Fair Employment Week 2020
David Stewart, President
As I’m sure you are aware, Fair Employment week (October 19 to 23) is an opportunity to note the significant role played by sessional instructors in the life of the university and, in our case, the Faculty Association. In these challenging circumstances it is important to keep in mind the precarious nature of the work carried out by sessional instructors and provide support to them.
This term there are almost 500 sessional instructors at the University of Calgary and they are responsible for delivering almost 800 half-course equivalents (HCE). The University of Calgary could not achieve its enrollment goals or deliver its programs without the contributions of our hardworking sessional instructors. More than 1/5 of the academic staff are sessionals! Although we don’t have access to full demographic information on our sessional instructors, it is clear that almost 3/5 of them are women, a much higher percentage than that of the permanent faculty.
It is important for us to keep in mind that the critical work done by sessionals is not very well compensated. In many cases, if a sessional instructor is fortunate enough to have a TA, the TA may be making more money than the sessional. As well, sessional instructors have quite limited access to Professional Expense Reimbursement (PER). This became problematic during the winter term, as all instructors were required to pivot to on-line instruction, a pivot that often required the purchase of new equipment and in many cases an upgrading of the internet connections at the instructor’s home as well as additional expenses related to working from home. For many sessionals, the costs of these increases came out of the general compensation they received for teaching a course.
We were very happy to negotiate in the spring and summer and for the Winter 2021 term, in a Memorandum of Agreement with the administration, a clause that granted sick leave to sessionals who contracted COVID-19 during the period in which they were teaching. While this was a positive step, it is yet another indication of the precarious nature of sessional employment more broadly and the work that needs to be done on matters relating to health.
The fraught nature of sessional teaching can also be seen with moves to an increase in the number of courses expected to be taught face-to-face in the upcoming Winter term. Permanent faculty can negotiate with their academic unit regarding the modality of course delivery but sessionals do not always have this ability. They will be notified that the courses to be taught will be delivered face-to-face, and if they are not comfortable with that mode of delivery, their only option is not apply for the course.
In short, the COVID-19 pandemic has helped to highlight the difficult working conditions experienced by sessionals, as well as the reliance of the University of Calgary on them to deliver programs and keep up enrollments.
As Fair Employment Week unfolds, I ask all of us to thank our sessional colleagues for the contributions they make and the professional manner in which they discharge their responsibilities. We should use this opportunity to highlight the precarious nature of the work they perform and bring these inequities again to the attention of the administration and the public more broadly.
On behalf of all members of TUCFA, I want to acknowledge the critical work performed by sessionals, the reliance of the University of Calgary on their work, and the financial challenges faced by the highly educated and skilled professionals who work in this area.
This year CAUT has again organized a number of activities relating to Fair Employment that I encourage all members to engage with. The CAUT events are copied below and will also be available on our website.
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CAUT Fair Employment Week Activities
Fair Employment Week, taking place from October 19 to 23, is CAUT’s annual campaign to raise awareness about precarious employment on campuses and support local organizing to improve the working conditions of contract academic staff.
In light of COVID-19, this year CAUT has organized a full week of online events. Below is the schedule, as well as the links to register.
Monday, October 19 / 1:00pm – 2:30pm (EDT) / / Organizing to Win for Contract Academic Staff: A CAUT Members’ Panel
Hear case studies from across the country on how academic staff associations have organized around and won victories for contract academic staff.
This event will take place in English with simultaneous interpretation into French.
Tuesday, October 20 / 1:00pm – 2:00pm (EDT) / / Intellectual Property in a Time of Remote Learning for Contract Academic Staff: A Webinar with Dr. Sam Trosow
Join Dr. Sam Trosow, a professor at the University of Western Ontario, who will discuss the issues of ownership and control of course content for contract academic staff in a time of remote learning. This event will take place in English with simultaneous interpretation into French.
Wednesday, October 21 / 1:00pm – 2pm (EDT) / / A Keynote Address by Dr. Liz Morrish
Liz Morrish, an independent scholar and activist for resistance to managerial appropriation of the university and co-author of the book Academic Irregularities, will present a talk titled, “A plague on universities: How the pandemic has created breach points for the future of labour, pedagogy and values in higher education.” This event will take place in English with simultaneous interpretation into French.
Thursday, October 22 // A Social Media Day of Action
Stay tuned for shareables and ways to engage online as part of CAUT’s Social Media Day of Action.
Friday, October 23 / 1:00pm – 2pm (EDT) / / A Zoom Social for Contract Academic Staff
Join contract academic staff from coast to coast in an informal Zoom social. Folks will be put into breakout rooms to get to know one another, talk about the unique issues contract academic staff are experiencing, discuss strategies to improve working conditions, and join together in celebration of the work and contributions contract academic staff make to our universities and colleges.
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Impact of pandemic on sessional academics
As reported in the Academic Views in June, the Association filed two policy grievances on sessional issues. The first grievance is related to Winter 2020 Sessional instructors; the second is related to Spring/Summer 2020 sessional instructors. In both grievances, the Association argues that sessional instructors are given a contract that specifies the workload, establishes a half-course equivalent for that work, and then provides payment for the specific work done. While ongoing members had some options available to reorganize their workload to accommodate the additional workload of remote instruction, sessional members do not have such flexibility. As many sessional instructors teach part-time and have other jobs in addition to teaching, their increased duties had to be balanced against other work opportunities in addition to the added pressures at home. In moving to remote instruction, the amount of work increased and there was no adjustment of compensation or allowing for the contracts to be renegotiated with the sessional instructors.
The first stage of these grievances (Winter 2020 sessionals and Spring/Summer 2020 sessionals) was heard by the Deputy Provost. She has denied the grievances stating the Administration is free to direct that courses be delivered remotely or in person, that there is no evidence that there was any increase in workload as a result of the move to remote course delivery, and noted that all academic staff were provided with additional resources to support the transition to remote delivery. The Association elevated the grievances to the level of Provost and has now met with the Provost on these two grievances. At this time, the Association is waiting for the Provost to decide on these grievances and we will update you in due course.
The response from the Deputy Provost was very disappointing, did not reflect what we had been hearing from Association members and seems to ignore the unique challenges that sessional instructors have experienced during the pandemic. Consequently, the Faculty Association asked sessional instructors to share their stories with us. As a result, we heard from sessional and ongoing academic staff about how the transition impacted their workload.
While other Universities had a transition period to teaching remotely, the move to remote instruction happened almost overnight at the University of Calgary. Likewise, the Administration appears to view remote instruction as different from online instruction, implying that in-person instruction can be transitioned to remote instruction with relative ease. However, it’s clear from the responses that we got, that many members felt that they needed to invest significant effort to rework their course materials for the transition.
For many, the pandemic means greater financial strain as other forms of employment disappeared or the additional teaching workload competed with other jobs. As of July 2020, sessionals earn as little as $6,338 per half course equivalent and can claim up to $175 in professional expenses per half course equivalent (HCE). With the move to remote instruction, came the need for many to invest in new equipment to facilitate online instruction and $175 does not go very far.
A common theme among the responses that we received was a concern for students’ well-being. With students participating across time zones, there was a need to respond to students at all hours of the day whether by emails or office hours. What we heard from many of you was that not only did the time to complete work increase, but the nature of the workload changed in unexpected ways that made it more stressful and difficult to complete. In some cases, our sessional members shared stories where students were facing extreme home situations and they needed to find ways to accommodate the needs of these students at the expense of their own time and energy.
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Sessional instructors by the numbers
According to the list of academic staff members that the University Administration provides to the Faculty Association, there are currently 2,343 academic staff members at the University of Calgary. Of these, 497 (21%) are sessional instructors.
Based on the list of courses provided to the Faculty Association by the Administration, we estimated that sessional instructors were responsible for about 25% of the credit course delivery at the University of Calgary in the 2019-2020 academic year. In comparison, we estimated that the Instructor stream (Instructor; Senior Instructor; Teaching Professors) were responsible for about 20% of course delivery in the 2019-2020 academic year.
About 56% of sessional instructors are women, according to the list of academic staff members that the University Administration provides to the Faculty Association. For comparison, about 41% of the ongoing academic staff are women.
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Membership Emergency Fund
The Faculty Association provides Member Emergency Funding to help individual members under emergency circumstances due to a sudden loss or decline in remuneration from the University. Member Emergency Funding is not intended to be used in cases where normal remuneration is inadequate for an individual’s expenses. Rather, this funding is available when there is an unexpected drop in remuneration, or when a personal emergency arises. This funding is not intended to replace the normal assistance available from the government or other agencies.
In addition to current members, individuals who have held sessional, limited term or contingent term appointments which have recently terminated are eligible to apply. Relief may be provided as a grant, an interest-free loan, or as a combination grant/loan.
For more information on Member Emergency Funding, please contact Faculty Association Executive Director Sheila Miller, by phone, (403) 220-5722 or by email, Faculty.Association@tucfa.com.
All inquiries will be held in the strictest confidence.
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