FAUW’s Priorities for 2018-19

—FAUW President Bryan Tolson with an update on what we’re working on right now and what’s coming up this year.

Welcome to a new academic year! I hope you all took some time off this summer. FAUW is gearing up for a new academic year and I want to quickly fill you in on the array of things we are working on—and to highlight two items that are timely for you to consider putting some thought into.

Performance evaluation addenda

First off, we are quickly approaching the deadline (October 15) for each department and school to update its Addendum to their Faculty Performance Evaluation Guidelines. One quick example of why this might be useful: FAUW thinks this is a reasonable place for departments to specify how teaching tasks are counted and/or what the normal teaching loads are for both tenured/ tenure-track faculty and lecturers in your department.

While you’re at it, make sure to change any reference to “course/teaching evaluations” to read “student course perception surveys” as per the decision of University Senate. Continue reading “FAUW’s Priorities for 2018-19”

A View of Academic Freedom and Top-ten-ness

—George Freeman, Associate Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering

The President’s Luncheon on Academic Freedom, held March 12, was the start of a great exploration, particularly if the university develops a serious interest in President Hamdullahpur’s vision around seeking to be a top-ten school, seen in his discussion document “Disrupting the 21st Century University, Imagining the University of Waterloo @2025” where it is expressed as the question “do we want to be recognized and respected as one of the best in the world?” [emphasis added].

This first meeting spoke to the general policies protecting academic freedom at Waterloo and focused mostly on aspects protecting our freedom to engage controversial ideas and disseminate controversial results. I take a much wider definition of academic freedom which includes all three of President Hamdullahpur’s “non-negotiable principles” around this topic: institutional autonomy, faculty independence, and academic freedom”. Although dismissable as just semantics, I believe it is important to not forget those institutional- and faculty-autonomy components. There’s a similar trap in the University of Waterloo Act, where our objects are “the pursuit of learning through scholarship, teaching and research within a spirit of free enquiry and expression.” It is too easy to group free enquiry and free expression under a common mental heading of “free talk” and forget that what it is we talk about has to come from someplace. Academic freedom in the large also protects that place (or spirit).

In my opinion, the history of scholarship demonstrates that it is extremely difficult to suppress ideas and their evidence-based evaluation forever. To me, academic freedom, in the freedom-of-expression sense, acts mostly to prevent long delays and prevent the messenger from being punished for the message. This protection of an environment free of recrimination and censorship is obviously important but not the whole story. In a policy sense, it admits to after-the-fact remedies for violations, something easy for us to contemplate.

Continue reading “A View of Academic Freedom and Top-ten-ness”

News From Your Board: March 22 Meeting Recap

—Peter Johnson, director for the Faculty of Environment

As we approach the end of the winter term, the FAUW Board of Directors met to discuss a variety of important issues. We discussed the agenda and process for the upcoming Spring General Meeting (April 5th) and reviewed our draft budget for the coming year, which will be presented to the membership at the General Meeting.

Many Board members attended and/or participated in the President’s Luncheon on Academic Freedom. As a result, we discussed this event and its outcomes in depth (see our blog post on the event for more details). Going forward, FAUW respects the efforts made to host this event and the issues and discussion that it raised, but ultimately there is still much work to be done to clarify how Academic Freedom is exercised on campus. Further events and discussions with administration will be very welcome.

The Board had a lengthy discussion about the issues raised at the President’s Advisory Committee on Student Mental Health forum and report. FAUW strongly supports many of the recommendations of this report and is working to provide advice to our members on how to better support student mental health.

We also reviewed several issues raised by individual members. We are always open to addressing specific issues, and receiving direct feedback from the membership, so please get in touch.

Upcoming events include the our annual tenure and promotion workshops, and the Spring General Meeting on April 5 in QNC 2502 from 11:30-1:30pm. Hope to see you there!

Notes from the President’s Luncheon on Academic Freedom

—Bryan Tolson, FAUW President

I want to thank everyone who attended the President’s Luncheon on Academic Freedom last week. For those who missed it, there was a summary in the Daily Bulletin last Friday and I’ve highlighted some key takeaways below. It was a compelling discussion with insightful questions from all, so thank you again to all who participated.

It’s clear that academic freedom is important to our members. It’s also clear that it’s a complicated issue, and I look forward to further discussion. Here are a few points from this event that I think are worth highlighting.

Continue reading “Notes from the President’s Luncheon on Academic Freedom”

Everybody’s Talking About Academic Freedom

Academic Freedom is a hot topic these days, and Waterloo is joining the conversation. An invitation went out today for all FAUW members and University senators to attend a campus roundtable discussion about academic freedom on March 12. The event is jointly presented by the administration and FAUW, and we look forward to meaningful dialogue about what academic freedom means for research, teaching, and service at Waterloo.

One of the panelists who will open the conversation is Shannon Dea, an associate professor in philosophy and women’s studies, a member of Waterloo’s senate, and FAUW’s vice president.

Shannon has recently started a blog, Daily Academic Freedom, to explore what academic freedom looks like across Canada and around the world.

From her first post:

My plan with the blog isn’t to write much about my own views on academic freedom. Rather, I will curate a collection of academic freedom resources from around the world. 

“This blog won’t be much fun for folks who want to yell about the Right or the Left, or heave long sighs about Kids These Days. But, with time, it will make possible handy one-stop-shopping for folks like me who are trying to develop a better understanding of academic freedom — what it is, why university scholars have it, and what responsibilities come with it. In that way, I hope that this blog will be a useful resource for those who seek to defend academic freedom.”

Shannon’s recent posts focus on comparing definitions of academic freedom at Canadian universities, starting with Waterloo. You might find this good background reading for the March 12 roundtable.

We encourage you to attend the event (there’s free lunch!), and to follow along with Shannon’s blog in the meantime.

News From Your Board: January 18 Meeting Recap

Peter Johnson, director for the Faculty of Environment
As winter term gets fully underway, the FAUW board met to share updates and discuss a number of important files.

First up was an update from lead negotiator Benoit Charbonneau. Meetings continue with the administration to find suitable common ground. If we don’t reach a settlement by February 1, we move on to mediation.

Next, Status of Women and Equity Committee (SWEC) member Nancy Worth brought forward terms of reference for the committee that refine and formalize its operating procedures and relationship with FAUW.

FAUW President Bryan Tolson and staff member Laura McDonald briefed the board on an academic freedom event that FAUW is planning with the administration. We are pleased with President Hamdullahpur’s plan to hold a campus-focused discussion to celebrate and bring clarity to the issue of academic freedom. You will receive an invitation to this event shortly.

Next we discussed what data the Office of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs (GSPA) collects about graduate student completion times, and to whom this data is provided. The GSPA wants to know if faculty members would find it helpful to receive this data, for self-reflection and so we can identify errors. Discussions are ongoing.

We had an extended discussion about FAUW’s participation in the University-wide Excellence Canada exercise. So far, we have not seen a clear role for us to play, but discussion will continue at the Council of Representatives meeting on February 13.

In a moment of reflection, the Board assessed our progress on the goals we generated at our September retreat. While some key goals have seen substantial progress, there are still tasks ahead for the Board and broader FAUW community, including a survey of our membership.

As always, we finished with a reminder of upcoming events, which you can find on our website.

And, as always, we welcome your feedback on any of the above issues. Leave a comment below, or get in touch with a Board or Council member!

So Why UW, Part 2

Happy first day of Spring term! Today, FAUW President David Porreca continues his list of the ways that UW operates far differently from other institutions, and how those ways contribute to our success.

6) An astute Board of Governors

UW has been blessed with a financial situation that has been much more favourable than other places. It is the responsibility of the Board of Governors to tend to such matters, and on this front, the Governors have been very successful in fulfilling their mandate.

7) A faculty-friendly working environment

Daffodils near the Dana Porter Library at the University of Waterloo. Credit: George Freeman
Credit: George Freeman
  1. There are few (if any) other institutions that offer a 6-month sabbatical leave for tenure-track faculty members after their first contract.
  2. UW offers 100% ownership to the creators of the intellectual property generated on our campus.
  3. UW offers an automatic one-year delay on the tenure clock for those taking parental leave.
  4. The consolidated daycare, with 160 spots, opened in early 2014, is a potent recruitment device for prospective faculty members with young families.

8) UW prosperity ⇔ local prosperity feedback loop

UW has both contributed to and benefited immensely from the prosperity of local business.

9) Distinctive programs

UW shines in many ways, but the following are particularly potent recruitment tools for top student talent at all levels:

  1. We all know it already, but UW’s Cooperative Education is distinctive and valuable. 
  2. UW has a full-on Faculty of Mathematics, which is a rarity in the academic world (as compared to Math being merely a department that is part of a larger faculty).  This creates a high-profile entry point whose benefits are not limited to the Faculty of Mathematics. Indeed, I know a good many extremely talented students who entered UW in Math, finished their degrees, and carried on at UW for second degrees in other faculties where they’ve become extremely successful.

10) Sheer dumb luck

If luck, like many other natural things, is likely distributed along a bell curve, then UW would appear to occupy a spot somewhere on the thin, right-hand end of the graph.  This may be the result of the concatenation of the nine reasons listed above, but sometimes, both people and institutions just are lucky. At the very least, it is a factor that cannot be excluded!

The observations above are not meant to paint an exclusively rosy picture of our institution. It has its fair share of wrinkles like any other. In a perfect world, for example, FAUW wouldn’t need an Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee.

I write the above from my own observations and involvement with FAUW, but this platform is not a panopticon. I’m certain to be missing things, both good and bad. It remains our responsibility as faculty members – especially those with tenure – to stand up and defend the good elements of our institution as well as fix any problems we see.

Principles of academic freedom, collegial governance and equity must be actively lived to have any real meaning, and if a university cannot embody in its operations the ideals of a society, we will no longer have a civil society worth defending.

Follow FAUW’s blog to keep up with what’s going on, and feel free to be in touch with any concerns or, better yet, become involved in FAUW’s activities. We need all the critically-minded help we can get to keep UW the outstanding place that it is!