President's Report An ongoing pandemic, provincial budget cuts, Alberta 2030 consultations, Growth Through Focus congresses,…
It has been a very busy semester for the Faculty Association, and I’m sure it has been for you as well. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of good news to share in this edition of Academic Views. Below you will find information about the Provincial Budget, the University finances, and other issues that the Faculty Association is working on.
However, as the semester winds down, the holidays approach and bring with them time to rest and reenergise with family and friends. We hope that you take time to relax and enjoy the holidays.
From everyone at the Faculty Association, we wish you the very best of the season!
Paul Rogers, President
Following the release of the provincial budget, the UCP Government wasted no time in tabling Bills 20, 21, and 22 to enact various pieces of the budget changes.
Under the provincial budget, the total operating grant for Advanced Education will be reduced by about 12% over 4 years. Both the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary are getting a 6.9% cut to the ‘Campus Alberta’ grant (the operating grant) in the current fiscal year (the one that is more than half over). This is a reduction of almost $33 million for the UofC. Universities will be able to increase tuition by 7% per year on average for each of the next three years. A new funding model is coming in 2020-2021 that will likely be performance-based, though there remains uncertainty as to what the criteria will be. The overall goal is to reduce compensation costs at post-secondary institutions by 7.8%, although the Government says this will be mainly through attrition.
The current year Campus Alberta Grant cuts were supposedly based on each institution’s “ability to absorb” a cut. Specifically, the Government cut most institutions (the six institutions comprising the Independent Academic Institutions sector of the Governments six-sector model were not cut) by almost 50% of their five-year-average annual “surplus” (for fiscal years ending 2014 through 2018). While this might look reasonable at first blush, the method they used to determine the surplus includes donations to the endowment and unspent endowment income amounting to $190M, thereby dramatically overstating the UofC’s true operating surplus.
The budget does not directly address the wage reopeners that various unions, including us, are in the midst of, but there is a warning that “further reductions (in staffing) may be necessary to accommodate for awards through arbitration in 2019/20.” This warning is meant to place employee bargaining teams in the difficult position of choosing between higher wages and jobs.
Bill 20, the Fiscal Measures and Taxation Act, does a couple of things:
Eliminates new tuition tax credits and changes how tuition credits can be carried forward and transferred.
Modifies the Post-Secondary Learning Act by giving the Minister some power related to enrolment at institutions, transfers, and admissions. It is unclear what this means, but given their previous statements about consolidating programs, this could conceivably give the Minister the ability to close a program at one institution and move students to another with full credit at the receiving institution.
Bill 21, the Ensuring Fiscal Sustainability Act, does several things that impact our members and Alberta Post-Secondary Education:
Bill 21 gives the Cabinet the ability to terminate the agreement with the Alberta Medical Association. It also gives the Cabinet the ability to terminate any other agreement related to compensation matters under the Alberta Health Care Insurance Act. This could include the AMHSP (Academic Medicine and Health Services Program) master agreement or individual agreements with our members under the AMHSP.
Bill 21 makes significant changes to the Alberta Labour Relations Code, including the rules regarding the use of replacement workers during a strike or lockout. It also gives more power to the Essential Services Commissioner to impose binding arbitration.
Bill 21 changes the Post-Secondary Learning Act by changing the limit on tuition fee increases for 2020 through 2023 and putting the cap for those years into regulations. It allows for changes to Alberta Student Loans with increases to the interest rate. This is in addition to the removal of tuition as a tax deduction in Bill 20 and will significantly increase the cost of post-secondary education to students and/or their parents. For our members who are recent graduates, this could also significantly increase their costs if they can no longer carry forward the costs of their tuition. These changes are expected to have a significant impact on the accessibility of post-secondary education in Alberta.
The Public Service Employee Relations Act is changed by reversing what the former government did regarding budget officers, systems analysts, and auditors. The former government made it so these types of jobs could belong to a union, so a number of people at the UofC were being put into the Alberta Union of Provincial Employess (AUPE) as a result.
Finally, and most significantly, Bill 21 creates a new Public Sector Employers Act that gives the government the power to issue directives to all public sector employers under their authority (including our Board of Governors), which the employer must follow in bargaining. This includes the term of the agreement, the fiscal limits the employer must operate within, and other directives. This new Act requires the Governors to provide a wide variety of labour relations information to the government to ensure they comply with the directives of the government. Further, the directives of the government regarding bargaining must be kept confidential by the Governors and cannot be disclosed to anyone without the consent of the Minister.
Bill 22, the Reform of Agencies, Boards and Commissions and Government Enterprises Act, does not have as much direct impact on the Faculty Association, but some sections might impact us or the UofC:
Bill 22 dissolves the Campus Alberta Strategic Directions Committee. This committee was composed of the Presidents and Board Chairs of each post-secondary institution and was to provide advice to the Minister regarding “Campus Alberta”.
Bill 22 also removes the ability of the Local Authorities Pension Plan and Public Service Pension Plan to move their assets from the Alberta Investment Management Corporation’s (AIMCo) management and requires the Alberta Teachers’ Pension Plan to move its assets under AIMCo.
Bill 22 dissolves the Alberta Capital Finance Authority. While the government will continue to provide low-cost loans to local authorities (including the UofC Board of Governors), it will be done more directly by the government and not through this authority. This gives more direct authority over loans to the Minister.
Given the cuts to the Provincial budget, the University Administration is making deep cuts to operations at the University.
One of the messages from the Administration is that we’re all one family and that we have to face these cuts together. However, academic staff have already been operating in an environment of significant fiscal austerity based on the actions of university Administration over the last decade.. The Governors’ bargaining teams have been relentless over the last 10 years in pushing for zero percent wage adjustments for academic staff. This, despite the university running operational surpluses that could have easily paid for cost of living adjustments. Administration’s behaviour here does not appear to have won the University any Government favour and instead has left its ‘family’ vulnerable in an already weakened position.
The result is that academic staff are underpaid when compared with the University of Alberta and other members of the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities (U15).
Statistics Canada collects data on Academic Staff salaries across Canada. While the data is not yet complete for 2018-2019, it gives a good indication of how salaries for academic staff at the University of Calgary compare to academic staff at other universities in Canada.
In 2017-2018, the University of Calgary was 12th among the U15 universities and well below the average of those universities. In fact, the average of the U15 average salaries for 2017-2018 is 10 percent higher than the average for the University of Calgary. The Provincial Government claims that Alberta’s Public Service is overpaid compared to other provinces, but this is clearly not the case for academic staff at the University of Calgary.
If the current trends continue, the salaries of academic staff at UofC will continue to fall behind those of colleagues at other universities. In addition, the Government’s proposed two percent rollback would accelerate this and result in the University of Calgary at the bottom of the U15.
As the salaries for academic staff at UofC have not been keeping pace with the increased cost of living, members have already been realizing substantial losses to their purchasing power.
If we are truly all in this together, this issue will have to be addressed for the UofC to attract and retain academic staff. After all, the academic staff work tirelessly to drive the University’s mission with a direct impact on the student experience and the University’s ability to create, innovate, and discover.
We will be reporting to you further in the near future regarding the Wage Reopener Arbitration and upcoming bargaining cycle.
In June, the Association launched a grievance against the use of the Universal Student Rating Instrument (USRI) as a summative assessment tool and the administration’s use of it as evidence of teaching effectiveness in hiring, tenure, promotion, and merit processes. Association representatives met with the Provost in September and she has since denied this grievance. The Association’s Board of Directors has voted to proceed to arbitration.
The Association’s position is:
(1) the USRI does not measure the teaching effectiveness of an instructor. (There is excellent background information about this on the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations website — https://ocufa.on.ca/assets/OCUFA-SQCT-Report.pdf.)
(2) USRI student responses are subject to race, gender, age, and other prohibited grounds of discrimination, as well as other biases not stated in the Alberta Human Rights Act. Thus, the USRI is a deeply flawed instrument, which produces data that is inherently biased and if used to assess an instructor’s teaching effectiveness constitutes a breach of the instructor’s rights under the Alberta Human Rights Act and the protections against discrimination in the Collective Agreement.
(3) The use of the USRI by the administration provides student users with an anonymous opportunity to harass instructors and as such its use – as opposed to its application which is a breach under the Alberta Human Rights Act – is in breach of the Occupational Health and Safety Act which requires that employers provide a safe workspace.
(4) Further, the protections against misuse of USRI results as contained in the GFC Academic Staff Criteria & Processes Handbook, providing that student evaluation is “one factor on which the evaluation of teaching shall be based (4.2.3)” and that “all information provided by the student should be taken into account when interpreting the results” (4.2.4) are inadequate to address this issue. Again, this is so given the fundamentally flawed nature of the instrument to provide assessment and that its use for that purpose is contrary to the Alberta Human Rights Act.
Therefore, given that the instrument cannot measure what it claims to measure, that the application of results from it offend the rights of Association members under the Alberta Human Rights Act, and its very use is a breach of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Association takes the position that USRI information should not be used in matters of hiring, merit assessment, tenure, and promotion.
We have taken the position that USRI results should only be used for formative purposes, provided only to the academic staff member affected.
In her response, the Provost says there is no evidence that the USRI is a violation of human rights. She argues that because it is in the Collective Agreement and the Handbook, it should continue and that the USRI Working Group is reviewing the use in the merit process.
Given the preponderance of evidence about the misuse of student ratings, we are disappointed in the Provost’s response. It is therefore with regret that the Association’s Board of Directors feels obligated to take this matter to arbitration.
As members might have noticed, the Faculty Guidelines have not been updated in several years. These guidelines are often now in conflict with the Collective Agreement and other policies of the University.
Over much of the last decade, the Faculty Association and the Governors have been negotiating the processes related to tenure, promotion, and assessment into the Collective Agreement. This was finally achieved in 2017. During those negotiations, there was a moratorium on changes to what was then called the Procedures Pertaining to Appointment Promotion, and Tenure of Academic Staff (APT Manual) and the Faculty Guidelines.
Following the approval of the GFC Academic Staff Criteria & Processes Handbook in April 2019, there was no longer an impediment to the Faculty Councils updating their Faculty Guidelines. If members are being told that their Faculty cannot update its guidelines, this is not due to any actions from the Faculty Association. As there has been no effort to take positive steps to fulfil the requirement, the Association views this to be a violation of Articles 28 and 29 of the Collective Agreement and has filed a grievance with the Provost.
The Faculty Association is seeking nominees to the Association Board of Directors and for President.
The deadline for nominations is Monday, February 10, 2020, at 4:30 p.m. Nominations must be received at the Faculty Association office by that time.
Nominations must be received in writing. Also required on the nomination form are the signatures of at least three members of the Association, as well as the written consent of the nominee. Nominations should be accompanied by a statement from the nominee of a maximum of 100 words, which will be circulated along with the ballots. No member may nominate more than two candidates.
Potential candidates should be aware that the Board of Directors meetings are regularly scheduled on Tuesday afternoons, approximately once per month from September to June. Additional meetings are scheduled as required. Board members are also regularly appointed to a variety of other Association, University, and external committees as representatives of the Association.
Please contact the Faculty Association office for a nomination form.
In solidarity, Faculty Association Board Member, Justine Wheeler, travelled to Prince George to support the University of Northern British Columbia Faculty Association in their strike. In addition to Wheeler joining the picket, the Faculty Association sent a $2,000 donation to support their efforts.
In lieu of holiday gifts, the Faculty Association donates to local food banks. The Campus Food Bank and the Calgary Food Bank each received a donation of $2,500 in recognition of the valuable support they provide during the holiday season.
WE WISH YOU THE HAPPIEST OF HOLIDAYS AND ALL THE BEST FOR 2020!
The Faculty Association office will close Friday, December 20 at 11 a.m. for the holiday season and will reopen on Monday, January 6. The Association’s voicemail will be checked regularly on days the University is open. Have a safe and happy holiday!
The following is a list of Department Representatives, by department, for the 2019-2020 academic year. If your department or faculty is not listed below, it is because the Faculty Association has not received information about the election of a representative from your area.