Less than a week at the helm, new University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA) president Stephen Pitel is looking forward to preparations for the next round of faculty negotiations and completing the ongoing corporate governance reforms.
“The corporate governance reforms are unfolding in the directions we wanted from the outset, although the process has taken longer than I had contemplated,” said Pitel. “I expect everything will be completed by the autumn. Then we will be a federal not-for-profit corporation with up-to-date by-laws governing the many facets of our operations.”
A Faculty of Law professor, Pitel practised corporate and commercial litigation for three years in Toronto in the 1990s before leaving, in search of a career with a better work-life balance. After doctoral studies at the University of Cambridge, he came to Western’s Faculty of Law in 2000. He was promoted to full professor in 2013 and has been an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto and the University of Sherbrooke.
Pitel, whose research and teaching is focused on private international law, tort law, civil procedure and legal ethics, is the co-author of numerous legal books. He is one of the founders of Western’s Tort Law Research Group and was the co-developer of Canada’s first mandatory first-year law school course in legal ethics.
One of Pitel’s priorities for UWOFA is to continue to build a strong Faculty Representatives Council, a process spearheaded by 2016-17 president Ann Bigelow, who will chair the council in the coming year.
“I know she will continue to develop and energize this important initiative as a means to better communicate with our members across campus,” said Pitel, adding the council will play a key role in mobilizing members leading into negotiations next year.
During his year as vice-president, Pitel was struck by how much of UWOFA’s day-to-day work involves advocacy on behalf of its members, noting the group is frequently asked for its views on issues that arise, from internal issues such as developing the university’s Strategic Mandate Agreement to external issues such as changes to Ontario’s labour laws.
“We always appreciate being asked for input. Of course, in many cases we are not asked for our views but we provide them anyway, which is always an advocacy challenge,” he admitted, adding one of UWOFA’s concerns is, on occasion, it is not consulted. But it’s not out of disregard, just a lack of awareness, he added.
“One of our goals is for all parts of the university to ask, in their operations, whether they raise a possible UWOFA issue so that proper, and timely, consultation can occur,” he said.
Over the summer, Pitel is working to organize UWOFA’s various committee chairs and representatives to external committees and organizations. And, he gets to decorate a new office. “UWOFA has recently hired another employee as part of its efforts to provide service to our members and, as a result, we’ve had to renovate our space in Elborn College to create a new office. I’m hoping I’ll get to pick the paint colour,” he laughed.