St. Jerome's faculty sign union cards

By 
  • March 30, 2009
{mosimage}Twenty of 31 full-time faculty at St. Jerome’s University have signed union cards and expect to form a legal bargaining unit with a secret ballot vote before the end of March.

St. Jerome’s president Fr. David Perrin would not comment on whether the formation of a union would be good or bad for the university.

“This is a labour relations issue. I can’t comment,” he said.

The professors and librarian at the Catholic liberal arts college at the University of Waterloo need the protection of a union, said faculty association president David Seljak.

“The administration and the board has made it clear they wish to change the way St. Jerome’s operates, including making some changes to the terms of employment,” said Seljak.

For a year and a half the university has been in turmoil with numerous staff and faculty departures and the sudden resignation of all three members of its chaplaincy team. Seljak blames a hierarchical management style which he says violates the collegial traditions of St. Jerome’s.

“In the past these kinds of changes have always been negotiated with the faculty in a collegial manner,” he said. “It seems that these changes, the recent changes, are being introduced in a top-down fashion and not entirely in an open manner.”

Perrin counters that collegiality is very important to him. Outside consultants brought in to investigate the troubles at St. Jerome’s will report back to the college’s board of governors in April. The consultants are an example of openness and collegiality, Perrin said.

“I have been a listening voice. I maintain an open-door policy that any faculty, staff member at any time can walk in to see me, discuss whatever they would like to discuss. That’s very, very important to me in terms of always open communications and being open to a range of opinions and perspectives,” he said.

A survey conducted for the board of governors last April found that many St. Jerome’s employees are unwilling to speak openly with senior administration, a large number report deteriorating working conditions have affected their health or personal life, many respondents said they would change employers if they could and most employees do not believe the university is living up to its ideals.

Perrin disagrees.

“I believe St. Jerome’s University is living up to its ideals splendidly,” said Perrin.

In forming a union St. Jerome’s professors are embracing Catholic social teaching, particularly Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum and Pope John Paul II’s 1981 encyclical Laborem Exercens, said Seljak.

“We’re not saying the professors should run the place,” he said. “But professors have to have real input.”

Former St. Jerome’s mathematics professor Steven Furino, now with the University of Waterloo’s Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing Excellence, doubts the union will be able to restore the once open, democratic culture of the institution.

“I think what it (the union) does is limit the damage that will be done to faculty members,” he said.

Furino says he left last year in frustration after 20 years at St. Jerome’s, sacrificing a sabbatical and professorial rank to escape the tension.

Board chair Dorothee Retterath was on vacation and unavailable for comment. Student representative to the board of governors Sebastien Kundra refused to comment on the latest developments.

If the vote certifies the union the professors at St. Jerome’s will become part of the Canadian Association of University Teachers , which represents about 65,000 university teachers, librarians and researchers.

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