NYCU President's Message: May 2019

Julia Wright, DFA President 2019-20

I arrived at Dalhousie in 2005, after working as a tenure-stream faculty member in Ontario for a decade. I went to DFA meetings, especially in bargaining years, but wasn’t very active in the DFA otherwise until recently. I’ve been working on the edges of workplace issues for a while in other ways, though. I’ve published on university matters since grad school. I chaired my Faculty’s Working Group on Finances in 2012-13, and learned a lot about Dalhousie budgeting—and thought a lot about my third-year undergrad math class on errors (a whole course on how mistakes affect results, especially over time). Our prof seemed to have an endless supply of stories about big problems that arose from someone not checking the little details.

When I became Associate Dean Research in FASS (2013-16), it became clear to me that there was a growing gap between researchers’ capacity and what they could actually do with dwindling time and resources (see this relevant study). I saw reports that gathered dust while new groups were corralled into doing the same work over again. I saw early career researchers scrambling with high teaching loads and everything else that they needed to do. I started to explain administrative work to colleagues as a game of Snakes and Ladders, in which one tried to solve a problem by taking evidence and a solution to someone and persuading them (climbing the ladder), and then were told that person was the wrong person or that it was the wrong time (snake!). These are all, in their way, workload issues: under-resourced teaching leads to less time for research for everyone who teaches, from graduate students to faculty; ineffectual, even “pointless,” administrative processes take time away from all aspects of the academic mission, including the essential work of collegial governance over that mission.

Scholars are problem solvers. In teaching, research, advising, and collegial governance, we try to apply sound methods and facts to make things better—for our students, our fields, our units, and our university. I wanted to be in a role where that was possible, or at least seemed less impossible. So, when I was asked to join the DFA Bargaining Team in late 2016, I said “yes.”

Bargaining has its own challenges, of course, but the Collective Agreement is our best guarantee of clarity and consistency. New policies can spin out of Hicks and drop around us like spiders, but the Collective Agreement articulates key elements of our work and the processes through which important decisions about our work are made—including those spider-policies.  It gives us a framework that is invisible when we don’t need it but rock-steady when we do. So, when I was asked if I would agree to be nominated for president last year, I said “yes.”

Over the last year, as president-elect, I’ve been part of the team in the DFA house: it’s a team that works. Barb MacLennan’s profound knowledge of the Collective Agreement is invaluable, and so is Lynn Purves’ understanding of the numbers, policies, and so much else; Catherine Wall is our communications expert, and Kristin Hoyt keeps it all running smoothly, including our often chaotic meeting schedules. Dave Westwood and I (as president and president-elect) brought our experience in the jobs described by the Collective Agreement, and all that we’ve learned from the staff, members of the Executive, and you.

Weekly team meetings in the DFA boardroom are about problem-solving: what are the priorities, what will do the most good, and how are we going to get it done? We check the little details. We listen to the different experts in the room. We solve problems. With Dave generously agreeing to be president-elect this year, the same team will be in place, working to solve problems for the membership and getting ready for bargaining in 2020.

We can’t solve all of the problems, but you can help us do more. Help us work through the priorities for the next round of bargaining: which problems would you most like to solve? Please feel free to contact the team at dfa@dal.ca or me at julia.wright@dal.ca.