President's Message: Gender solidarity at the University of Manitoba

We have all seen messages from David Barnard and the Administration over the last few months regarding their distress at the instances of sexual assault and harassment at the UM and their resolve to root out this behaviour, protect members of the UM community, and discipline the offenders.

It is an employer’s responsibility to ensure a safe workplace for their employees and, in the case of a university, its students. It is the responsibility of a faculty association to ensure that the employer meets its responsibilities to Members, and that Members subject to investigation or discipline are accorded due process.

If you have experienced harassment or sexual violence, our job is to ensure that the employer does their job – treats your complaint seriously, ensures you are safe andget access to the resources you need, and follows appropriate protocols. Members accused of sexual violence or harassment should contact the UMFA office immediately to ensure that the administration acts in accordance with law and the collective agreement.

Nevertheless, there is room for improvement of the administration’s actions and UMFA’s interventions. Late last fall the Board of Representatives formed a Gender Solidarity Working Group to contribute to defending and promoting working relations across genders.  That group includes representation from the UMFA executive, our professional staff, our grievance officers, our diversity and equity committee, and the Board Representatives.

One of the first, and most important, tasks of this group will be to hold gatherings in the coming months to hear survivors’ concerns and suggestions about preventing sexual harassment and assault on campus.  The results of these gatherings, in tandem with solicited additional confidential/anonymous feedback, will be used to inform UMFA policy about how Members are supported, and inform demands made to the administration.

Based on that information, as well as UMFA’s past experiences, the working group will:

  • identify deficiencies in and alternatives to the current UM Respectful Work and Learning Environment and Sexual Assault Policies and Procedures;
  • In preparation for collective bargaining, identify deficiencies in and recommend improvements to the Collective Agreement related to issues of sexual harassment and violence and report them to the Collective Agreement Committee for inclusion in our forthcoming bargaining proposals and communications;
  • identify possible improvements to CAUT policies in regard to safety and health, harassment, and sexual harassment; and
  • identify deficiencies in and recommend improvements to UMFA’s Bylaws and Standing Rules in regard to sexual harassment and sexual assault, including recommendations regarding gender composition for grievance officer selection procedures and complainant choice in grievances involving sexual harassment or sexual violence.

We will be in touch about the best way to meet with those who’d like to share their experience and knowledge. Please don’t hesitate to contact me or the UMFA office if you need help or have any suggestions for us.

Best wishes for the rest of the term.

Janet Morrill
UMFA President