Canadian university president suspended over union agreement

An independent investigation is reviewing David Wheeler’s conduct during staff negotiations 

December 5, 2016
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The president of a Canadian university has been suspended pending the results of an investigation into his conduct during recent labour negotiations.

David Wheeler, leader of Cape Breton University (CBU), was suspended with pay last month after signing a tentative agreement with the university’s faculty union. An independent investigation is being carried out.

According to local news reports, union members gave their negotiating team a strike mandate and applied for conciliation in August after a month of negotiations to avoid the possible layoff of about 20 of the union’s 145 members due to a budget deficit.

In September, Dr Wheeler said the board of governors had accepted a 10-year plan that included no layoffs; 92 per cent of faculty union members voted to accept the tentative deal, which was expected to be ratified by the board on 9 December.

However, that ratification is now in doubt after the board suspended Dr Wheeler on 22 November.

“The president made a deal [with the faculty] without a deal from the university’s negotiating team,” a source told The Globe and Mail.

The newspaper added that the 10-year strategy allowed the university to run annual deficits while seeking to make up any budget shortfall by growing its international student enrolment, expanding partnerships with other universities around the world and redistributing professors to fields that are most in demand.

In a statement on LinkedIn, Dr Wheeler said he was unable to comment on the matter but that he is “still the same David Wheeler I have always been, and I intend continuing that way, whatever happens”.

His legal counsel Raymond Larkin added that Dr Wheeler “is confident that any investigation of his conduct during recent labour negotiations at CBU will demonstrate that – at all times – he was acting in a way that was consistent with his Oath of Office, Board of Governors policies and bylaws and the agreed direction of the university, as endorsed on the 19th of September 2016”. 

“Dr Wheeler is aware that there are strongly divergent views about the wisdom of closer relations between the administration and the faculty, as represented by the Cape Breton University Faculty Association, but he holds firm to his belief that without those closer relations and the resulting higher levels of trust, the future of the university will be bleak indeed,” he continued.

“He believes that faculty at CBU deserve to enjoy similar levels of job security as at comparable institutions in order for them to deliver the best results for CBU students and the Cape Breton Island community. Thus he stands by his actions and will continue to advocate ratification of the tentative collective agreement if he is permitted to remain in office.”

Dr Wheeler, who has been CBU president since 2013, was previously pro vice-chancellor (sustainability) at Plymouth University.

CBU vice-president Dale Keefe has been appointed as acting president of the university.

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