November 16, 2020

Dear President Benarroch,

I write on behalf of my colleagues in UMFA and myself in response to your message this morning to the University of Manitoba community.  We are deeply disappointed by its tone, its content, and your all too apparent abdication of your responsibilities to university faculty, instructors, and librarians and the University community at large.

There is a stark disconnect between your actions and the ends you claim to pursue, particularly with regard to ensuring greater wage equity for UMFA members in the U15. Your reference to compliance with the provincial wage mandate clearly demonstrates that your priorities are not to ensure that research and educational opportunities can be pursued at the highest level at the University now or in the future. Instead, it betrays a capitulation to the provincial government’s campaign to undermine the public sector at a time when many of us are already stretched to our breaking point.

In the most general terms, your responsibility to the University is to promote its interests and success as a centre of excellence for research and higher education.   In choosing to align yourself with the provincial government and to prioritize its wage mandate, you have chosen to further demoralize the academics that are indispensable to any such success.

There is much to be lost by further disenfranchising a highly-skilled group of professionals that already feels overwhelmingly disrespected and undervalued.   The long-term consequences of neglecting rather than nurturing the source of the University’s productive capacity in teaching and research will only undermine its output with respect to both.     

Apart from challenges that our stagnant compensation levels cause in relation to recruitment and retention, there is the frank reality that one simply cannot expect extraordinary efforts from those to whom you only make empty overtures. My colleagues and I have given a great deal to this institution, over and above what might be expected. Whether we are able to continue to do so depends very much on whether you choose to prioritize the work we do rather than the misguided priorities of the Pallister government, which you yourself have critiqued on behalf of the Manitoba Federation of Labour, writing the following words:

“Bill 28 disproportionately places the burden of budget cuts on public servants. While undoubtedly salaries are a significant component of government expenditures, government services and programs benefit all Manitobans. The provincial debt is the responsibility of all Manitobans not just public servants. Public servants ensure that services and programs are provided to Manitobans. Bill 28 places the burden on one sub-sector of the province to disproportionately contribute to deficit reduction.”

The President of the University of Manitoba needs to be an independent leader in our province and follow through on the implications of these words: begin advocating openly and tirelessly for a properly funded post-secondary education system that is accessible to all Manitobans.

Yours,

Michael Shaw