The UW Staff Association has called out recent University communications for “a lack of clarity and compassion for employees.” This comment is a symptom of deeper issues about valuing employee wellbeing and maintaining a long tradition of collegial consultation. The results of the University’s recent survey about how employees felt about returning to on-campus work make clear that this sentiment is widespread. President Vivek Goel acknowledged in the February 2 President’s Forum the administration has work to do on ensuring that employees feel heard.
One way the administration could improve on this front is to consult with employee groups the way that it is supposed to. We wonder, for instance, if UW might have ordered sufficient Rapid Antigen Tests and N95 masks, as some other universities did, if real employee consultation had been in place for the last twelve months.
Communication is not consultation
In response to our request for meaningful consultation with faculty on return-to-campus decision making, the administration said: “Timelines and procedures for normal long-term planning – where we can consult very broadly in open forum discussion and where planning decisions can be widely known before coming effective – are not well suited to decision-making in this environment.”
If “normal long-term-planning” procedures cannot be respected because of “this environment,” it makes one wonder why other norms—teaching loads, class sizes, performance reviews, student course surveys—proceed as usual. Does “this environment” refer to the pandemic that has been ongoing for almost two years? Faculty members have been compelled to find ways to make their instruction as “well suited” as possible to these changed and changing circumstances. At what point will decisions related to teaching again be the result of authentic consultation with faculty members?
Further, this justification does not explain why FAUW and other officially recognized representatives of employees have not been consulted. We have asked to be included or consulted on decisions since the beginning of the pandemic. We have instead been promised frequent updates, which we have not consistently received. We are occasionally given a day’s notice about announcements. But that is communication, not consultation.
At the February 2 President’s Forum, the Provost asserted that the administration is hearing what faculty are saying, through campus leaders. But this kind of ad hoc consultation with a select few is not the appropriate approach.
FAUW is the voice of faculty on campus
FAUW is the voice of faculty on campus with regard to our terms and conditions of employment. Our Board of Directors was elected by members to be this voice. We hear from members every day, including those who aren’t comfortable disclosing personal circumstances or sharing their hesitation about teaching in person with their chairs, or who don’t see the point in raising concerns because no one’s listening. FAUW has representatives in every department. We hear what faculty across the country are experiencing through CAUT and OCUFA. We have the pulse of faculty. Moreover, FAUW is the officially recognized representative of regular UWaterloo faculty with regard to working conditions. Faculty Relations Committee exists to be a venue for consultation about issues affecting faculty, so that issues are taken care of as they arise and we don’t get to this point of frustration.
Another important—and particularly relevant—way in which faculty (and other employees) are supposed to participate in decision making is through the Joint Health and Safety Committees, to which FAUW appoints representatives and which have not been included in meaningful consultations before decisions were made over the last two years, as they should’ve been.
The state of collegial governance
Both the Canadian Association of University Teachers and Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations have been raising the alarm about the erosion of shared governance during the pandemic and calling on universities to ensure that the appropriate employee representatives, such as Joint Health and Safety Committees, are consulted on return-to-campus plans.
Collegial governance means that the collegium of scholars (i.e., the faculty) governs the university, especially when it comes to decisions about academic matters in places like university Senates, Faculty councils, and departments.
Waterloo has historically taken this concept of shared governance further: Without a collective agreement, many elements of faculty working conditions and terms of employment are also supposed to be decided in a collegial manner, in the work of policy drafting committees and at the bi-weekly meetings of Faculty Relations Committee. Faculty Relations Committee, in theory, has equal representation and equal say from both FAUW and the University. We explored the benefits (and potential dangers) of this model at our 60th anniversary event a few years ago. At that time, the consensus was that the “Waterloo way” was working pretty well for everyone. But if the administration is no longer treating Faculty Relations Committee as a consultative committee, as our Memorandum of Agreement stipulates, then how is this collegial process supposed to continue to work?