Community and Collective Action: The MRFA Oral History Project

~ By Mark Johnston (2022-11-01)

I’d like to start this article with a sincere thank you to all the faculty at MRU for making it such an outstanding institution. I was given opportunities at MRU that I sincerely doubt I would have had elsewhere, nor would have felt as comfortable taking advantage of in another, less student-focused institution. 

I work for Know History Inc. as a historical researcher, a career I could not have attained had I not attended an Alberta Historical Society event with friends I’d made during Dr. Joseph Anderson’s Civil War Field School. I met the CEO of Know History at that party and kept his business card for years. 

Later, during a work experience course with Fort Calgary, I was tasked with researching a career I might be interested in. Dr. Anderson recommended I do a couple of interviews with people working in whatever field I chose. Thus, I found a use for that Know History business card. I contacted them to see if anyone would be interested in answering some questions for me about working as a historical consultant. Tom Van Dewark, my future boss, responded and we set up an interview in which he recommended I try and get some oral history experience. The opportunity to do so was provided mere months later by Dr. Kirk Niergarth and the MRFA. Consequently, I graduated with several contacts in the industry I wanted to be a part of, with numerous references from professors who knew me and my skills, and with real life experience in a specialized field of history. 

To me, that is what the Mount Royal Faculty Association represents: a community of passionate educators who value their students and invest in their success. Though this research project is in its early stages, I believe I already have a strong idea of what the MRFA’s values and vision are and have always been. While MRU’s professors invest in their students, the MRFA invests in them.  

In nearly every interview I’ve conducted I’ve heard about the faculty retreats in Kananaskis, those wonderful blends of professional development and, from what I hear, partying. The faculty center, too, has come up often. Where once there was a vast sea of partitions and cubicles, there is now a place of community, music, and refreshment. Originally, the center may have been constructed to provide a space for confidential discussions in the days before teachers had offices and the idea evolved from there!

But the MRFA is more than a social organizer. As a provincially recognized union, the MRFA negotiates the collective agreement for all MRU’s faculty. Mount Royal went from a college to a university, a transition the MRFA worked tirelessly to negotiate. In a very brief period of time the faculty more than doubled in size, presenting MRFA negotiators with a mass of challenges over the ensuing years. Moreover, Mount Royal was faced with an ever-shrinking budget. The MRFA responded to these challenges by forming the Advocacy Committee, the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, and by partnering with organizations like ACIFA, CAUT, and CAFA to advance the interests of the institution and its faculty. 

Over years of service, the Mount Royal Faculty Association has laid out how tenure would look as a university, negotiated how professors would divide their time between teaching, scholarship and service, protected the jobs of teachers whose departments were eliminated, negotiated innumerable collective agreements, all while striving to maintain a sense of community amongst faculty members and foster relationships across the school, province, and nation. No matter what challenges and disagreements have arisen over the years, I feel that the MRFA, the faculty they represent, and the administration they negotiate with share a set of common values; they all believe in a student-focused approach that has made Mount Royal University an exceptional place to learn.