Athabasca Advocate – March 6, 2018

‘Empty desks’ concern AU union; AUFA asks MLA to take action on alleged job relocations

Joseph Quigley

The Athabasca University Faculty Association (AUFA) is asking for government intervention to keep jobs local. Members of the AUFA brought forward their concerns of jobs moving out of the campus in Athabasca to Edmonton during a provincial budget consultation Feb. 27 at the Town of Athabasca office.

“What we’re seeing now is positions that have traditionally been in Athabasca are now moving to Edmonton,” AUFA secretary David Powell said to Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater MLA Colin Piquette, who was hosting the consultation session.

“They’re (Athabasca University) saying ‘we love Athabasca’and then quietly moving away jobs.” Powell also said the government could intervene by tying conditions to funding for Athabasca University (AU).

“The university has lots of really exciting, cool new ideas, and they need money for that,” Powell said. “You can attach strings to that money.”

According to Powell, although support and administrative jobs largely remain in Athabasca, the higher-paying professional and executive positions are moving away and are no longer advertised as location-specific to Athabasca.

“Although they’re talking a great deal about the town, what they’re doing is they’re sort of detaching the jobs from the area,” Powell said in an interview, adding it is a longterm trend the AUFA first noticed in 2014. Powell said he is working to gather statistics on positions leaving Athabasca, but could not provide them before publish time.

AU communications director Chris McLeod said the university remains committed to Athabasca. “We’re based in Athabasca; our headquarters are in Athabasca; a large number of our staff are in Athabasca,” McLeod said in an interview. “Nothing in the works that’s been occurring that changes that.” However, McLeod said AU is adaptable in terms of where it hires.

“As any employer, whether that’s AU or somewhere else, you want to make sure you’re attracting the best staff we can. We have to be adaptable around what that looks like,” McLeod said, adding the university might be flexible if an outstanding professor wanted to work part-time in Athabasca and part-time from somewhere else. “I don’t think we’d want to limit our ability to attract great people.”

McLeod also said the university does not keep track of any statistics relating to staff working away from Athabasca. The subject of AU’s presence in Athabasca was a focus in the independent third-party review conducted by Ken Coates last year.

The report, publicly presented last June, said the university should develop a “more focused presence” in Athabasca, but also suggested “AU relocate selected core AU activities to AU offices in the Edmonton region.” The final of 13 recommendations in the Coates report was to produce for the AU board of governors of a fully costed plan for an enhanced and focused presence in the Town of Athabasca by May 1.

Powell said in an interview the report carried forward an implication that professional jobs at the university would move out of Athabasca. “That’s the direction they’re going in,” Powell said. “That doesn’t mean there will be no professional jobs in Athabasca, but there’s more empty offices now than I’ve ever seen.”

He added this is an issue because of how prominent of an employer AU is in Athabasca, and members of the AUFA identify strongly with the town. “We grew up here and we strongly identify with the community,” Powell said.

Piquette said in an interview the province has done a lot for Athabasca University and the future of the school is secure.

But Piquette added the information relayed by the AUFA at the meeting was concerning. “Work needs to be done to ensure all the positions that make sense to be in Athabasca are here,” he said. “I think it’s totally legitimate that we encourage higher-income, high-tech type jobs in local communities. There needs to be a range of employment opportunity available.”


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