UWOFA prez brings unique perspective to role

Adela Talbot // Western News

Ann Bigelow, who teaches in the DAN Management and Organizational Studies program, is the first contract faculty member to serve as president of The University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA). She stepped into the role July 1, following Kristin Hoffmann from Western Libraries.

The day Ann Bigelow felt the discrepancy was the day she got involved with The University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA).

“I worked as an accountant for many years before coming to Western. Here, I work with a group of accountants and we teach (in the DAN Management and Organizational Studies program) and none of us have tenure. There are always people whose contracts are coming up for renewal, and we are always nervous and worried about it,” she said.

Bigelow, who came to Western in 2002, is the first contract faculty member to serve as president of UWOFA. She stepped into the role July 1, following Kristin Hoffmann from Western Libraries.

“Contract faculty just don’t have the same rights as probationary and tenured faculty. I learned that quickly when I came here. There was an orientation for new faculty members and I asked someone in Faculty Relations, ‘Gee, I’m a new faculty member. Why didn’t I get invited to that?’ And well, they said, ‘You’re a contract faculty member.’ There are different classes of faculty members, and I had never really been a second-class citizen before. Realizing this, it helped me get involved with the work of UWOFA,” she explained.

Bigelow has served as treasurer, sat on a number of committees and negotiating teams and was vice-president before being asked to step into the president’s role. She inherited a healthy organization, she said, but one that continues to deal with issues, among them contract faculty rights, pay equity and diversification.

“In the last round of faculty negotiations, we made a big focus on contract faculty. That has to continue. It’s baby steps. We gain little bits, and then we don’t get exactly what we thought we bargained for, then we have to try and straighten it out again,” she said.

“Several universities have moved to a continuing type of appointment for lecturers so people in positions like mine wouldn’t worry about contracts (coming to an end). That will be something we are hoping to move towards here at Western.”

Basically, Bigelow wants the contribution of contract faculty members to be adequately recognized. As it stands, the administration doesn’t exactly show it values her contract faculty colleagues, she said.

“I’ve heard our employer talk about how contract faculty are basically an inconvenient statistic because we increase the number of faculty and we don’t produce research. So, if you’re looking at our ratio of research per faculty member, we contribute to the denominator but not the numerator. To me, that’s just saying contact faculty are an inconvenient statistic and it makes us less than human,” Bigelow explained.

“I don’t consider myself a unit of production; I consider myself a human being. And I feel that’s the case for all – every employee in every organization. They’re more than a statistic.”

UWOFA is continually looking at salary parity with other institutions, Bigelow added. Next to its comparators, Western is near the bottom of the list in Ontario. While the fact the university is in London, not Toronto, plays a role in compensation, faculty members have the ability to work at any institution, and if the institution wants to keep them here, it needs to pay them a salary comparable to what they would make elsewhere, she said.

Over the next year, the focus will be on primarily engaging and mobilizing some 1,600 UWOFA members. Bigelow wants to tap into faculty representatives and ensure there is an open line of communication for them at all times.

“We’re ramping up for the next set of negotiations in 2018 and we have to start thinking about it now. We plan well in advance, putting together a negotiating team and collective bargaining committee to determine what the goals are, to put together proposals,” Bigelow noted.

“We want to have good contact with our members and a good way to flow information to (them) and to get them to flow information up to us. That’s an area UWOFA really needs to work on.”

As far as governance concerns following the president’s compensation scandal, reverberations are still felt among faculty, she added. While administration and the Board of Governors had promised more openness, there hasn’t been adequate delivery – though UWOFA has been engaged with Senate and has seen better lines of communication there, Bigelow went on.

“We’re definitely watching what’s happening at Senate and trying to participate more in that process, ask questions and raise issues. We have regular meetings with the president and provost, and we’re constantly trying to make sure the administration and Board of Governors is aware we are here, and we are watching, and when we see things we don’t like, we’re going to let them know.”