Victory for post-secondary educators in court, Education Council must be consulted rules BC Supreme Court

We are currently facing campaigns and battles on many fronts as post-secondary educators. I know that we sometimes wonder if the struggles are worth it, given the time and resources that they can take. There's nothing like a little victory to re-energize us and this commentary is about one such victory.

A recent decision of the BC Supreme Court confirming the advisory role of Education Councils in Colleges and Institutes under the 1996 College and Institute Act should be taken to heart by administrators and faculty associations throughout the province.

In April 2002, the Board and administration of Vancouver Community College made a decision to change the length of term in the largest department, English Language Skills (ELS), from three four-month terms a year to three three-month terms. This decision was made without consulting with the VCC Education Council. The administrative position was that it did not need to ask the Council for its educational advice as this was an "administrative operational decision".

The VCC Faculty Association (FPSE Local 15) disagreed: it was clearly a violation of the College and Institute Act which sets out a mandatory advisory role for the Education Council on specified education policy matters. The VCCFA, with the backing of the Federation of Post-Seondary Educators of BC, took Vancouver Community College to court in order to reaffirm the role of the Education Council in the development of education policy.

Shortly before the case was to come to court in 2004, VCC administration went an extra step and introduced a one-line Policy on Changes of Length for Courses or Programs: "The Vice President or delegate will approve changes in length or hours for courses or programs." The Education Council, it said, would be advised after the fact. VCC added this violation of the Act to its petition before the Court.

In her January 2005 judgment, Madam Justice J. Allan took VCC to task. Justice Allan affirmed the view of post-secondary educators that if the VCC Board wants to develop an educational policy on a matter listed in the relevant part (Section 23) of the Act, it must seek the advice of the Education Council. It cannot avoid such consultation by characterizing changes in the length of or hours for courses or programs as administrative operational decisions. Further, the 2004 policy delegating these decisions to the Vice President of Education was an improper attempt to circumvent the legislation.

The decision is a major victory for shared governance. But it is also a wakeup call! Legislatively-mandated shared governance of educational facilities outside of traditional universities is not common in Canada. FPSE is rightfully proud of our contribution in shaping this legislation. When the Minister of Skills, Training and Labour introduced the amendments to the College and Institute Act as "a new body for institutional governance" he stated that

"The creation of the education council ... will enable faculty, students and support staff to participate formally and meaningfully in education decision-making...." Hon. Dan Miller, British Columbia, Legislative Assembly, Hansard, Vol.15, No. 24 (June 1, 1994)

By challenging the actions of the VCC Board and administration, post-secondary educators were protecting the rights and responsibilities given to us by legislation. We helped to formulate these sections of the Act and we must continue to protect them, no matter what other issues or battles we face.

About FPSE

The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 12 private sector institutions.