People You Should Know: Lori Curtis, Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee

Our “People You Should Know” blog series interviews key people and offices at the University of Waterloo so you can make the most of their services. 

We’re kicking off this series with Lori Curtis. Lori is the new chair of the Academic Freedom & Tenure Committee (AF&T), which helps faculty members at Waterloo with a wide range of workplace questions and problems. We sat down for an interview in her office in November.

This is Lori Curtis, Academic Freedom & Tenure Committee chair

FAUW: Lori, What is the Academic Freedom & Tenure Committee?

Lori: It’s senior faculty members who can act as an academic colleague for other faculty—a peer who knows the academic situation that you’re in. They can attend meetings with you, help you work through issues, or just listen.

We get a lot of questions on tenure, promotion, and contract renewal. We also, unfortunately, talk to faculty who are having issues with other faculty members.

What do you bring to this role?

I have an eclectic background. I used to be a nurse, I’ve worked in government, and in a couple of universities. I’ve worked in both unionized and non-unionized environments so I can talk people through the difference between us and a unionized organization.

I think I bring a bit of logic to academia. Sometimes academics haven’t worked outside the university environment, and I don’t want to say they don’t quite understand the real world, but sometimes they don’t quite understand the real world. I also bring a bit of experience with mental health work.

What is it about this work that you’re passionate about?

I like to help people. Academics have relatively good jobs and we’re paid relatively well, but there are still marginalized people within academia. Everyone should be treated well and equitably, and at AF&T we try to get that done.

If we ensure good policies, and that people follow policy, we’ll have a better workplace. If we have a good workplace—and a collegial workplace—we don’t necessarily need to be unionized.

“We’re here to help people, and we’re here to make good policy.”

What surprises you in this role?

Everybody here is smart, but sometimes when intelligent people are having issues, they don’t sit back and think about things logically. That surprises me.

Another thing is that, as jobs have been harder to come by, we’re getting more short-term contracts. People don’t think about the fact that when their chair or dean or whoever says, “if you do this it’ll look good down the road,” it doesn’t mean they’re somehow being promised a job down the road. People need to keep this in mind.

It’s also surprising to me how much more of a business and legal stance the university administration is taking over time. That’s partly the government’s fault; we’ve been through cutbacks for a long time, but I’m not sure where all the legality’s coming from; historically Universities have operated in a collegial manner.

What is the most important thing you want faculty to know about your role?

That we’re not a union. Some people think FAUW is pushing for everybody to make the same salary and do the same thing—some unionized universities are like that and some aren’t—but that’s not what we do. We’re here to help people, and we’re here to make good policy.

Just about everything in a unionized shop moves forward very quickly to a grievance. We try to work things out informally and if we can’t, then we do have the grievance route; a small proportion of cases actually go to a grievance.

People just need to know: If they need help of any kind, come and see us. We will try to help or suggest other places that they might be able to get help.

“I think physical labour is good when you sit in an office all day.”

What research projects are you working on right now?

I wish I had time to do research! My focus in research is typically marginalized populations, women and children. I’m on three projects right now. One looks at what effects the aging population is likely to have on future economic conditions, mainly returns on investments and thus pensions. In particular, I’m looking at how we need to change policy to make women better off as they age.

Another project examines the relationship between trade and health. For example, Ontario has moved away from industry to more service sector jobs and we’re asking what that’s doing to our health. I also work with some nutritionists who are trying to increase the nutrition status of seniors in hospitals.

Academics are famously overworked. How do you get your work done?

I’m old school; I just work hard. My colleagues use much more technology than I do, and I probably could be more productive if I learned to be less of a Luddite, but it’s hard when you’re so busy that you can’t even take the time to learn! I don’t watch much TV either. I’m not sure if that makes you more productive or just a workaholic.

What do you do to stay healthy?

I jog when it’s nice out. I walk a lot. I play tennis. I tried to get into golf but it is very time consuming, so that’s for retirement. I garden in the summertime. I think physical labour is good, particularly when you sit in an office all day.

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