Canadian Association of University Teachers - History


In November 1949, the Association of Teaching Staff of the University of Alberta first began exploring the idea of creating a national association of faculty to deal with issues of "salaries and pensions, sabbatical leave and academic freedom."

A poll of professors across the country found strong support for the initiative.

When the Learned Societies, now Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences held their annual session in 1950 at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario, an organizing committee was established and a decision was made to establish a national organization of university teachers.

Membership grew quickly. By 1957, CAUT represented about 78 percent of Canadian university teachers with 26 member associations and 3,400 full-time faculty. However, the organization struggled financially. It continued to operate without a national office and was staffed entirely by volunteers.

In 1958, CAUT was confronted with one of the most prominent academic freedom cases in Canada. The Board of Regents of Winnipeg's United College, a Presbyterian institution that is today the University of Winnipeg, dismissed Professor Harry S. Crowe for a letter he wrote to a colleague. The letter, obtained by the Principal of the college, was critical of the administration and made disparaging comments about the religious influence over the institution. CAUT was asked to investigate the matter and appointed a committee that included V.C. Fowke of the University of Saskatchewan and Bora Laskin of the University of Toronto. In its final report, the committee concluded that Crowe's dismissal violated due process, natural justice and academic freedom. The committee recommended that Crowe be reinstated. Following the release of the report, three of Crowe's colleagues stated they planned to resign unless Crowe was re-hired. The Board of Regents eventually agreed to reinstate Crowe, but refused to reconsider the three resignations. In protest, Crowe and 13 other professors left the college.

Even though Crowe and his colleagues lost their jobs, the case proved to be a seminal moment in CAUT's history. The time, effort, and expenditure demanded by the case demonstrated the need for a permanent office which was established in Ottawa in the fall of 1959. Stewart Reid, a colleague of Crowe's, was appointed the first secretary of CAUT. Reid oversaw the development of policy statements on governance, academic freedom and tenure, and throughout the 1960s CAUT focused much of its work on ensuring stronger protections for academic freedom.

In this early period, CAUT member associations were not trade unions. The unionization of Canadian academics did not begin until the 1970s. Pay and benefits had increased during the boom period of the 1960s when government funding increased and new universities and colleges were established. By the early 1970s, however, the tide had turned. The academic community was now facing a protracted period of restraint. Many academics argued that collective organizing was now needed to protect their pay and professional rights.

Academic staff associations in Quebec were the first to certify as trade unions beginning in 1971 with L'Association des Ingenieurs Professeurs en Science Appliques de l'Université de Sherbrooke. By 1975, more than 60 percent of academic staff in Quebec were unionized. In English Canada, 25 percent of professors were union members. CAUT increasingly encouraged member associations to certify, and by 1980 over 50 percent of faculty were unionized. Today, the unionization rate of academic staff is approximately 79 percent, well above the average of 30 percent for all occupations in Canada.

In recent years, CAUT's membership has grown as part-time and contract academic staff have been organized. In addition, provincial college faculty associations from British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta have joined. Today, CAUT represents 81 associations with approximately 68,000 individual members.

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