This year, 2014, is the 50th anniversary of the incorporation of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, or, as it was then known, the Ontario Council of University Faculty Associations. OCUFA’s creation came at an important moment in the province’s history. During the 1960s and early 1970s, Ontario’s postsecondary education system underwent an unprecedented expansion. A robust economy, demographic pressures, and increased public interest in the benefits of higher education combined to drive government investment in the higher education sector.

Within the academy, the growing numbers of unionized faculty—a trend that reflected accelerating unionization rates in the broader public sector—began to think of themselves and their influence in the university system differently. They needed a voice to advocate on their behalf to a government now very interested in the operation of Ontario’s universities. OCUFA was created in response to this need.

Since its inception, OCUFA has become a key advocate for its members, the now 17,000 university faculty and academic librarians in Ontario who are represented by their 28 faculty associations. Over its half-century of existence, OCUFA has grown from a small stakeholder group to become the leading voice for faculty in Ontario. OCUFA is also now a strong advocate for high quality and accessible education in the province, and indeed the country.

The Birth of OCUFA

In late 1962, delegates from Ontario’s then-15 universities met to discuss the formation of a committee of faculty associations, during a time of growing optimism in the province’s future and of significant expansion in the postsecondary education sector in Ontario, and in Canada.

The Ontario Council of University Faculty Associations held its first meeting on September 14, 1963, and adopted a constitution on June 16, 1964.

During OCUFA’s first few years, the organization responded to the issues created by the dramatic expansion of the higher education sector, including effective governance in the universities; the changing relationship between the universities and the government; and adequate remuneration for faculty. OCUFA’s formation also dovetailed with new financial arrangements between the federal and provincial governments, arrangements which would, moving forward, give the province greater influence over the development of its postsecondary institutions.

Postsecondary education after the war

Soon after the end of World War II, and aided to a great degree by federal initiatives, veterans poured into Ontario’s universities—53,000 between 1944 and 1951— straining the province’s still-small higher education system. And more demographic pressure was on the way. By the mid-1950s, as the baby boomers began to grow up, the need to expand the system was clear. A 1956 Royal Commission report on Canada’s economic prospects highlighted the country’s growing need for better educational prospects, and for more university graduates. Between the early 1950s and 1963, the university population in Canada more than doubled, as new universities received their charters and existing institutions expanded. Thousands of new faculty members were also recruited.

Within this context of expansion, OCUFA’s mandate was clear: to formulate policies and to negotiate with government on behalf of the faculty of Ontario’s universities. The organization’s first major research initiative was the preparation of a 1963 brief to the Premier of Ontario, University Education in Ontario, which it wrote together with the Committee of Presidents of the Universities of Ontario (CPUO). OCUFA and CPUO (later the Council of Ontario Universities (COU)) worked closely together on a number of initiatives in the early years, including the establishment of joint pensions, salary, and taxation committees. The two organizations also co-sponsored a conference on university affairs in 1964, and worked on a number of other initiatives together over the next decade.

OCUFA soon began to put a more permanent team in place to handle the growing demands created by its position within the sector. In 1967, Charles Hebdon became OCUFA’s first full-time staff person, taking on the role of Director of Research and Financial Planning. In 1969, OCUFA moved into its first permanent offices at 40 Sussex Avenue in Toronto, which it leased from the University of Toronto.

Late 1960s to early 1970s: Expanding the system

The late 1960s and the 1970s tend to be remembered as the “golden years” of postsecondary education in Ontario and beyond. During this time, the largest expansion of the province’s university system to date took place. In the newly created Ministry of Colleges and Universities, more than 900 government employees now focused on the needs of the higher education sector.

The expansion of all levels of education occurred under Premier John Robarts Progressive Conservative government, aided by his Education Minister, Bill Davis (who would eventually go on to become Ontario’s Premier from 1971 to 1985). Premier Robarts put in place a new system to finance this expansion: for every registered student, a university would receive funding corresponding to a formula designed around the “basic income unit,” or BIU. As well, additional funding envelopes were created to help account for the unique needs of parts of the system, such as the higher costs of running universities in the north, or the requirements of bilingual institutions.

As the postsecondary education sector expanded, so too did OCUFA’s role in that sector. Although CAUT—the Canadian Association of University Teachers—was already an active organization focused at the federal level, education was a provincial responsibility, and it became increasingly clear that a stronger and larger provincial advocate was needed to help Ontario’s faculty associations lobby effectively.

More staff were hired for management, research, and administrative positions. In 1968, Charles Hanly came on board as OCUFA’s first Executive Vice-Chair. OCUFA responded to this organizational growth through an internal restructuring process that began in 1979. A new “Statement of the Rationale for Change in OCUFA” laid out the organization’s focus moving forward:

OCUFA should serve as an intelligence source, passing information on relevant events and inchoate developments to local associations… Secondly, it should serve as a conduit of communication and influence from representatives of local faculty constituencies to appointed officials, politicians and the media… Thirdly, it should be—and be seen to be—a central voice for the professoriate of Ontario… Fourthly, it should—through advice and example—strengthen the will and capability of its constituent associations in identifying and coping with problems at the local level… Finally, OCUFA should protect the well-being of the professoriate…

A number of new committees were also struck during this time, including Teaching Awards (1973), Salaries (1967), Pensions (1967), and Status of Women (1972; disbanded in 1974; re-formed in 1984). A few other committees were more short-lived, including Teacher Evaluation (1971–73), and Educational TV (1970-72).

The 1980s: Inflation and Contraction

The expansion of Ontario’s postsecondary education sector came to an abrupt halt by the early 1980s. Runaway inflation from the mid-1970s (the rate of inflation reached 12.5 per cent by 1981) did not significantly decline until the early 1990s. The ensuing economic challenges, combined with government efforts to rationalize the system, ushered in a very different era for university faculty by the beginning of the 1980s.

Government efforts to deal with the effects of high inflation included legislation such as 1982’s Inflation Restraint Act (Bill 179), which limited annual public sector wage increases to five per cent, eliminated the right to strike, and extended current collective agreements by one year. As well, Bill 213 allowed for direct government intervention in any university that incurred an operating deficit.

A growing focus on the role of postsecondary education generally, and on Ontario’s postsecondary institutions in particular, resulted in the formation of a number of significant committees and research efforts. Major reports during this time included 1981’s Report on the Committee of the Future Role of Universities in Ontario (the Fisher Report) and 1984’s Ontario Universities: Options and Futures (the Bovey Commission Report). In 1984, the Education Minister also announced a wholesale restructuring of Ontario’s university system.

OCUFA responded to the new realities in new ways: large-scale advertising and lobbying campaigns and a number of research reports that explored the crisis facing the postsecondary education sector. As OCUFA’s Executive Director, Patrick Wesley, noted in his report to the Board of Directors in 1983, “It has been a year of very visible, amply reported, crises. They have come by the numbers: 179 and 213; and by alphabet soup: EPF, IRB, SERP, and so on.” (EPF refers to 1977’s Established Programs Financing Act; IRB to the Inflation Restraint Board, instituted in 1982; and SERP to 1978’s Secondary Education Review Project).

OCUFA’s Bovey Campaign—“Ontario’s Universities, Ontario’s Future”—was its largest advocacy effort to date. Timed to coincide with the Bovey hearings, the widely distributed advertisements noted that more than 50,000 qualified students could be turned away from Ontario’s universities in the next 10 years if the proposed rationalization plan took effect. Special editions of OCUFA’s monthly newsletter focused on many of these issues as well, including the proposed restructuring of the system, the Bovey Report, and the crisis of access for students in Ontario.

OCUFA’s staff complement grew to seven by the end of the 1980s. A new ad hoc committee was also struck, which surveyed members on the status of their appeals under Bill 179, and assisted in the push-back effort where possible. This committee was the first of a number of such special committees. In 1985, the re-formed Status of Women Committee published its first major report, Employment Equity for Women Academics: 
A Positive Action Strategy.

Rae Days and the Harris “revolution”

The 1990s were a period of difficulty and upheaval. At the onset of the decade, a severe economic recession began, brought on by a slowdown in the U.S. economy and inflation-fighting tactics in Canada. The government in Ontario swung wildly from left to right, with the Progressive Conservatives replacing the New Democratic government mid-way through the decade.

In 1990, Ontarians elected the province’s first NDP government, ushering in what many hoped would be a new, more progressive era. By 1992, however, with the economy stalled and deficits climbing, Premier Bob Rae began a program of budget slashing and austerity, culminating in the implementation of the Social Contract in 1993.

Under this initiative, public sector unions were forced to implement $2 billion in wage cuts through 12 days of forced unpaid leave (“Rae Days”). Public sector collective agreements were re-opened and re-negotiated. And faculty associations were forced to negotiate five per cent wage cuts. Those that didn’t comply had a settlement imposed upon them.

In 1995, Ontarians elected Mike Harris’ Progressive Conservatives, whose so-called Common Sense Revolution promised a more corporate approach to the public sector and public programs. The results were immediate and harsh. In 1995, university funding was cut by 16 per cent, programs were slashed, performance indicators were created and applied, and tuition rose sharply as the government allowed universities to increase fees by as much as 20 per cent.

The turmoil also took a significant toll on OCUFA, as the organization struggled to deal with a variety of internal challenges. Faculty associations grappling with government-imposed cuts debated how well OCUFA was serving their needs. A few associations either pulled out of the organization or threatened to leave. And at the Board and staff levels, high turnover and sharp differences in opinion bogged the organization down in infighting and strife.

By 1997, however, a fundamental shift had begun. A new Board Executive and reinvigorated staff sharpened the organization’s focus on its key priorities: lobbying the government on behalf of faculty and protecting the economic needs of its membership. Election-readiness workshops, conferences, and major new research efforts began to be undertaken once again. OCUFA’s Executive reconnected with member organizations, travelling around the province to hear their concerns. And new working relationships with a number of student organizations helped strengthen and extend OCUFA’s message.

“Reaching Higher”: Postsecondary education in the 21st century

The new millennium brought different kinds of challenges to the postsecondary education sector, and to faculty. These included demographic changes, such as the impact of the double cohort and the baby boom echo on university enrolment; the resulting expansion of the university system; the impact of technology on teaching; new staffing models, particularly a significant increase in part-time and non-tenured faculty; and the pending retirement of thousands of faculty members.

Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals took over the reins at Queen’s Park in 2003. In its first budget that year, the new government signaled a significant shift in approach to the challenges facing postsecondary education. It promised, among other things, to create spaces for 50,000 more students, freeze tuition fees, and expand access to student financial aid.

In 2005, former Premier Bob Rae was asked to lead a review of the design and funding of postsecondary education in the province. The resulting report, Ontario: A Leader in Learning, explored five themes—accessibility, quality, system design, funding, and accountability—and made 28 recommendations for change. Four months after the release of the Rae Report, the government outlined its “Reaching Higher” plan for investment in postsecondary education, including an investment of $6.2 billion over four years, the largest made to the system since the 1960s. This funding injection was welcomed, yet it was still not enough to overcome the severe cutbacks of the late 1990s.

A newly reinvigorated OCUFA responded to these changes in a number of ways. Support for faculty collective bargaining work increased significantly. OCUFA also held a series of communications and lobbying workshops for member associations, and began commissioning targeted public opinion polls, asking Ontarians what they wanted from the higher education sector. OCUFA has used this data to educate and inform its members, the public, and government officials.

New campaigns and publications were launched as well. OCUFA’s 2007 “Quality Matters” campaign was the beginning of a longer-term strategy to ensure that faculty had the resources they needed to give all students the highest-quality education possible. A new magazine, Academic Matters, was launched in 2006 to explore current trends and relevant issues in higher education. OCUFA also began focusing attention on a wide range of issues, including low funding levels (by the early 2000s, per-student funding in Ontario was the lowest in Canada), high student–faculty ratios, and the continuing challenge of maintaining access to university for students from all backgrounds.

OCUFA also played a major role in the eventual elimination of mandatory retirement in Ontario in 2008, an issue that had been ongoing for many years. And it was instrumental in the extension of freedom of information legislation to universities.

OCUFA’s links to other organizations solidified as well, as the organization began working with student organizations and labour unions on a number of communications and lobbying campaigns.

What’s next for OCUFA

Today, half a century after its creation, OCUFA has become the central voice for faculty in Ontario, and a key advocate in the province for high-quality, accessible postsecondary education.

Although many of the issues facing the province’s university sector seem to have changed very little since the 1960s—affordability, accessibility, support for both research and teaching, adequate public funding, and more—other challenges have begun to command more of OCUFA’s attention as it enters its second half-century.

These challenges include the needs of the ever-expanding number of contract and part-time faculty, increasing faculty workload and job-related stress, and pension reform. OCUFA is also focused on the complex issue of institutional differentiation and the push for program prioritization, as governments seek yet another way to trim university budgets and ask the system to do more with less.

Changing times, evolving priorities

These new challenges—and as-yet unforeseen challenges that are sure to arise in the coming years—will clearly demand that OCUFA keeps adapting to the needs of Ontario’s postsecondary education sector and the professors and librarians who work within it.

Although advocacy has always been a key role for the organization, in recent years OCUFA has begun having a greater voice in the public realm, as it seeks to educate and inform all Ontarians about the quality and sustainability of the province’s higher education sector. OCUFA’s “We Teach Ontario” campaign, for example, promotes the important connection between teaching and research in the province’s universities through highlighting the research of featured professors. AM

Carol Anderson is a Toronto-based researcher, writer, and editor.