Exploitation at First Nations University of Canada

The First Nations University of Canada was first established as the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College in 1976, through a federated partnership with the University of Regina. Photo: Website of the Governor General of Canada/Sgt Ronald Duchesne, Rideau Hall

After a day of teaching classes at the First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv) in the fall 2008 semester, a sessional instructor with three degrees makes her way to her night shift at a women’s transition house and works into the wee hours of the morning. When her shift ends, she heads back to FNUniv to teach again.

The sessional, who has asked to remain anonymous, did this until 2012, when she shifted to taking casual jobs alongside her sessional teaching.

“We have four months off in the summer,” she says. “I’m never sure if I’m going to get a summer class.” She says she must wait for job offers from the institution that are sent out via email just weeks before each semester starts.

“Many sessionals are maintaining other employment,” she says. Most of these people are single Indigenous mothers according to her. In one case, a sessional taught five classes at FNUniv during one academic year, and had to seek out other employment as she earned just over $27,000 before taxes, she adds.

In 2008, her stipend, like that of all sessionals at the institution (who are not unionized) amounted to $5,100 per class, including holiday pay. In 2013, it rose to $5,500.

After hiring an arbitrator from B.C. to create a new collective agreement for its tenured staff during the summer, FNUniv started paying its sessionals a stipend of $5,800 per class in the fall 2014 semester, an effort by the institution’s board of governors to achieve its strategic planning goal to “attract, develop, and retain excellent staff and faculty.”

Different campuses, different pay

Just across University Drive East, at the University of Regina’s (U of R) other federated colleges, sessionals are paid based on their work experience and credentials. Pulling in the lowest wage per class are level one sessionals at Campion and Luther colleges — those with a bachelor’s degree or equivalent professional experience — who earn $6,388. The highest paid are level three sessionals at the U of R — those who have a PhD. or equivalent, or a master’s degree and 15 three-hour credit courses or equivalent — who earn $7,441 per class.

The $300 increase FNUniv sessionals are seeing is the first of three installments over the next three years. According to FNUniv Vice-President Lynn Wells, it will bring their stipends “up to par” with other sessionals at the U of R.

However, in three years their stipends will be $6,400 per class, which is still lower than the current stipend of level one sessionals at the U of R — those with a bachelor’s degree or equivalent professional experience — at $6,588 per class. By July 1, 2015, this number will bump up to $6,813.

And while their current stipend is not the lowest in Canada — with Memorial University paying its sessionals a base of $4,850 per class and the University of Winnipeg paying its sessionals $4,731 per class — Rob Johnson, professional officer at the Canadian Association of University Teachers, says he is “not aware of any other sessionals in [the country] that are non-unionized.” He also added that the average stipend for sessionals in Canada, excluding Quebec, is $6,572 per class, which FNUniv will continue to fall short of in three years.

“There’s no job security, no preference,” says the sessional, adding that if someone doesn’t like her, or if she says something that sets a student or administration off, she can easily lose her job to someone else. “Once you have job security, pay increases as well,” she says. “You have access to benefits.”

At the U of R, the same Indigenous Studies 100 classes offered at FNUniv are taught through the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program (SUNTEP). But as a University of Regina Faculty Association (URFA) sessional position, those who teach them are paid according to union scale.

“If sessionals who have worked at FNU apply for this position, it is unlikely they will be hired due to preference,” says the sessional. “I might have taught 35 Indig classes at FNU. However, if another instructor has taught, for example, five classes at the University of Regina, Luther, or Campion, he or she will have preference in terms of hiring for this position.”

The same classes are also taught through the Centre of Continuing Education at the U of R. Although FNUniv handles the hiring, since the position is also unionized, the instructor is paid the same as those who teach the courses for SUNTEP.

Unlike the rest of the U of R, where sessionals are generally assigned a grader, sessionals at the administratively separate FNUniv are not. The sessional says she has often had to search for one herself. Sometimes this meant asking students in her classes if they would be interested in being hired and/or FNUniv hiring one mid semester, she says.

When she has received a grader, she says that person has to be shared between her and other sessionals. When she hasn’t received one, she says she has had to mark upwards of 150 exams by herself — taking more than 20 hours to complete — on top of weeks spent marking term papers.

“Many won’t teach because the workload is too great,” she says. “How can you indigenize with blatant disparity in pay and work load?”

“There’s a clear inequality. There’s exploitation,” she says. “Also, because FNU has specific classes — Indian Art History classes aren’t offered across the way — that’s your area, that’s where you have to teach. Incredibility marginalized, we are. It’s just blatantly wrong.”

Flickr/Chica Maravilla

Sessionals are not only facing the exploitation at FNUniv, meanwhile. In the winter 2014 semester, Randy Lundy, a tenured English instructor at FNUniv until his position was terminated in 2010, was hired by the institution to teach Advanced Creative Writing III at the U of R.

“I was glad to have the opportunity to do it . . . At the same time . . . my office was at the U of R, they were all U of R students, and I got paid probably $2,000 less for teaching than if somebody else was paying me,” says Lundy.

He says Edward Doolittle, then Program Head at FNUniv, offered him the job after talking with Nicholas Ruddick, then the head of the U of R English Department — which has faced funding cuts — about how the department would fill the position.

Ruddick says Lundy teaching the class meant the department only had to offer three, as opposed to four, cross-listed 400- and 800-level courses that semester.

Asked if he knew how much Lundy would get paid for taking the position, Ruddick replied, “I did not know how much he would be paid, nor is it my business how much.” Lundy teaching the course was a “win-win situation for both sides,” he said, adding that the course, like all offered by FNUniv, worked toward U of R degrees, as the U of R grants degrees for its federated colleges. “That’s what sessionals are for. They are intended to be people with great expertise and to come in and teach based on that expertise.”

Despite having only U of R students and being taught on the U of R campus, because FNUniv offered the class, it received the students’ tuition fees.

Lundy says he doesn’t know how many times FNUniv has done this. But since he started teaching there 19 years ago, he says there’s always been a pay disparity between the institution and the other federated colleges that make up the U of R.

“What I was told was, well, ‘Indian people have tax-free status, so that’s supposed to make up for the difference. White folks over at U of R paid tax, and we didn’t, therefore that’s called parity,’” he said. “I hate to put it this way — that’s your own employer, your own people, violating your treaty rights.” Meanwhile, not all sessionals at FNUniv are First Nations.

The anonymous sessional says the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations intervened at FNUniv in 2005 to fire 14 women, among other individuals, without cause, and there were job terminations in 2010 that violated the administrative, professional and technical (APT) workers’ collective agreement with the URFA. This suggests an anti-union history at FNUniv.

She says many of her colleagues feel “hopeless and intimidated in the light of [this] history” and thus are not speaking out about their situation. This, in addition to FNUniv silencing tenured professors who have spoken up, she says, “sends a clear message to sessionals to ‘behave.’”

When sessionals have spoken up to the URFA, it has also historically refused to help them and their colleagues unionize, she says.

The treatment of sessionals at FNUniv has become normalized, she says, adding that some are unaware of the disparities they are experiencing in comparison to the rest of the U of R.

According to Sylvain Rheault, chair of the URFA, 300 classes are taught by sessionals at FNUniv each year.

Wells estimates there is a minimum of 50 sessionals teaching classes at the institution, with another 47 tenured instructors. She says that as the institution continues to restructure, the positions of terminated instructors will be filled with sessionals and new administration jobs.

It is difficult to know exactly how many sessionals there are at FNUniv and how long they’ve been experiencing this treatment, however. The institution, which receives federal and provincial funding, is not included in either government’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy acts, and is thus not obligated to disclose any information.

Wells suggested that human resources at FNUniv could clarify the numbers on sessional instructors, but after contacting them three times since interviewing her in July of 2014, no information has been provided.

And while FNUniv is obligated under its academic agreement to disclose how many sessionals it hires to the URFA, as well as the gender and the number of classes taught by each sessional, Rheault says the institution has not provided the URFA with that data in his time as chair.

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