2020: A Momentous Year for our Federation
The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 12 private sector institutions.
2020 marked both the start of a new year and the additional excitement that occurs with the launch of a new decade. For us at the Federation of Post Secondary Educators, it also marked our 50th year of advocacy for improvements in the learning and working conditions for post-secondary students and educators. You can learn more about our fifty-year history through our online museum at https://history.fpse.ca/
The year began with some notable moments for students and educators. We supported efforts to make post-secondary more affordable by supporting the new BC Access Grant for students announced in the February provincial budget. We continued our advocacy for contract faculty, and welcomed the Quest University Faculty Union as FPSE Local 24. Our federation also granted over $60,000 to human rights organizations through our International Solidarity Fund (ISF). The ISF funds projects and actions that support disadvantaged people organizing to realize their basic human rights, informed by the values of equality, respect, human dignity and social justice. Since 2008, FPSE has now donated over $400,000 to organizations leading this work around the world.
Then, in March COVID-19 was declared an international pandemic and everything began to change. Suddenly, we had to adapt our life and work to reduce transmission of the coronavirus. Over just a few days, educators and students together undertook an unprecedented overnight transition to remote-adapted-learning. I'm proud of the fortitude and resilience BC post-secondary educators demonstrated in making the best of their severely disrupted working environments to provide students with the best learning conditions possible.
During this dramatic change in learning environments our FPSE locals were in various stages of bargaining negotiations. This added to what was already an incredibly stressful time, but bargainers brought the same fortitude and resilience to negotiation as they did teaching their classes. As a result of the hard work of the folks who are our faculty and staff unions, the majority of our locals were able to meaningfully increase pay for contract faculty for the first time in over twenty years. I’m so appreciative of the local and provincial bargaining teams for their perseverance in achieving the best deal possible for their coworkers.
Of course, there are profound new challenges brought about by the pandemic. Fluctuations in student enrollment and disruptions to international education are felt unevenly across our system. Often, budget pressure results in staffing layoffs or cuts, which increase workload for remaining educators, and reduce capacity to support students. It will be tempting to ease the pressure on institutional and provincial budgets by allowing post-secondary budgetary strain to be born by increased educator workload. This is not sustainable – not for educators, and not for students - both of whom need additional supports to succeed during this time of pandemic post-secondary education.
The impact of the pandemic has been felt particularly keenly by our private post-secondary workers. In May a unionized private language school, inlingua Vancouver, closed and twenty of our Local 21 – ETEA members lost their jobs. Many of these workers made lasting contributions to our federation, and we need to do everything possible to support the other ETEA members who are at risk of losing their jobs or facing deep concessions due to the pandemic. We cannot allow COVID-19 to destroy the rights and benefits it has taken workers decades to achieve.
In June, we spoke out about these challenges during the BC Budget 2021 consultation held by the provincial government Standing Committee on Finance. A strong post-secondary sector is a vital part of the economic recovery plan we need for British Columbia. Many FPSE Locals also made presentations to the Standing Committee on Finance, pressing home the point that failing to increase funding to post-secondary to make up for any budget shortfalls would put our province’s future economy at risk for relatively small savings. Further, we also called for a post-secondary funding review. We are pleased to relay that this review was included in the BCNDP party platform and is now a focal point in the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training mandate letter! This review is the first step in creating a truly sustainable post-secondary system. Thank you to all the FPSE and post-secondary activists whose advocacy has resulted in this review. We’ll be posting more information as we find out more about the post-secondary funding review process.
Our sector has also been affected by other global events. The enormous groundswell of public demonstration in support of Black Lives Matter this summer has hastened a reckoning with the legacy impacts of colonization and racism in our education institutions. The Scholar Strike (https://scholarstrikecanada.ca/) in September showed that educators, students and administrators are ready to make changes. It will not be easy, it will not happen overnight, but it is essential that we begin our journey towards anti-racism now. I am committed to this work, personally, and as president of our federation. It will require changes in our union and federation practices, and require examining our own thoughts and beliefs in order to be achieved. I am confident that if we bring the same curiosity and sustained exploration of anti-racism as we do of the subjects we teach, we will transform ourselves and our institutions.
In early 2021 we will begin incorporating the findings from our FPSE Ad Hoc Committee on Climate Emergency into our operations and committee work. This follows from our October declaration of a climate emergency, and endorsement of the Global Climate Emergency initiative of the Global Universities and Colleges for the Climate group.
Imagine a working and learning environment where each day inequality amongst ourselves and our colleagues is reduced; the post-secondary system becomes more accessible and sustainable; Indigenous ways of knowing, being and relating are embraced and practiced; and our racialized colleagues and students are truly safe and valued. This is the future we are working towards.
Wishing you a safe and restorative holiday season.