At least they could agree on Stanley Lanyon.
After more than four years of negotiations and mediation, including a two-week strike in March, UNBC's faculty and senior administration are still a zillion miles apart on pay and various benefits. They were, however, able to agree on Lanyon, a New Westminister labour lawyer and a former chair of the Labour Relations Board of B.C., to serve as the arbitrator in the ongoing dispute for a first collective agreement.
Starting today, Lanyon will begin hearing arguments from both sides and will be able to ask questions about their presentations and the legal briefs they have submitted. After closing arguments, he's expected to return early in the new year with decisions that will be binding on both parties.
UNBC has shared its 81-page legal brief and the faculty association's 140-page submission on its web site. A quick read shows the enormous challenge Lanyon faces in bridging the gap between the two parties.
What's most disheartening about their written arguments is their almost complete unwillingness to even recognize the other's perspective. The university only mentions in passing that professor pay at UNBC is "not consistent with provincial and national norms" while the faculty makes little note of UNBC's fiscal situation.
UNBC's report to the arbitrator is a tale of doom and gloom. Forget the Maclean's rankings and all of the good news. The school is out of money and is leaking cash at an alarming rate due to rising costs. There was an "unanticipated revenue shortfall" of $1.4 million in 2014/15, there is a similar shortfall forecast for this year due to declining student enrolment and the province has reduced its operating grant to the school by $1.3 million during the past three years.
The total cost of their final offer over the life of a five-year deal is $4.5 million and administration says the cost of what faculty has on the table would cost a whopping $27.2 million over five years, with just $19.5 million of that in pay increases alone. That would force UNBC to run an unsustainable continuous annual deficit of $4 million during the contract, the submission argues.
Meanwhile, the faculty want a "sector-norm agreement," meaning they want the same pay and benefits enjoyed at similar-sized universities across Canada, citing the University of Lethbridge, the University of Regina and several other schools. UNBC faculty are paid significantly less than their counterparts at these schools and are falling further and further behind. While the instructors continue to produce world-class research and top-notch students, they are being held back from the compensation they deserve by an "intransigent employer."
Don't need a doctorate or a law degree to recognize name calling, even when it's a big fancy word written in a legal document. The lack of empathy and creativity among these highly-educated individuals to work towards a mutually beneficial solution is shocking. In summary, UNBC's submission is "we don't care how badly our faculty are paid, we're broke" and the faculty's reply is "we don't care how broke UNBC is, we want to be paid what they get at the other schools."
Taken together, these two documents paint a troubling picture of what could be in store in future years at UNBC without significant change to the current situation. It's not pretty. Declining enrolment. Declining government support. Ongoing cost-cutting measures. Disgruntled employees. An exodus of the best and brightest, both students and faculty, to better opportunities elsewhere.
Whatever Lanyon decides, there will be no winners here if the relationship doesn't change. In their own words to justify their legal stance, both administration and faculty seem to be saying that UNBC is a faltering institution whose very survival may be in doubt.
If that is really the case, it will take far more than an arbitrator's ruling to fix that.
It will start with administration and faculty seeing each other as collaborators, instead of adversaries.