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!

Random Reflections on MOOCS – Your Research in the Form of a Kitten

George Freeman, FAUW Past President

What a wonderful world that has comedians in it!  I say this because people sometimes ask what it’s like (from the point of view of an engineer in my case) to be involved with university politics through FAUW or its umbrella organizations (OCUFA and CAUT).  It’s really hard to explain but if you have seven minutes and thirty-four seconds to spare, you can actually sample the emotional side of the story via a satirical video entitled “The Expert (Short Comedy Sketch)”  by Lauris Beinerts which has swept through the gossip channels of the technology world this past week

To fully appreciate the video, watch it right to its end.  The basic premise is a meeting (“Our company has a new strategic initiative” ) of some marketing and business types with an expert in the drawing of red lines.  As the story starts, the expert is told “We need you to draw seven red lines.  All of them strictly perpendicular; some with green ink and some with transparent. Can you do that?”  It is the expert’s evolving attempts at rational opposition, and his ultimate stance, which seem so representative of universities and their evolving relationship to the political-industrial forces in society.
I’d like to postulate an Anderson scale (after the expert in the video clip). 
Let’s define early Anderson by his response of “To draw a ‘red line’ with green ink is – well if it is not exactly impossible, then it is pretty close to being impossible.”  Most faculty representatives to political bodies, myself included, look like early Andersons.  We believe in arguments based on fact, truth revealed though replicable proof.  Scholarship, in short.
Let’s define middle Anderson by his response of “OK. Let me draw you two perfectly perpendicular red lines, and I will draw the rest with transparent ink.”  Sounds like a good university administrator to me.  Saying close to what government and industry wants to hear but projected on the axes of what we believe possible or desirable.  Think Waterloo’s strategic plan, its strategic mandate agreement with the province, or our salary settlement under the ‘zero-zero’ directive.  At best, promoters and protectors of scholarship (and why good administrators must themselves be scholars).  Viewed by scholars as bending the truth half the time.

This leaves late Anderson, defined by his final response of “Of course I can. I can do anything. I can do absolutely anything.  I’m an expert!”  In the world of business and politics, people like experts to give solutions, not expose problems.  Pointing out that the space of feasible solutions is empty will often get you the look on the left – what I interpret as dreams deflated by facts so far from the listener’s comprehension that she can’t experience them as factual, only as disappointment in the speaker.  Naïve regarding scholarship and offended by its argumentative, exploratory flavour, in short.

Cuddled up to this domain of infeasible solutions seems to live a concentration of higher-education commentators and consultants.  Lately, they like to talk about big cost savings in university teaching.  Think HEQCO and its reportsThink Robert Dickeson and his program prioritizationsThink William Bowen and MOOCs.  I have some early-Anderson thoughts on Bowen’s and Dickeson’s books which I hope to write into posts.
Professor George Freeman

What about your research and the kittens?

The utterance which will not leave my head, the question to the red-line-drawing expert which prompts Anderson’s final response in the sketch, is “When you inflate the balloon, could you do it in the form of a kitten?”  I hope you’ve watched the video so you fully appreciate the balloon (“It’s red”) and the kitten (“Market research tells us our users like cute animals”).  I claim we can map the expert to a researcher, balloon inflation to a researcher made to align his or her field with a strategic direction imposed by someone else, and the kitten to research which must take a completely pre-specified form in terms of its conduct, presentation, and impact.  The research environment of 2014 in Ontario universities in a nutshell (unless you have early luck or your natural expertise is in one of the balloon-inflating areas, and you carefully follow a few pragmatic rules along the way).
Unfortunately, if your experts in lines must inflate balloons in the form of kittens, resource consumption, in both time and money goes up sharply.  Both in the research and in the balloon-accountability, kitten-measuring support staff.  One of the strangest aspects of university politics is that research is primarily assessed by how inefficiently it is done (numbers of dollars, researchers, papers, or citations) without any per-unit normalization.  Thus, this inefficiency looks good, is compared and rewarded.  Quality has a downward force acting on it.  Volume (cost) has an upward force acting on it.  How this ultimately plays out is obvious to anyone near my age who grew up watching the late-1970s Ford Motor Company or the Vietnam war.
What does any of this have to do with teaching and MOOCs, you might ask?
My observation would be that a true ‘university course of study’ is an extension of the scholarship world of the expert to include the evolving minds of students.  I would place this in juxtaposition with a simple ‘course taught at a university,’ i.e., the public mindset of a pre-existing body of knowledge moved into the student’s head by some actions on the part of very expensive experts, and then certified.  Something which is just a ‘course taught at a university’ is little better than a good book read in a university library – the university plays a very small part in it.  Full-scale automation might make economic sense there.  However, a true ‘university course’ depends heavily on scholarship and its supportive environment.
In my humble opinion, what we see happening with the balloons and
kittens is the space of scholarship being taken up by an unnecessarily large volume of formulaic research activity.  Little is left for the other reason for the universities’ existence, those evolving minds of the students.  This is squeezed over time into the hands of staff, non-research faculty, low-paid sessionals, or computers.  In a society increasingly reliant on innovation for prosperity, I think we want more true university courses, more of the scholarship space opened up to teaching and learning.  This needs a reward structure vastly different from the so-called ‘world class’ one being cemented into place now.