Real academics don’t take vacations?

Our recent post “Help Dr. X take their vacation” received many spirited replies.

Some offered practical suggestions for Lecturers like Dr. X who teach three terms a year:

  • Post online content instead of class instruction for two weeks. How would chairs feel about this? What about students who listen to the online content and then email with a question or ask for help? Would the answer “I’m on vacation and will get back to you” be satisfactory?
  • Get someone else to cover your classes for two weeks. This sounds great, except … who would that be? Would you regularly take on extra work to “cover” for a colleague on vacation?
  • Take a holiday during fall break and reading week. Since many faculty use the “break” to mark or to prepare, a holiday at this time would take very careful planning. And some faculty have been called out for not being available to students or for not answering work emails during these times.

It’s also worth noting that Lecturers are far more likely than Professors to be held to the requirements of Memorandum of Agreement 11.2.3: “Vacation shall be scheduled at a time or times which are mutually satisfactory to the Member and the Department Chair.”

But some replies to the blog, both in the comments and elsewhere, hinted that vacations weren’t really the “done thing.”

Do academics even take vacations?

A recent meme suggests that eschewing vacations is a particularly North American phenomenon.

Could the “American” attitude also be the normal academic one? Do we dismiss the very idea of taking time away from our jobs?

If so, what are the costs of an academic culture that values, not just work, but overwork? What, for example, are we modelling for (and expecting from) our graduate students if “no vacations” is the accepted norm? Is this healthy—physically, socially, psychologically?

Continue reading “Real academics don’t take vacations?”

How much would a true non-teaching term cost?

One of the issues that the FAUW team hopes to address in the revision process for Policy 76 (Faculty Appointments) and Policy 77 (Tenure and Promotion of Faculty Members) is workload, one component of which is a regular non-teaching term for teaching-intensive faculty.

The current Policy 76 includes a provision for non-teaching terms: “…Lecturers shall have the option to have at least one term in six be a non-teaching term.” The interpretation of this clause, however, varies across faculties and even departments. In the faculty of Environment and in several departments in Engineering and Science, the non-teaching term is taken to be a reduction in load in that academic year; other faculties such as Arts, Health, and Math interpret the non-teaching term as a redistribution of load. In this case, lecturers teach their normal annual course load in two terms rather than three.

What lecturers say

Results from the recent FAUW Lecturers Committee survey, which had a response rate of 80%, show that 61% of the 192 respondents had had at least one non-teaching term during their employment at the University. Among these lecturers, 37% had what we’ll call a “true” non-teaching term (i.e., their teaching load was reduced not redistributed) while the remaining 63% had their load redistributed. For the 39% of lecturers who have never taken a non-teaching term, the redistribution of workload was cited as the most common barrier.

In recent faculty consultation sessions organized by the Lecturers Committee, lecturers shared that that having time and resources to fulfil professional development and scholarly work is a high priority. Many lecturers commented that a true non-teaching term would allow them to engage in scholarly activities including curriculum development, professional development, pedagogical research, and staying up to date in their field. There was also discussion around the mental health benefits of a non-teaching term during which lecturers could also take their annual vacation entitlement and recharge.

We should also recall that the University’s current Strategic Plan states that Waterloo strives to be “a people-centered institution committed to genuine care, concern, respect, inclusivity and well-being for all.” These values include commitments “to embed and promote sustainability and foster personal development and supportive environments for mental health and resilience, physical health, social inclusion, belonging and spiritual well-being in campus culture.”

Ensuring that teaching faculty have adequate time to engage in foundational academic activities—such as staying up to date in their fields and planning new courses—as well as much needed personal activities—such as taking vacations— is necessary for UW to fulfil these commitments.

The numbers

So, how much would it cost the University to implement a true non-teaching term for lecturers? Relying on FAUW membership data on lecturers and on data collected from the FAUW Lecturers Committee survey, we’ve come up with an upper-bound cost estimate.

Continue reading “How much would a true non-teaching term cost?”

The UW Equity Survey: An important, easy win

You are so tired.

There is so much work to do. It’s hard to get going on the big things on your to-do list. But you have thirty minutes in your day and you are hoping to get something important accomplished. You probably aren’t going to finish your book, write your grant proposal budget, synthesize a polymer, or mark all of the essays that were just submitted. You probably aren’t going to vacuum, and you probably shouldn’t cut your own hair.

But in just ten minutes or less, you could complete the Equity Survey that was sent to you by UWaterloo Communications. You could start that, finish it, and cross it off your list. Then, you could offer yourself a simple reward with your remaining twenty minutes. Jay Dolmage of our Equity Committee completed the survey and then had a piece of pie. Joe Qian finished it and then had a nice lunch. Kim Nguyen answered all of the questions and then ate ice cream cake. Aimée Morrison went for a leisurely bike ride after she was done.

There aren’t many easy wins right now. But this is one of them. A robust response to this survey from faculty is so important. Having this data will allow the University to better develop resources. It will allow FAUW to better advocate for equity. Doing your part will be a great use of your valuable time.

June 17 Board meeting report

This is our last Board of Directors meeting report until September, and Dan Brown’s last president’s report. We’ll continue posting here and emailing members over the summer about policy development and other issues as they evolve.

President’s report

-dan brown

This will be my last report as FAUW president, and this board meeting will be the last for FAUW’s vice-president Johanna Wandel, treasurer Brent Matheson, at-large representatives Narveen Jandu and Dina Dawoud, and Engineering representative Alfred Yu. I’m extremely grateful to all of these colleagues for their service! I’m also looking forward to seeing what the new board makes happen, with Lori Curtis moving into the president’s role. 

The news from the past two weeks has been especially grim, with the discovery of a mass grave at a residential school in Kamloops, BC, and with the murder of a Muslim family living in London, Ontario that has been declared a hate crime. At times, it’s overwhelming to me just how much work on reconciliation, dialogue, and changing our society must happen; at other times, I’m excited by just how much better our society can become.

This week is Convocation. Normally, it’s one of my favourite events of the year, and it’s hard to believe we have had two years of these being done online. I hope that we can return to hooding our graduates soon, and sending them off into their careers. It’s also the last week of Convocations with President Hamdullahpur as one of the presiding officers.

We heard some updates about teaching plans for fall at the town hall on Tuesday. I’m hopeful that COVID cases become less prevalent as vaccination starts to take effect here in Waterloo Region. Our colleague Mario Ioannidis continues to meet with relevant people from HR and other offices across campus as part of a taskforce on returning to campus.

What else we talked about

The Board received a draft of Policy 57 – Employee Accommodations for a preliminary review. Faculty Relations Committee will discuss the draft this week, and once it receives support in principle there, it will go out for wider consultation. Our representatives on the Policy 57 Drafting Committee are Jay Dolmage and Lori Curtis.

Vershawn Young updated the Board about the development of a Black Studies program at Waterloo. The Black Studies Implementation Team submitted two new diplomas to the Arts Undergraduate Affairs Group on June 3: General Black Studies diploma and Fundamentals of Anti-Racist Communication. Since then, they submitted a fulsome report and recommendations to senior University administrators. Young suggested FAUW could support four of the Implementation Team’s recommendations in particular:

  • Implement an advising system to keep track of students enrolling in and matriculating through the two Black Studies diplomas.
  • Establish and task a team to develop and implement the Black Cultural Centre.
  • Transfer the Lecturer lines of current Black Faculty into tenured and/or tenure-track lines.
  • Appoint Black Studies Programme Director and Advisory Board to Participate in University Black Cluster Hires.

We approved new members of FAUW standing committees, starting July 1:

  • Equity Committee: Jay Dolmage will continue for another year as chair. Mario Boido, Barbara Schmenk, Elizabeth Meiering, and Antonio Muñoz Gómez (LAAUW) are joining the committee.
  • Lecturers Committee: Su-Yin Tan has been re-elected for another two-year term as chair. Sarah Ruffel (SCI)l, Laila Rohani (ARTS), Elena Neiterman (HEALTH), Jenny Howcroft (ENG), and Rania Al-Hammoud (ENG) will join the committee.
  • The Executive Committee (and Faculty Relations Committee representatives) for the next year will be Lori Curtis (President), Kate Lawson, (Vice President), Heidi Engelhardt (Treasurer), Trevor Charles, and Mario Ioannidis.
Continue reading “June 17 Board meeting report”

Meet the lecturers: Lamees Al Ethari

As we work on securing improvements to the working conditions of teaching-focused faculty at the University of Waterloo, FAUW is interviewing lecturers across campus to find out more about their experiences at Waterloo—and how potential policy changes might affect their work.

Lamees Al Ethari has been a lecturer in the Department of English Language and Literature since 2015. Let’s meet Lamees!

Lamees Al Ethari

What does your job include right now?

My contract officially defines my load as 80% teaching and 20% service. I teach 7–8 courses per year, mostly ENGL 109 (Introduction to Academic Writing) and creative writing courses, but occasionally also literature courses. In 2019, I developed and taught a course titled Displacement Narratives in the Arts First program.

In addition to teaching, I keep active as a researcher and creative writer. I participate regularly at academic conferences, readings, and literary festivals. I have also published a memoir and a collection of poetry. I co-founded a SSHRC-funded community writing and performance workshop, The X Page, for local immigrant and refugee women. I have been a coordinator and an editor with the workshop since 2018. I am also a nonfiction editor for The New Quarterly, a national literary magazine housed in St. Jerome’s University.

What parts of your work are you most passionate about?

I love teaching—it’s really a big part of who I am professionally. But I also love doing research—research allows me to work on projects that relate to my own academic specialization.

While some of the research I do is on pedagogy, most of my research is on immigrant women’s narratives, especially from the Middle East. I focus on their journeys from home, the trauma they endured, what they left behind, and their experiences of trying to resettle in the diaspora. I have applied that research in teaching both my writing and my literature courses.

What has your experience been like trying to navigate the process of becoming a continuing lecturer?

That’s a really interesting question. A lot of the process actually seems very much up in the air. Each person seems to have had a different experience, and my questions weren’t answered in a timely manner because no one seems to know what the process is, and it’s not the same across different departments. Originally, I understood that I could apply in my fifth year, but that turned out not to be the case. The situation kept changing, there was nothing solid to go by, no guidelines to follow.

I submitted my application at the end of 2020 and didn’t hear anything about the application for a few months. (I finally received my continuing offer in May 2021.)

The lack of information is problematic and needs to be addressed by the Faculty and the University or it will continue to be problematic for those who follow after me. I’m not the first person in this kind of situation, and it’s not just for continuing status. A clear and consistent process will allow lecturers to plan ahead and be prepared.

Have you applied for any research grants while working at Waterloo, and how did that go?

I’ve applied for two research grants. I faced some complications with the first application process because, once again, there were no clear guidelines for lecturers applying for grants. However, when I applied for a SSHRC Connection Grant in 2018, I was told that I just needed to get approval from my chair, who supported the application and the project. We were awarded the grant in 2019, which funded the first cycle of The X-Page workshops.

Research grants, like these, allow us to be part of the academic community and they help us expand the work we do in our classrooms. I know that many of my lecturer colleagues are working on interesting and innovative research. They would benefit greatly from research grants that could support and fund their projects.

Sabbaticals and non-teaching terms provide us with the time to develop our teaching, update research, and find new ways to introduce material in order to keep our courses interesting and engaging.

Continue reading “Meet the lecturers: Lamees Al Ethari”

June 3 report from the Board

Here are the updates from the June 3, 2021, FAUW Board of Directors meeting.

Policy 76 (Faculty Appointments) change

On June 1, the University Board of Governors approved an update to Policy 76 that changes the threshold for which appointments need to go through UARC—it will now review appointments “longer than two years,” rather than “two years or longer.” As we reported last time, this will remove the primary reason for two-years-minus-one-day appointments. We asked the deans to add an extra day to all two-years-minus-one-day appointments and have heard from three that they are doing so. Two faculties don’t have any such appointments, and the sixth is discussing the issue further but we expect that to be resolved soon.

This extra day comes with significantly improved benefits, including dental coverage, better sick leave, long-term disability coverage, access to the Employee & Family Assistance Program, eligibility for the new pregnancy and parental leave policy, and tuition benefits under Policy 4 (for employees) and Policy 24 (for employees’ children). It can also have implications for retirement benefits eligibility.

Other work on Policy 76/77 will continue through the summer.

Equity data survey

We’re excited that the University equity survey will be going out soon. We encourage you to participate in it. This survey is what will provide the Salary Anomaly Working Group with the data needed to run the race-based salary anomaly review that we negotiated in our latest salary settlement. There is a lot of information about the survey and how the data will be used on the Equity Office website.

Response to FAUW position on fall 2021

Mario Ioannidis is representing FAUW on the new return-to-campus working group. This group has representatives from the Staff Association, Occupational Health, the Safety Office, Human Resources, and Plant Operations, among other units, and meets every other week. They are informing institutional guidelines (e.g. classroom capacity) for a staged return from now through January 2022, and applying a change management framework to this return. The group recognizes that returning to campus significantly affects faculty members.

Mario and Johanna Wandel met with Plant Operations. Plant Ops started upgrading HVAC systems (of which there are more than 300) as soon as campus emptied out last year. They are using MERV 13 standard air filters throughout campus and we’re working with them on getting detailed data to members about the rooms they use.

Tenure and promotion 2021

We are asking the University to ensure that departmental and faculty tenure & promotion committees (and external referees) take the effects of the pandemic on teaching and research into account when reviewing tenure and promotion files this year.

Continue reading “June 3 report from the Board”

Meet the lecturers: Burcu Karabina

As we work on securing improvements to the working conditions of teaching-focused faculty at the University of Waterloo, FAUW is interviewing lecturers across campus to find out more about their experiences at Waterloo—and how potential policy changes might affect their work.

Burcu Karabina is a lecturer in the Faculty of Mathematics Undergraduate Office, working in the Digital Assets Group (DAG). She came to Waterloo in 2019 with five years of online teaching and course development experience to help build online courses and digital assets equipped with the latest teaching technologies and pedagogies.

Burcu Karabina

What does your job include right now?

I teach mainly service courses such as introductory algebra, linear algebra, and calculus, both online and face to face. In addition to my teaching duties, I research and implement recent teaching pedagogies, incorporate evidence-based teaching and learning practices into our online course design. Working closely with the Centre for Extended Learning, DAG creates and designs an inclusive, accessible, student-oriented online learning experience. My workload balance is 30% teaching and 70% service. I spend most of my time developing online courses. The pandemic altered this balance dramatically, but it is slowly going back to normal. A lot of what we do in DAG is at the intersection of teaching, service, and research, so these weights are not a true reflection of our day-to-day operations.

What parts of your work are you most passionate about?

I am very passionate about utilizing digital technologies to bring the online learning experience to the next level for our students. In a rapidly changing world, we get a deeper understanding of how we learn, and technology is an integral part of it. We recognize that learning is an evolving process, not an end product! I find it fascinating that every course I teach is different than the previous one. I always learn something new from my students and my pedagogical research, and I always find myself trying something new in my courses. My job offers a life-long learning opportunity!

Have you applied for any research grants while working at Waterloo, and how did that go?

Last year, I had a chance to collaborate with a research group at National Research Council Canada. We prepared a proposal for a New Beginnings Initiative grant to enhance academic integrity using privacy-preserving tools. I was disheartened when I realized that I am not authorized to manage a research grant as a lecturer, and I cannot serve as principal investigator for the project. Our grant is approved, and I will still play a key role in the project, but my name will always be on the sidelines due to my job title. I am very passionate and excited about this research project, but, unfortunately, there will be no formal recognition of my efforts from the Unviersity, since research is not included in my job description. I know I am not the only lecturer in this situation, and it is very unfortunate.

We all need the time and the peace of mind to reflect on our teaching experiences and invest in our profession to serve our students better, to make this university a better place.

What would it mean for you to have professorial status and/or tenure?

The biggest problem with the current continuing lecturer promotion path is that it is very mysterious. Policy 76 states that an appointment to continuing lecturer is “understood to be unusual and offered only in special circumstances,” which is clearly no longer true but adds to this mysteriousness. As a new faculty member, I hear a lot of stories about the process. There are vague guidelines, and the current performance evaluation system does not support continuous professional development and research into our profession. Yes, there are many resources, but no structured guidance sets us up for success. Yes, professional development is encouraged, but pedagogical research does not weigh in our contracts. Service duties are not clearly defined, but they make up a significant percentage of our contracts. Many lecturers are buried in heavy teaching loads with large class sizes, worried about their contract renewals. They cannot even find time to take their well-deserved vacations.

We all need the time and the peace of mind to reflect on our teaching experiences and invest in our profession to serve our students better, to make this university a better place. A well-structured and guided career path that leads to professorial and/or tenure status would mean that lecturers are given an opportunity and space to grow into their careers, with a possible research component. With mutual support, the faculty and the university can work together toward a common goal.

Continue reading “Meet the lecturers: Burcu Karabina”

Hot topics from the May 20 FAUW Board of Directors meeting

Pandemic issues

The FAUW Board has issued a statement on fall 2021 decision making relating to teaching and faculty working conditions.

We briefly discussed some potential approaches to 2021 performance reviews, including re-weighting (e.g., to reduce the impact of your research score). We know there is also a continued need for pandemic considerations for tenure and promotion and will be returning to that topic with the administration soon.

Faculty members who need accommodations for fall (or any) teaching should contact our Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee for advice and referrals.

One small change for P76, one giant leap for lecturer benefits

From Dan Brown’s president’s report: This month at Senate we approved the first small step in the Policy 76/77 revisions, a surgical change to the mandate of the University Appointments Review Committee (UARC), so that it will now no longer be required to consider appointments of exactly two years (it will now review appointments longer than two years). This seemingly tiny change will matter, as it will remove the primary argument for deans to make two-years-minus-one-day appointments, which unfortunately come with fewer benefits than appointments just one day longer. [Editor’s note: This change was approved by the Board of Governors on June 1, making it official. We are asking deans to consider extending relevant appointments by one day.] The P76/77 Policy Drafting Committee will continue their work through the end of the summer, aiming for the August 31 deadline approved by Senate in March.

New travel and expenses policy

From Dan’s president’s report: The university’s president approved a substantial rewrite of Policy 31, the Travel policy, which has been renamed to University Expenses; this results in substantial improvements to reimbursement rates and also (hopefully!) a reduction in documentation required of travellers. It also details how research expenses like working lunches and hospitality will work. UW Finance consulted with FAUW (via Faculty Relations Committee) as part of their discussions of this policy.

Indigenous student scholarships

We have been looking into establishing a scholarship for students from Six Nations of the Grand River, on whose land the Waterloo, Kitchener, and Cambridge campuses are situated. At this meeting, we got into some details about what the award(s) could look like in practice to inform conversations with the Grand River Post Secondary Education Office and the university’s Student Awards & Financial Aid office.

Benefits eligibility grievance outcomes

Adapted from Ken Vetzal’s Pension & Benefits report: In response to grievances filed by FAUW, a subcommittee of the Pension and Benefits Committee (including the P&B liaison to the FAUW Board, Ken Vetzal) was formed last fall with a mandate to provide precise definitions of “continuous University of Waterloo service” (Policy 23 – Eligibility for Pension and Insured Benefits) and “uninterrupted regular full-time service” (Policy 59 – Reduced Workload to Retirement).

Continue reading “Hot topics from the May 20 FAUW Board of Directors meeting”

FAUW statement on decision making about fall 2021 teaching

We recognize that decisions about fall teaching are being made in an environment of uncertainty. We also recognize the need to balance instructor preferences with student experience. It is our understanding that decisions about fall instruction have largely been made at the faculty level, using a variety of decision-making models. While FAUW supports a de-centralized approach given the varying needs across campus, we ask for earlier and more effective communication and consultation with fall term instructors—and with FAUW—as decisions affecting faculty working conditions are made, to respect the collegial governance model of the university.

We appreciate that most* FAUW members have been given a fair degree of choice as to how they deliver their courses this fall, but faculty were asked to make these decisions without access to essential information, including:

  • Anticipated safety protocols (e.g., information on ventilation, social distancing, how classroom changes are handled in buildings with constrained hallways, the availability of asymptomatic rapid testing responsibility for disinfection, and responsibility for compliance enforcement).
  • Expected decision rules which will trigger a shift from in-person to online (e.g., infection and vaccination rates, whether classes might shift from in person to online and back to in person).
  • Anticipated support for various models (e.g., the availability of classroom technology to enable streaming, registrar and AccessAbility support for testing and exams, the availability of technical support for hybrid models).
  • Consideration of faculty workload for hybrid models which will accommodate both remote and in-person students simultaneously, in the same section (e.g., extra teaching credit, overload pay, or temporary reweighting to accommodate extra work).

We heard updates on some of these items at the virtual town hall on May 11, but course delivery decisions were due on May 7, and many aspects of our fall working conditions are still unclear.

FAUW asks for transparent communication and updates on Waterloo’s position regarding access to vaccinations for faculty, staff, teaching assistants, and students, as well as availability and protocols surrounding regular asymptomatic rapid testing. While we recognize that best practices continue to evolve and may change over time, we are aware of multiple initiatives at other institutions regarding testing and vaccine protocols, and infrastructure and teaching support, and ask to be kept informed of Waterloo’s evolving stance on these items.

We suggest that one way of achieving meaningful communication is by giving a member of the FAUW Executive Committee membership in key decision-making groups such as the newly announced Workforce Planning Task Force. We look forward to being more involved and better able to support and inform our members as we prepare to have more activity on campus.


*We have heard reports of some members, particularly lecturers, being pressured or forced to commit to in-person instruction for fall against their wishes, which is very concerning.

Help Dr. X take their vacation!

Dr. X is a Lecturer at the University of Waterloo who teaches three terms a year. They are finding it difficult to take their four weeks of annual vacation entitlement, to be scheduled in blocks at least one week long.

The challenge

  • Can you help Dr. X find four one-week blocks of vacation time in the 2021-22 academic year? Share your results in the comments below.
The 2021-22 academic calendar, with academic dates from the Registrar’s important dates tool and paid holidays from the Human Resources website.


The 2021-22 academic calendar, with academic dates from the Registrar’s important dates tool and paid holidays from the Human Resources website.

Considerations and constraints

  • Dr. X has an exam scheduled on April 23; marking the exam and submitting final grades will take approximately four days.
  • Dr. X would like to attend their sister’s wedding in BC on July 3.
  • Dr. X’s family has been offered a cottage rental from August 8–21; Dr. X would like to join their family.
  • Dr. X has been assigned a new course in fall 2022 and needs time to prepare it.
  • Statutory holidays don’t count toward vacation time.
  • Dr. X’s chair needs to agree on the timing of each block of vacation ahead of time.

Reflections

  • Does Dr. X still have adequate time for marking and course prep, without doing any work during their vacation?
  • Would Dr. X be able to take two weeks off at a time?
  • What would make it easier for Dr. X to take their full vacation entitlement?

Share your results and reflections in the comments!

Bonus round

  • For bonus points, help Dr. Y take their five weeks of vacation entitlement. Dr. Y is entitled to five weeks since they have been at Waterloo for more than 10 years.
  • Extra bonus points: Help Dr. Z take seven weeks of vacation—their five-week entitlement, plus the two weeks they carried forward from the previous year.

What this is about

Workload for teaching faculty is one of the issues that the FAUW team hopes to discuss in the revision process for Policy 76 – Faculty Appointments and Policy 77 – Promotion and Tenure.

Workload is a complex issue. For Lecturers, it intersects with vacation access because—as you saw with Dr. X—teaching three terms a year leaves very little time for meaningful vacation.

It is true that Waterloo is a three-term university, unlike many of our comparator institutions. It is also true that UW has enjoyed the flexibility of assigning work to Lecturers in all three terms. But what if flexibility means a lack of access to vacations? Can teaching workload be assigned more fairly?

What is clear is that teaching-stream faculty members deserve to take the annual vacations that allow us all a chance to rest and relax, to connect with family and friends, and to come back to work refreshed. Work-life balance is something we hear a lot about these days. Teaching faculty at UW deserve this balance as well.