New Scheduling System: What You Need to Get What You Want

by David Porreca and Bryan Tolson

This week’s blog post intends to inform UW faculty about the nitty-gritty details of the new scheduling system.  Here are a series of useful tips that should help colleagues navigate the new Infosilem scheduling system.

The results of the survey related to Simulation 3 of the new scheduling system were presented for consideration at the Faculty Relations Committee simultaneously with the university’s decision to go ahead with the implementation of the software system for the Spring term of 2014.  The results of the survey were lukewarm. The responses were averaged out so as to dissimulate any extraordinary schedules, good or bad.  These averaged results were not so bad as to justify a concerted attempt to stop the implementation of the system, while not being so good as to justify cheering its arrival.  Conclusion: we must live with it for better or for worse, with a view to making the best of a sub-optimal situation.  Here are some tips for faculty members:

Tip 1: Identify your departmental time tabling representative (in some departments also known as the scheduling officer).  Make sure that your department has implemented a transparent procedure for requesting accommodation in your schedule.

Tip 2: The Registrar’s Office maintains a list of examples of the sorts of accommodations can be requested.
Do not hesitate to take advantage of the opportunities for accommodation that are allowed within this framework.

Tip 3: Do not hesitate to contact the Registrar’s Office and the Faculty Association (president: David Porreca; administrative officer: Pat Moore) with any problems you face with the new system.  We shall be compiling these to help make the implementation of the new system as beneficent to faculty colleagues as possible.

FAUW Pushing for Scenario Analysis: Spring Term

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest at least 99% of instructors and 100% of students do not want a Friday afternoon class scheduled later than 4:30 pm in the Spring term.  So I would love to see the Registrar’s Office (RO) schedule the Spring term with no classes after 4:30 on Fridays.  That should be extremely easy to input in Infosilem software and I strongly suspect it would yield no noticeable degradation in the quality of the scheduling objectives (elective satisfaction rate or others).  In fact, I would hope the RO is capable of running two simulations (Fridays end at 4:30 vs Fridays end at 5:30) to evaluate if an early end to Friday classes does in fact notably degrade the schedule quality.

The above paragraph is a simple example of a useful exercise in modelling called scenario analysis.  Understandably, the RO is still learning and developing skills needed to run the Infosilem software and as such they have yet to do any types of scenario analysis FAUW is aware of (i.e., build multiple schedules under alternative inputs).  However, I’m sure most readers as well as RO staff can think of very important and useful scenarios that should be evaluated.  As such, FAUW will continue asking the RO to build their capacity so that they can evaluate alternative scenarios.  You could help by asking a Provost’s Advisory Committee for Timetabling (PACT) representative or your timetabling representative to request that the RO commit to evaluating alternative scenarios and thus plan to build multiple schedules with Infosilem every term.

Questions? Comments? Please respond below or to the FAUW President, David Porreca.

The Corporate University

—David Porreca, FAUW President

This week’s blog post draws on some of the discussion that occurred at this past weekend’s Faculty Association Presidents’ Forum organized by the Canadian Association of University Teachers in Ottawa.

I have often been curious to what extent the predominance of corporations in our society and political culture has permeated the academic environment in general, and that at UW in particular. How far down the corporatization slope have we gone?

1) Privatization and diversification of funding sources

UW began its life as a public institution, receiving the vast majority of its operating monies from the public purse, and therefore assumed to be operating for the public good. In recent years, however, UW has diversified and privatized its sources of funding, with growing proportions coming from tuition fees and partnerships with industry, to the extent that much less than half of our operating expenditures is sourced from public funds – I recall 39% being mentioned at a Town Hall meeting a little while ago.

The consequences of this shift are both good and bad: on the one hand, the financial health of the institution is less dependent on the vagaries of provincial politics; on the other, our institution is forced to deploy special efforts to maintain academic integrity in the face of the increasing pressure to put ‘bums in seats’ in order to balance the bottom line. International students in particular are at risk of being treated as customers rather than learners.

In essence, we must be extremely wary to preserve the core academic function of our institution despite the trends observable in many of our peer institutions which are being run first and foremost as if they were money-generating enterprises.

2) Deprofessionalization

This trend has manifested most intensively among Ontario’s teaching profession at the elementary and high school levels, but is also creeping into higher education. The fact that so many programs rely so heavily on contract academic staff (contingent, short-term contracts; “sessionals”) is an unsettling symptom, since these positions are by definition “flexible”. By this I mean positions that are precarious and benefitting of either none or only limited guarantees of academic freedom and collegial governance that come with tenure-track jobs. Moreover, these jobs tend to be teaching-only, which compromises the link between research and teaching that is so crucial to what makes higher education a valuable enterprise.

Here at UW, FAUW is currently investigating the status and conditions of lecturers on our campus, with a view to ensuring proper academic freedom and collegial governance for all limited-contract academics on our campus. Even if the Memorandum of Agreement governs regular faculty members whose contracts are one year or more, the contingency of these contracts de facto has an impact on the perceived academic freedom of the individuals involved.

Growing numbers of contract academic staff is the principal but not the only symptom of the deprofessionalization of academia.

Growing numbers of contract academic staff is the principal but not the only symptom of the deprofessionalization of academia. At this past weekend’s CAUT Forum, we heard that between 1990 and 2009, university operating expenses in Canada dedicated to professorial rank salaries have declined from 39% to 29% of total expenditures. This resource allocation trend is a concrete demonstration that tenured faculty positions are slowly being eroded, to the great detriment of the academic enterprise.

Where has the difference been spent? Largely on administrative expenses, i.e., “send in the managers”. In the abstract, managers are only necessary to make up for prior ill-advised hiring decisions. The increasing concentration of managerial authority in academic institutions has manifested in the adoption in many places (such as Brock, WLU, Guelph, and York – UW is mercifully excluded from this list) of such unproven management fads as the RobertDickeson “program prioritization” scheme. These do violence to the principle of collegial governance, and create divisive work environments that are not conducive to the primary functions of academia, namely teaching and research.

Deprofessionalization also manifests in a growing audit culture that emphasizes accountability metrics that may work well in a corporate environment, but which are woefully inadequate for the long-term view that the institution of tenured academia was designed to foster. Good teaching is not something that can be consistently measured, any more than anyone’s ‘soul’ can be measured. Research impact is trans-generational in some fields – my own department can claim a 2,300-year tradition – such that the number of citations in any given year is possibly the least relevant measure of an idea’s impact. How can the bean counting of research impact the way it is practiced today ever be effective in picking the winners of what will have been most significant in 10, or 25, or 100 years? Just because something is measurable doesn’t mean it has value, just as not everything that has value is measurable. Whatever is measured will be prioritized, at the opportunity cost of other things.

3) “Open for business”

Collaborative research with industry has been a growing trend that has squeezed out basic research. This trend has been a matter of government policy at the highest levels, and it is reflected in the relative changes in NSERC funding that has shifted significantly away from basic research toward “targeted” research that involves industry. The potential impact on academic integrity is substantial.

Expect to hear more about these issues as they relate specifically to UW in upcoming blog posts. For more on industry-academia interactions in Canada (including a section on UW’s own Balsillie School of International Affairs”), please see CAUT’s report, also entitled “Open for Business”.

How’s the Weather at UW? The Art and Duty of Accepting Limits

David Porreca, FAUW President

In this week’s blog post, I shall address the pros and cons of UW’s Weather Closing policy. Last week’s decision by the University not to close during the severe weather conditions provoked widespread befuddlement and outrage campus-wide.  Notes posted to UW’s main web page reassured students that they would not be penalized for not attending on account of the weather. This provision was particularly salient because of the importance of claiming seats in classes during the very first week of term.

Subsequently, a memo dated 9 January 2014 from the Provost was circulated to the campus community indicating that “snow and ice accumulation on local traffic routes is the central factor in the decision-making process” in determining whether to close our campus’ operations due to the weather.  This particular factor is mentioned nowhere in the university’s published guidelines, and is revealing in terms of its emphasis on infrastructure rather than people.  The same memo indicates that the Provost is assembling a group to “consider implementing a broader approach in future.”  Faculty representation on this working group is essential, and it is a key request that FAUW will be making when the matter is discussed at this week’s Faculty Relations Committee meeting.

There are three main concerns at work here:

“When half the students come and half don’t, when some colleagues cancel and some don’t, it’s actually worse than when the central administration makes a decision to close campus for a snow day.”
  1. The work-life balance issue of having local schools and childcare facilities close, including UW’s own daycare facility, no less – while our campus remains open.  All members of the campus community who have children – faculty, staff and students – either have to make special childcare arrangements (often expensive or difficult to find) or bring their kids to campus, which is not likely to boost productivity, nor is it much fun for anyone involved.
  2. There is also the safety issue unrelated to roads: is there a health warning associated with the weather?
  3. Finally, there are the logistical consequences of leaving the decision up to the good judgement of each individual (the guidelines linked above says that “faculty, staff and students are reminded that they are responsible for determining when weather conditions make their travel unsafe”: is everyone likely to be very late? When half the students come and half don’t, when some colleagues cancel and some don’t, it’s actually worse than when the central administration makes a decision to close campus for a snow day.

Now, I realise the expense and difficulties involved in declaring a closure when that teaching time must be made up elsewhere in the term.  Also, there is always the risk of declaring closure due to forecasts predicting imminent tempests that don’t manifest.  Considering the three main concerns mentioned above, would not a judicious application of the precautionary principle be advisable?  If work-life balance, the mental health and physical health of our campus community are true priorities at UW, human factors such as personal safety, the cancellation of school buses and the closure of local school boards should be part of the decision-making process, not just the measurable quantity of snow on the roads.  Here is yet another example of something that has value (mental & physical health), yet because it is more difficult to measure than the quantity of snow on the ground, only the latter gets attention and prioritization.

UW may wish to portray itself as invincible in the face of any and all adversity, but such an attitude betrays a lack of acknowledgement of the limits, human and logistical, experienced by the people directly involved.  FAUW looks forward to assisting in the drafting of a new, more humane closure policy.

For more on this topic, please see the blog entry by former FAUW Vice-President, Aimée Morrison at Hook & Eye.

Welcome Back!

David Porreca, FAUW President
Happy New Year to All!
This blog post marks the first anniversary of the FAUW Blog!  Two red-hot items for everyone’s consideration: the Strategic Mandate Agreement & Scheduling Feedback

Special Meeting of Senate re: Strategic Mandate Agreement (SMA)

14:30 TODAY
The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) has requested that all Ontario universities update and re-submit their Strategic Mandate Agreement. For reference, the original 2012 draft (PDF) and the current draft (PDF).
The deadlines imposed by the MTCU have left only just enough time for consultation with faculty members, with the latest draft of UW’s SMA submission being discussed at a special meeting of UW’s Senate this afternoon. 
Although at times jargon-heavy – “intrapreneurship” left this francophone and latinist baffled and scurrying for an etymological dictionary – the draft does a good job of selling UW’s strengths, borrowing heavily from the recent Strategic Plan.   In this context, I note in particular the wording “including, but not limited to, quantum science, water and aging” (emphasis mine) in a crucial passage under the heading “Transformational Research”.  This welcome modification to the controversial original formulation brings the document closer to embracing the full variety of research that is done on our campus, but members in certain disciplines will still find themselves searching for their proper place within the vision of UW described in this SMA. 
Finally, the MTCU imposed strict length limits on these SMAs, which limits the depth of the proposals.  With one’s expectations adjusted accordingly, it represents a palatable and at times even eloquent expression of what makes UW different, clearly destined for a political audience.

Scheduling Feedback

Please send your feedback to the Registrar’s Office on the simulated schedule that was distributed via e-mail in the waning days of last term.  You may do this in three principal ways:

  1. Fill in the survey that was distributed along with the simulated schedule materials.
  2. Send an e-mail directly to the Registrar’s Office regarding the simulation:
  3. Contact the scheduling representative of your department.
The new extended deadline for feedback is 13 January. 
That’s all for now!  In the upcoming weeks, we will feature more fulsome assessments of the new scheduling system, the results of the Digital Privacy Colloquium held on 4 December, and other news, as it always arises.
With best wishes for happiness and productivity for 2014!

See you next week!