise it to perform their duties, including teaching. However, it is subject to certain parameters such as the law, professional regulations and institutional policies.

Academic freedom was a key sticking point in bargaining. Faculty had demanded specific provisions for it within the collective agreement. The College Employer Council, which represents colleges, pushed back, saying almost all colleges already had an academic freedom policy.

The Council’s final offer on Nov. 6 included an article to ensure every college had one, but the union had complained it was insufficient.

The two sides also were hung up on the issue of staffing ratios of contract compared to full-time faculty, but agreed in negotiations to shunt that topic to a provincial task force to launch soon.

To put an end to return-to-work grievances filed by union members, Kaplan also awarded cash settlements to every faculty member. Each full-time faculty member will receive a lump-sum payment of $900 and partial-load faculty, which is a unionized class of contract staff, will get $450 each.

Kaplan set salary increases to 7.75 per cent over the course of the contract.

Both the union and colleges heralded the arbitration award.

“There is no way to read this award other than as an unprecedented and historic victory for college faculty,” wrote J.P. Hornick, chair of the union bargaining team, in an update to union members. “Arbitrator Kaplan heard submissions from both sides, probed these issues deeply, and appears to have agreed that faculty had the better plan for the colleges.”

Hornick said the union’s work is not done and must now turn its attention to the upcoming provincial task force as well as a court challenge on the constitutionality of the province’s back-to-work legislation, which forced faculty to end the strike on Nov. 20.

Don Sinclair, the CEO of the College Employer Council, said the arbitration award was good but nobody really “wins.”

“I never do like the notion of winners or losers,” Sinclair said. “The main reason why, is the five week strike had such a big impact on students.”

He said the Council was happy with the award and called it “workable” for both parties. The academic freedom clause struck the right balance, as it was subject to certain regulation, he said.

“I would like to think that issue (has) been put to rest.”