David Stewart, President Dear Colleagues, We are beginning a new fall term unlike anything any…
With my term as Association President expiring on 30th June, this is my final message to you. It has been an honour and a privilege to serve in this role over the last two years, though I firmly wish that the last few months had not been as “interesting” as they have been. With you, the Association, and the University having to deal with significant challenges on a number of fronts these are very difficult times and my only comfort is the great confidence I have in both incoming Association President, David Stewart, and the staff of the Association, led by the redoubtable Sheila Miller (Executive Director), as they strive to promote and protect the interests of academic staff. I thank all of you, and especially those members who have served on the Department Representatives group, the members of the Association’s Board of Directors, and the members of the Association’s Executive Committee for all the wisdom and support that I have been offered during my term as President, and I encourage everyone to continue to provide the same to David Stewart during his term.
The Government of Alberta and Post-Secondary Education
You are surely well aware of the significant cuts the Government of Alberta has made to the funding it provides to both the University of Calgary and the wider post-secondary education (PSE) system in the Province (as reported in the Government’s budgets for 2019-20 and 2020-21). The damage that these cuts will cause is as yet unclear, as University Administration has revealed little detail of its plans for dealing with the cuts. The damage is sure to be very significant, and likely to be more so with additional Government funding cuts expected for the next two or three fiscal years at least.
There are additional troubling signs for post-secondary education in Alberta relating to the “Alberta 2030: Transforming Post-Secondary Education” initiative that has been announced by the Government, with the consulting firm McKinsey being awarded a $3.7M contract to develop a new strategy for the entire tertiary education system in the Province. Based on the limited information available so far on this initiative the Association has concerns relating to:
- What opportunities there will be for academic staff, who do all the teaching and drive all of the research in the PSE system, to participate actively and significantly in the development of the new strategy?
- What damage to Faculties, departments, programs, and disciplines might results from the imperative to “reduce duplication” across the PSE system?
- How an increased focus on the “training” of students for immediate jobs might damage the breadth and depth of high-quality programs funded at the Province’s two research-intensive Comprehensive Academic and Research Universities (the UofC and the UofA), and reduce the capacity of the UofC to contribute to the intellectual, social, and cultural development of Alberta?
- How might the governance changes embodied in the new strategy reduce the primacy of the voices of academic staff members and the authority of academic governance bodies in decision-making processes at the UofC?
- How might governance changes diminish institutional autonomy (and increase Government direct control)?
- How might the Government attempt to remove or reduce the rights of academic staff members in the intellectual property they create?
- How might the new strategy impact the important role of Faculty Associations in university governance and in promoting and protecting the rights of academic staff members?
The Association will be making it clear to the Government that as the representative of more than 2,300 academic staff, we expect to be invited to participate in this initiative.
University Administration’s “Growth Through Focus” Plan
After a positive beginning to his term as President during which President McCauley visited all Faculty Councils to listen to the concerns of academic staff across the University, the Association has been disappointed that very little has been shared with the University on what was learned during this “listening tour” and how the President intends to act on what was learned. It is only in the last few weeks via a short presentation at General Faculties Council on 11th June and an online Town Hall on 24th June that any information has been shared relating to what will be the University’s vision and plan following the imminent demise of “Eyes High” a couple of years from now.
The Association is very troubled by some of the content in the GFC presentation and Town Hall which raises the following concerns:
- Why is this information coming out so very late in the academic year when the severity of the Government of Alberta cuts to UofC funding has been known since late-2019? While there appears to have been plenty of discussion of this plan amongst the Executive and Senior Leadership Teams, there appears to have been no involvement of academic staff or of academic governance bodies so far.
- Further, with an apparent plan to have decisions made by mid-October, what will be the opportunities for academic staff to participate in planning and decision-making from this point on? The GFC and Town Hall slide shows appear to suggest that opportunities will be limited to participating in some sort of survey that will launch this week. Academic staff must be involved and take a leading role in determining what the future UofC will be – these are not decisions to be made solely by Administration.
- The Association believes that the strength of a comprehensive research-intensive university comes from the full range of disciplines that it houses. If the goal is to “focus”, who is it that will be making decisions (and on what basis) as to which areas will grow and which will wither? Can a comprehensive research-intensive university really do without (or make do with drastically underfunded) Mechanical Engineering, or Political Science, or Philosophy programs? It has been over 6 months since “differential cuts” appeared on a slide at the November 2019 budget town hall, but no information has been shared on what Administration’s plans are in this regard.
- There is far too much attention paid to developing a “distinct brand” rather than protecting the quality of academic programs and research. I have been approached by several colleagues bemused by this who have asked what is the brand of some of the top research-intensive universities globally or within Canada such as Stanford, Oxford, Toronto, or McGill?
- Finally, there are signs of an apparent lack of transparency on the Administration’s part in this process. Only last week did it become public that McKinsey & Company was hired to perform some sort of “high-level diagnostic” in late 2019, and no documentation on the nature or results of this study is available outside of Administration. Further, only through information provided at a University of Alberta town hall (on its similar plan for the future under the banner “UofA for Tomorrow”) was it made public that the UofC is one of 6 Canadian universities participating in a global benchmarking initiative known as UniForum. The Association is unaware of any communications from Administration on the UofC’s participation in UniForum.
I expect that you will be hearing much more on this topic from incoming Association President David Stewart.
Academic Staff Member Concerns with Remote Instruction for Fall Semester 2020
The Association continues to hear from a number of members on a range of concerns relating to remote instruction in Fall 2020. The main concerns we are hearing are common across a wide range of faculties and include the following:
- Members with health concerns who do not wish to teach any course components in person in Fall 2020. If you wish to teach fully remotely but are being pressured to offer some course components in person, please bring this to the attention of the Faculty Association office.
- Members with child-care or other caregiving responsibilities who are unable to teach course components synchronously in Fall 2020. If you are in this situation and wish to teach asynchronously but are being pressured to teach synchronously, please bring this to the attention of the Faculty Association office.
- Members who have concerns relating to the significant increase in workload relating to moving an entire in-person course to remote instruction. This is a particular concern to those with larger than average teaching loads.
- Members who have concerns as to the preservation of their intellectual property rights in their teaching materials with the involuntary move to remote instruction.
- Members who do not have access to good “technology” at home to support remote teaching. It is the Association’s position that the University should provide the equipment necessary (e.g. camera, microphone) and that members should not be expected to fund the acquisition of this equipment from their limited Professional Expense Reimbursement allocations.
- Members who would like more ready access to support and/or advice (both general and discipline-specific) to help with the move to remote instruction.
- Members who see no value in final examinations that are open book/open web and do not wish to have a registrar-scheduled final examination as one of the assessments in their courses in Fall 2020. If you do not wish to include a final examination in your course but are being pressured to include one, please bring this to the attention of the Faculty Association office (Faculty.Association@tucfa.com).
- Members teaching laboratory-based course components in Faculties where there have been reductions in technical staff who support laboratories.
The Association and Administration have signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) relating to remote teaching in Fall 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This MoA includes the following two new elements:
- Improvement in sick-time for sessional instructors: all Sessional staff with appointments for the Fall 2020 term who become ill with COVID-19 after the beginning of the Fall 2020 term will continue to receive full salary and benefits for the duration of their illness, or until the expiry of the Fall 2020 term, whichever occurs first.
- Regarding the Universal Student Ratings of Instruction (USRI): student feedback through the USRI will be collected for Fall 2020 courses; however, the Governors will only release this feedback to course instructors. Feedback will not be released to department heads, associate deans or deans unless the course instructor provides prior approval.
I should note that academic staff members have concerns over and above anything mentioned above, especially relating to how merit and promotion processes will be adjusted in the light of disruptions to teaching and research activities relating to COVID-19. Please be aware that it has already been agreed that these important concerns will be dealt with through negotiations between the Association and Administration in the Fall.