COVID Coping Strategies: Triaging Spring Term

As our members adjust to working remotely, we’ll be featuring strategies that departments and faculty members are using to manage the transition. If you have something to share or want to suggest a person or department to feature, send a brief pitch to laura.mcdonald@uwaterloo.ca.

This is a guest post from Johanna Wandel, FAUW Board member and Associate Professor in Geography and Environmental Management.


The past couple of weeks have challenged us in ways most of us never anticipated. We’re dealing with moving teaching online, fielding questions from students when we don’t have the answers yet, or both—on top of the other stressors and disruptions brought about by the pandemic. Academic units are making tough decisions on very short timelines, with limited information. I’m an associate chair (undergraduate) in a medium-sized unit, and want to share how we’re making some of our decisions.

Course scheduling as of two weeks ago

Undergraduate course offerings are firmed up almost six months before the start of a given term. Once students pre-enroll, the registrar’s office projects demand for courses based on previous years’ data and units decide if they need to add or remove lab sections, increase or decrease course caps, and so on. Once scheduling runs (around the middle of the previous term) rooms and times are added, at which point it becomes much more difficult to change class sizes or eliminate/add a lab section. So that’s where we all were for Spring 2020 as of early March.

Enter COVID-19

In a very short time, we’ve all been asked not only for a plan for finishing our current courses remotely, but to move the entire Spring term online. This week, all the admin teams are asked to indicate, for every course on the Spring schedule: Will it go ahead? If yes, synchronously or asynchronously? Is there a change to the cap? It was clear to my unit that we’d have to triage: Which courses can effectively meet their learning outcomes in an alternate delivery format, and which can’t? The decisions we all have to make must balance the need for a meaningful learning experience for our students with what we can realistically do. Those of us in admin roles also need to consider students who need specific courses to graduate, prerequisite sequencing, and course caps—some courses can handle larger class sizes if we go online, but others cannot.

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February at FAUW

Maybe it was the Valentine’s Day candy, or maybe it was the coming long weekend, but we got through the February 13 Board meeting in good time. Here are some of the highlights:

  1. We debriefed the recent Council of Representatives meeting. One topic at that meeting was the importance of Faculty Performance Evaluation Guidelines and departmental addenda. These documents are the place to look for information about what’s a “normal” workload in your department, how service is evaluated, or what counts as teaching. Right now is a good time to start working on updating those documents if they need it (new versions must be approved by October 15). Talk to your Council member for more information. Here are some suggestions for things to include:
    • An explicitly defined normal teaching load
    • The expected/normal supervision load
    • A statement acknowledging different types of teaching and teaching responsibilities
    • The ability to submit peer reviews of teaching and solicited comments or letters
    • That participation in CTE and other workshops counts toward teaching
    • The ability to use evidence not just from the classroom and qualitative evidence
    • Direction that student surveys should be considered with caution
  1. We noted some confusion among members about how benefits plan decisions are made. The Pension & Benefits Committee decides what’s covered in our health and dental plans, and that committee is made up of members from all the represented employee groups (FAUW, the Staff Association, and CUPE) and the Retirees Association, plus representatives from the University administration and Board of Governors. FAUW has three out of 13 votes on the committee.
  2. We heard updates from our rep on the Copyright Advisory Committee. If you have questions about copyright in your classes or your own work, read this interview with Lauren Byl, Copyright and Licensing Librarian, to find out how to get answers!
  3. We cleared up an issue about travel to Cuba. University Finance sent a memo last July stating that “international financial sanctions prevent the University from making or receiving payment for products or services related, either directly or indirectly” to certain countries including Cuba and Iran. We had serious concerns about how this might limit opportunities for research collaboration and questions about why the University was implementing American sanctions (Canada doesn’t have sanctions against Cuba). 
    We now have confirmation that the University can “reimburse an employee for travel expenses related to countries subject to sanctions, provided that the employee’s travel reimbursement is to a Canadian bank account and assuming that the travel to that particular country has not otherwise been prohibited under University of Waterloo Policy.” If you encounter any difficulties with claims for travel to countries subject to sanctions, let a FAUW Board or staff member so that we can follow up.”
  4. After hearing that definite term lecturers did not receive an email about nominations for University Senate, we reaffirmed, again, that, lecturers are regular faculty (and eligible to sit on Senate). “Regular faculty” almost exactly overlaps with “faculty represented by FAUW.” Here’s the short version: Regular faculty = lecturers and professors hired for at least one year, except research profs and adjuncts.
    • The slightly more complicated version, as defined in Policy 76 (Faculty Appointments) is that regular faculty means all lecturer and professorial rank faculty with appointments one year or longer, including clinical faculty (e.g. a clinical lecturer or clinical associate professor), but not including any faculty who have some other qualifier in their title to designate a non-regular appointment, such as “research,” “adjunct,” “visiting,” or “special.” (Sessional instructors are not regular faculty; they aren’t defined anywhere, but they all have special or adjunct appointments and are hired on contracts shorter than one year.) We’ll have more on this in a blog post from the Lecturers Committee soon.
  5. As we reported in the fall, the Media Resources office and preview room closed when the person staffing the office retired. The resources are now available through the IST Service Desk located in the Davis Centre Library. We brought concerns about this to the University, and have now heard that things are staying essentially the same. There is a new viewing room available at the DC library. To request new materials, email media.loans@uwaterloo.ca. The Associate Vice President, Academic has promised to keep an eye on this, and we will too. Let us know if the office closure creates problems for you.

Unplugging – How four professors successfully disconnect from work

A couple of months ago, FAUW hosted a panel on how faculty members can “unplug” when away from work. With reading week upon us, we thought we’d share some of the insights from that event.

These are not pie-in-the-sky ideas dreamed up by productivity bloggers or people who don’t sleep. These are real methods for protecting your time practiced by professors at UWaterloo who are approximately as busy as you are.

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The Twelve Days of Performance Review

It’s that time of year—the time when faculty members at Waterloo start thinking about writing their annual performance review documents and putting together their files. In this spirit, the FAUW Equity Committee offers twelve tips to help you think about equity as an essential part of this process.

A title card with mildly festive graphics: holly, mistletoe, etc.

On the first day of performance review season, collaborate with members of your own department to demystify the review process, especially for new faculty members. All APRs are local; what someone does in another department is probably not the same in yours. Consider starting a sharing circle: pool APR reports, with or without the numbers attached, so that you can get a feel for the genre. Pay it forward. Mentor those junior to you.

On the second day of performance review season, focus on your teaching effectiveness in the full knowledge that student questionnaires correlate principally with non-instructional factors (scheduling, student interest in the topic, grade expectations, and the like).

The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) states unequivocally:

“Using SQCTs [student questionnaires on courses and teaching] for performance evaluation penalizes women, racialized and LGBTQ2S+ faculty, and faculty with disabilities. These faculty are also more likely to be the target of harassment in the anonymous comments sections of the questionnaires. Further, using SQCTs for performance evaluation risks undermining effective teaching and intellectual diversity.”

To cite this report in your own performance review documentation:
Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations. “Report of the OCUFA Student Questionnaires on Courses and Teaching Working Group.” February 2019. https://ocufa.on.ca/assets/OCUFA-SQCT-Report.pdf

On the third day of performance review season, start a broader discussion at the department level. Every department has guiding documents that outline how to evaluate performance. Share the recent arbitration ruling at Ryerson University (Ryerson University v. The Ryerson Faculty Association, 2018) that student evaluations of teaching via course questionnaires are valuable instruments for “captur[ing] student experience” but cannot be “used to measure teaching effectiveness for promotion or tenure.”

Or talk about how the Department of Psychology at Waterloo decided not to use student evaluations of teaching in their review process, citing the bias inherent in these evaluations. This effort was rejected at the decanal level, but maybe we just need more departments to take a principled stand. Consider citing the OCUFA document (see: day two) in your department’s review documentation. Ask what other sources of bias might exist in your department’s process.

On the fourth day of performance review season, your department gets a special gift: a junior faculty member on the performance review committee! Rotating junior members of the department onto the committee is important because it will pull back the curtain for these colleagues, but also because it can be unfair to junior faculty members to be evaluated only by senior colleagues. The Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) between FAUW and the University delineates that there must be five members to assist the Chair on this committee (see section 13.5.6), but does not specify rank or other details about these members.

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UW responds to the climate crisis

From paper straws to the “Green New Deal” to the arrival of Greta Thunberg in North America, the climate crisis is a regular topic in the national and international media. But you might not know how UWaterloo is responding. Here’s a high-level overview about the status of the University’s responsible investing commitments, a faculty member’s role in the City of Kitchener declaring a climate emergency, and the September 27 global climate strike.

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What the Okanagan Charter means for Waterloo faculty

Dan Brown, FAUW Treasurer

In October, 2018, President Hamdullahpur signed the Okanagan Charter at a mental health forum about the status of the 36 recommendations of the President’s Advisory Committee on Student Mental Health (PAC-SMH) report. At our general meeting in April, we heard from Campus Wellness about some of the ways the Charter is being implemented (download the general meeting slides).

Let’s dig a little deeper into what the Charter is and how it might affect faculty at Waterloo.

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An opportunity to support the Wet’suwet’en people

A message from FAUW’s Indigenization Working Group:

In recent weeks, hundreds of scholars from around the world have signed on to an open letter expressing support for BC’s Wet’suwet’en people and calling on the Canadian Government and the RCMP to cease pipeline work on Unist’ot’en Territory. Read the letter here. If you so choose, you can add your voice as a scholar.

Note: the Indigenization Working Group is an ad hoc committee of FAUW. Its support of the open letter should not be construed as FAUW’s position. Visit our website to learn more about the working group and about Indigenization at Waterloo.