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Alberta University of the Arts Faculty Association

President's Winter Message
Paul Robert | January 30, 2024

Dear Colleagues,

First, I'd like to extend my condolences to all who had the privilege of working closely with Dr. Christopher Frey, especially current and past Faculty Association Executive; staff (Karin); and those across the negotiating table. In addition to his generous curiosity whenever I spoke to him in the hall, I will always remember him for his sincere poetic interventions in formal meetings, an equally cryptic counterpoint to managerial-speak. We mourn his absence.


As we approach negotiations in 2024, all the workshops, training materials, and peer advice I've encountered are unanimous: grand successes in bargaining depend on the wide membership's engagement. For leadership, communication is key: articulate your position clearly and concisely, in easily understood terms. Such recommendations immediately remind me of the paradoxes activist movements face in mobilizing large populations as described in the 2015 documentary We Will Win Peace. I believe the principles also hold true for unions. As commendable as certain activist movements are in raising considerable awareness for their cause, by simplifying their messages into sound bites that can compete in the attention marketplace, they also risk misrepresenting the complexity of issues, substituting them with easily winnable actions that may or may not make much difference. In some cases, the "wins" even make things worse.

Mobilizing people to lobby, march, or strike is also most effective when a situation is characterized in terms of clearly defined victims and clearly defined perpetrators. Moral outrage motivates. It's no wonder that, of all the strategies effective unions use, "fight" and "win" discourses often end up being disproportionately visible. "You have the carrot, the stick, and the club," I heard another PSI's Labour Relations Officer explain at the ACIFA Conference last year. They went on to transcend the caricature of what a union can and often must be: emphasizing how much can be achieved by maintaining a collaborative relationship with the employer. Military studies aims for the attainment of victory for one or more, but not all, parties involved. In contrast, peace studies aims for victory for all parties (which, admittedly, is not always possible). As an ideal, seeking win-win solutions is not discontinuous with assertively defending a healthy sense of entitlement to decent labour standards. But as effective as working collaboratively can often be, it's generally less headline-worthy than a fresh riff on David vs. Goliath.

Across Alberta and beyond, I have heard academic staff associations bemoan the lack of engagement of many of their members. While the word "apathy" resonates among the committed, and may not be completely unfair (that we're all very busy and that there's a lot competing for our attention is more of an explanation than an excuse), guilt is unlikely to stir those intended to be stirred. And maybe there's just more to the story. Maybe the standard narratives (clear, simple, villain-victim) are yielding diminishing returns. My sense is that there's a hunger for accounts that acknowledge complexity, paradox, and nuance. Can we improve the language we use to explain and manage conflict? Can we unite without obliterating our inherent heterogeneity as an association of free-thinking artists and academics? Can we find ways to hold people and institutions accountable for the powerful and harmful ideologies they perpetuate without ourselves participating in the same game? Or even while acknowledging the compromises and complicity of our own positions?

The aim of Daniel Kahneman's book Thinking, Fast and Slow is to improve our conversations around the proverbial watercooler by equipping us with the language of psychological economics. This seems like a modest goal for a Nobel prize winning book. But according to his research, the greatest hope for change lies not in individuals but in organizations. The more precise, discerning, and incisive our analytical tools are for discussing the most recent institutional drama, the less apt we are to jump to conclusions based on what we already know and want to believe. This is key to comprehending and influencing the dynamics of change. "There is a direct link from more precise gossip at the watercooler to better decisions (418)." I invite you to join the conversation.


Condolences for Chris Frey

It deeply saddens me to announce our beloved friend and faculty member Chris Frey passed away on January 25th, 2024. For years, Chris was an active member of the AUAFA Faculty Association maintaining various leadership roles as Negotiation's Chair and Grievance Officer etc.

Chris's contribution spanned beyond the professional- he was a passionate advocate of the arts and quite often you could hear Chris playing his guitar or favourite tunes up (too) loud so that everyone who walked passed his classroom wished they were in on the fun.

Chris was an animated storyteller and critical thinker coining his students as "crows" aka critical creative research and writing thinkers.

I was lucky enough to know Chris first as a student and then later as a colleague in the Faculty Association. Chris was a poet, a provocateur and our friend.

We will miss you dearly Chris. Rest in peace.

Faculty wanting to express their  Condolences or share a memory can write a message to his family (follow link).

Congratulations and welcome to our two most recent Executive members appointed January 18, 2024:
Lia Golemba, Communications Officer
Lisa Liption, GFC Representative

Vacant positions  2024

Grievance Advisor

Faculty Catalogue​ 2020
Documenting Faculty Practice + Research
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Faculty Catalogue 2019
Documenting Faculty Practice + Research
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