President's Report An ongoing pandemic, provincial budget cuts, Alberta 2030 consultations, Growth Through Focus congresses,…
Paul Rogers, President
The Faculty Association staff have been transitioning to working remotely for the past week. The Association office is now closed until further notice in keeping with the University directives to work remotely. We are receiving your emails and voicemail messages, and responding as quickly as we can.
As the situation with COVID-19 evolves, the health and safety of Association members and their families is our top priority. The Association has supported the Administration in moving classes online and now asking everyone who can work from home to do so. However, these decisions bring with them unprecedented challenges for many members. Given the diverse membership of the Association, the challenges and concerns we have been made aware of vary greatly. As members voice these concerns, we have been bringing them to the attention of the Administration and working toward solutions.
As we move toward social distancing and isolation, it is more important than ever to be mindful of our peers and our own well-being. In addition to the Homewood Health system, Staff Wellness is offering support by phone.
Please visit the University website for more information and ideas.
With so much attention being paid to the COVID-19 situation, concerns around the Government of Alberta’s 2020-2021 budget and the implications of this for the 2020-2021 University of Calgary (U of C) budget have, quite rightly, moved to the backburner for now. Nevertheless, I thought it worth providing some very brief comments on the Association’s perspective on both the Government of Alberta and U of C budgets for the upcoming fiscal year.
First, the provincial budget:
The issue of performance-based funding and Investment Management Agreements, mentioned above, remains somewhat unclear, with our current understanding being as follows:
Next the U of C budget:
Labour Relations Consultation
The Faculty Association was invited by the Ministry of Labour and Immigration to participate in a consultation around the Alberta Labour Relations Code. In our response, we raised several concerns about the current legislation which has Academic Staff Associations existing both under the Post-Secondary Learning Act (PSLA) and the Labour Relations Code. As an Association of Academic Staff within the University and under the PSLA, we see our mandate being beyond the limits of simply a bargaining agent. In addition to our role in bargaining and grievances, we are part of the collegial governance mechanisms of the University and strive to contribute to the wellbeing of the Academic Staff on that basis. In representing our members in discussions of policies at General Faculties Council and on various university committees, we are not simply taking the ‘union line’ but are trying to make sure that the voice of academic staff is heard at all levels. Sometimes our role is to ensure fairness and due process; in other cases, it is as a collector and conveyor of the views of our membership within the councils of the University. There is no other body that can effectively relay the views of the academic staff as a whole.
The establishment of the Association as a trade union for bargaining purposes was made by the previous NDP Government in response to rulings by the Supreme Court of Canada regarding the right to strike as essential to bargaining units, but the reality is that the Supreme Court’s requirements could have been met with far simpler changes under the PSLA. At the time of this change, the Association advocated for the simpler solution of amending the authority of the Association under the PSLA.
Given that the Association membership includes a large and diverse community of academics, including physicians, psychologists, social workers and others involved in clinical work, as well as many researchers who have laboratories that need to be regularly maintained, strikes and lockouts would not seem to be the best form of dispute resolution and binding arbitration would seem to be a better fit. Binding arbitration was the dispute mechanism prior to moving the Association under the Labour Relations Code. Binding arbitration had worked well in the past to preserve labour peace in the post-secondary sector, and we continue to believe it is a more effective solution that avoids disrupting the primary functions of the University (teaching and research) which would inevitably occur in the case of a strike or lockout. Therefore, we have advocated for a return to this system.
Given the Supreme Court’s ruling regarding the right to strike as essential to bargaining units, there needs to be a provision that allows Academic Staff Associations to opt for strikes as the resolution mechanism if they choose under certain circumstances. However, this does not need to preclude binding arbitration as the preferred mechanism. One approach would be for the Association and Governors to agree to a resolution mechanism before bargaining begins. Knowing the mechanism for resolution (binding arbitration vs. strike/lock-out) prior to bargaining, affects the nature of the discussions at the bargaining table.
Another issue that was raised in our Labour Relations Code submission was the complex and ongoing issue of designation. This is the process by which membership in faculty associations is determined. The current system is ineffective and glacially slow. We have proposed that arbitrators be empowered to make decisions about the designation of academic staff upon submission by the Parties of the individual agreements. This would be a quicker and more elegant solution. Over time, a certain level of jurisprudence would form, but we would not be delayed by the processes of the Labour Relations Board.
The Faculty Association will continue to seek opportunities to engage with the Ministry of Labour and Immigration on these issues.
The Government of Alberta announced on January 20, 2020 the plans to introduce a new funding model for the Campus Alberta Grant (CAG). In addition to a reduction in the Campus Alberta Grant, a portion of the grant will be tied to outcomes agreed to by the Minister of Advanced Education and the University Administration in an Investment Management Agreement (IMA). The plan is to have the IMAs in place for April 1 and it will tie 15% of the University’s 2020-21 CAG allocation to the outcomes of the IMA. The IMAs will remain active until March 31, 2023 and the portion of funding tied to the outcomes will increase to 40% of the CAG allocation.
The Faculty Association has not been included in negotiating the terms of the IMA. In the spirit of Collegial Governance, the Association believes that it is essential that the finalized agreement is shared with members of the University community and that any data sources referred to in the agreement be open and transparent.
The Faculty Association made a submission to the Ministry of Advanced Education on February 21, 2020 regarding the new funding model. The submission focussed on three main points: (i) the Government should take more time to consider the implications of the proposed scheme and to identify an appropriate set of measures; (ii) the existing set of proposed measures is a poor fit with research-intensive institutions; and (iii) a scheme that can only reduce funding (not provide additional funds for excellent performance) is unwise and excessively punitive in the current context of large multi-year cuts in Government funding.
In the submission, the Association agreed that decisions about funding, resource allocation, and all other aspects of the post-secondary system should be evidence-based, but evidence needs to be carefully weighed and considered, and the risks of unintended consequences need to be fully explored before rushing to action. It seems that the Government is rushing, unnecessarily, to implement something that goes far beyond the election platform promise to measure post-secondary program labour market outcomes, without fully considering the context and implications of outcomes-based funding schemes.
Given that the U of C has already been dealt a 6.9% cut to its Campus Alberta grant for the current fiscal year (imposed after half the year had already passed) with an additional 6% cut announced for this year, introducing a funding scheme that might lead to additional cuts in funding is entirely unreasonable. The Government should take additional time, at least 12 months, before introducing any outcomes-based funding mechanism.
Alberta’s post-secondary system is structured via the six-sector model and is focused on the 5 adult learning system principles of accessibility; affordability; quality; accountability; and coordination. It is only following a thorough review of these principles and of the six-sector model that systematic changes should be made to Alberta’s post-secondary system and funding model. The introduction of an outcomes-based funding scheme is premature without a higher-level assessment of the entire system and how is it structured.
The U of C is one of two (along with the University of Alberta) leading research-intensive universities in Canada, ranking in the top 6 nationally in terms of research funding. The U of C and the U of A educate more than 80% of the students in the Comprehensive Academic Research Universities sector and attract more than 95% of the research funding of all post-secondary institutions in Alberta. Major research-intensive universities like the U of C have enormous impacts on the cities and provinces where they are located, not all of which can easily be measured in a few simple metrics. The research, teaching, and community engagement activities of the U of C help ensure the development of Alberta on social, cultural, and intellectual dimensions, as well as the economic dimension. The performance measures proposed in the consultation document from the Government do a very poor job of covering the range and richness of the value that the U of C provides to Alberta in return for the funds invested by the Government.
As a leading research-intensive university in Canada, the U of C is focused on high quality in everything that it does. In support of this focus on high quality, the U of C has for many years been tracking its performance on over 30 metrics that have been approved by its senior academic decision-making body, the General Faculties Council. How the U of C’s performance increases on these measures, most of which can be directly compared with the performance of the top 5 research universities in Canada, is closely monitored as the U of C implements its Academic Plan and its Research Plan. There is a great risk that the Government’s introduction of new metrics, unrelated to those that the university has focused on for many years as it pursues its mandate, will lead to a decrease in the quality of the work that the U of C does. Should the Government persist and impose unilaterally a set of measures that do not align well with the fundamental purposes of a research-intensive university, this would also constitute a significant infringement of institutional autonomy.
Several of the measures proposed by the Government seem unrelated to the fundamental purpose of a research university. Such institutions aim to educate students to become fully engaged, thoughtful, and critical citizens in a vibrant society, and with the knowledge to continuously develop and contribute no matter what technological, social, or economic changes they are faced with over the long term.
Additionally, some of the measures proposed by the Government seem to be in conflict or might lead to undesirable consequences. For example, if institutions are incentivized to reduce time to completion of degrees, this conflicts with increasing elements of work-integrated learning, which would lengthen programs. It might also lead to institutions reducing the number of students from underrepresented groups who might need additional time and support to complete their programs.
Another concern of the Faculty Association was that some of the measures that the Government proposed are not under the control of the U of C but instead are directly affected by government policy and actions. For example, the number of graduates who are employed two years after graduation as teachers, social workers, nurses, and others who are primarily employed in government-funded institutions, is likely dependent on government decisions (rather than upon anything that the University does).
The ability of research universities to function well rests firmly on stable and predictable funding. The necessary investment in the academic staff required to develop and deliver high-quality programs, and to design and undertake top-quality research/scholarship requires a long-term view. The introduction of an outcomes-based funding scheme that can only reduce funding fundamentally undermines this, and is likely to lead to increases in the proportion of teaching carried out by contract academic staff in highly precarious positions – this will damage the quality of the student experience as well as diminish an institution’s ability to fulfil its mandate for research and scholarship.
Faculty Association President, Paul Rogers, (right) presents the Community Service Award to Dr. Mea Wang (left).
This year the Faculty Association was pleased to confer its Community Service Award to Professor Mea Wang, an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science in the Faculty of Science. The Community Service Award recognizes an individual or group of academic staff members for their exceptional service to our broader community. In her academic role, Professor Wang’s research focuses on computer networking and cloud computing for the Internet of Things, and augmented and virtual reality. Professor Wang teaches core computer science courses including Computer Programming, Operating Systems, Computer Networking, and Software Entrepreneurship.
Beyond her work as an academic, Professor Wang works to build networks between mentors, teachers and youth in the Calgary community. This has significantly impacted Computer Science and Entrepreneurship education. From her first year as an Assistant Professor, Dr. Wang created and organized the first Calgary Computer Science Teachers Symposium in the Department of Computer Science. This symposium has been running semi-annually since 2009.
Professor Wang was a leader and Calgary region Ambassador for the Technovation Challenge between 2013 and 2019. Technovation is the world’s largest global tech entrepreneurship competition for female school students. The 12-week program offers students aged 10 to 18 years old the opportunity to learn the necessary skills including teamwork, problem solving, and communication to emerge as tech entrepreneurs and leaders. Professor Wang’s leadership in Technovation helped build a team of approximately 150 volunteer mentors across career stages and industries.
Her outreach activities have helped to balance the gender distribution in Computer Science and tech-based entrepreneurship while building connections between our University and the local and global tech sector. In doing so, this has contributed to a natural relationship between the Department of Computer Science, computer science educators, and the local and global tech industry. Her outreach work has benefited students from the Department of Computer Science as they engage in these programs, gain entrepreneurial skills and networks which have helped them to secure jobs in their field.
While Dr. Wang received the award this year, it is important to recognize all Faculty Association members, all members of the University community and all Calgarians who reap the benefits of the valuable relationships between academic staff and their fellow citizens.
The Association would like to thank the members of the Awards Committee: Committee Chair and Association Board Member, Justine Wheeler, from Libraries and Cultural Resources, Allan Ingelson from the Faculty of Law and Haskayne School of Business, Sharaz Khan from Haskayne School of Business, Meadow Schroeder from Werklund School of Education, and Kristin von Ranson from the Faculty of Arts.
The Faculty Association’s audited financial statements for 2018-2019 were approved by the Board of Directors on February 11, 2020. The audit was executed as required by the Association’s bylaws. The auditors found that there was excellent cooperation between management and other personnel, and that the audit numbers support the assurance that the Association is in good financial shape.
The financial statements for the fiscal year 2018-2019 are available here. If you have any questions, please contact the Association office.
As you prepare your taxes, remember that your Faculty Association dues (which include your CAUT dues) are tax deductible. You can find these dues on your pay stub and in box 44 of your 2019 U of C T4.