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Academic Views

President’s Report

We are thankfully coming to the end of this challenging term with a large amount of marking confronting many of us. This term may well have been the most demanding teaching term you have experienced in your career and you should be proud of the efforts you have made to deliver academically sound and rigorous courses. You should be equally proud of the compassionate manner in which you have dealt with your students even when the accommodations you provided increased the demands on you substantially. I have tried in multiple venues to make the administration aware of how hard academic staff are working in terms of teaching and grading and will continue to do so going forward.

This has been a busy term. As you know, the administration has launched a new strategy entitled Growth Through Focus which has gone through a number of iterations following feedback from academic staff. I am disappointed that the administration has chosen not to release the feedback they received directly from academic staff. Transparency is important and what we are hearing from our members is that it has been in short supply on this issue.

President McCauley came to speak to the Faculty Association Board of Directors and we also organized a forum for our department representatives to provide us with views on the strategy. From these interactions and ongoing discussions with your elected Board of Directors we have a number of concerns and issues that we would like to see addressed before GFC and the Board of Governors approve this strategy.

We find a good deal of anxiety and uncertainty about Growth Through Focus rather than the enthusiasm the President seems to have encountered. We are asking the administration to include more academic staff on the various task teams that seem to be responsible for reshaping the document. We would also like to see a GFC committee elected to analyse the responses and ensure that the consultation process results in meaningful change. A clear explanation of how the budget process takes Growth Through Focus into account is another critical step in the direction of transparency and understanding how Faculties actually fit. We hear often from members that they are unconvinced that the work they and their colleagues do will be adequately reflected and appreciated moving forward.

Moreover, assurances that the development and delivery of certificates will be undertaken by academic staff is needed and that there will be recognition of this in the assignment and assessment of workloads would also be positive steps that we urge the administration to undertake. We would also like to see a discussion on how Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) fits in the plan, a clear explanation of what exactly is meant by ‘entrepreneurial’ and what changes may be sought to the merit, tenure and promotion process as a result of endorsing the proposed strategy. We are adamant that Growth Through Focus must not leave the University of Calgary as a diminished version of itself and that we remain a comprehensive university that meets the need of our community. We are pleased that the President has indicated that this strategy and plan will go through the collegial governance processes that are crucial to the effective operation and legitimacy of a post-secondary institution.

We understand that the administration is in a difficult financial situation and we are deeply disappointed at the cuts imposed by the provincial government. We have urged, and continue to urge, the government to reconsider this approach. The government has plans for rethinking post-secondary education in the province under the banner of Alberta 2030 and we have been active in trying to ensure that our voice is heard in this process. I have participated in town halls and have biweekly meetings with the Presidents of other University Faculty Associations to discuss how the process is unfolding and how we can have an impact. I also had a meeting with the McKinsey group that is carrying out the consultations and put some of the concerns of our Executive in a letter to them. That letter will be available on our website, but briefly, indicated our support for the views expressed by the Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations while also noting the importance of avoiding one size fits all solutions and asking for changes in the bargaining environment. I also expressed concerns about reconsidering the bicameral decision-making process at universities and stressed the importance of liberal arts and basic science education to students and the wider community. My understanding is that this process will continue with a number of town halls to discuss an initial version of the report intended for the new year.

The new year will also be busy as we continue to negotiate with the administration on how the assessment process will work given the extraordinary circumstances under which we have worked since March. We had hoped that there might be an agreement on that before the break but that now seems highly unlikely. Our bargaining team will also be reporting in the new year on the overall bargaining process. Our Collective Agreement expired on June 30, 2020, and we will need to negotiate a new agreement, in an environment where we have no guaranteed access to binding arbitration and in which the government may well have given the Board of Governors a secret mandate that they are prohibited from disclosing.

This term we put together a Task Force on Membership Engagement that is examining ways in which our interactions with members can be improved. Please feel free to reach out to our office if you have suggestions on how you think engagement can be improved. In the environment in which we find ourselves, a committed and engaged membership is critical.

I want to express my gratitude to the TUCFA staff for their incredible work this term and the efforts they make to ensure that our voices are heard. We have a relatively small office that works hard to respond to member concerns and has a huge agenda to move forward each week. Our staff is smaller than the HR offices in some of the larger Faculties so you have some idea of the workload each of them carries. I wish them and all of you my best wishes this holiday season.

David Stewart, President
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