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?
We recognize that decisions about fall teaching are being made in an environment of uncertainty. We also recognize the need to balance instructor preferences with student experience. It is our understanding that decisions about fall instruction have largely been made at the faculty level, using a variety of decision-making models. While FAUW supports a de-centralized approach given the varying needs across campus, we ask for earlier and more effective communication and consultation with fall term instructors—and with FAUW—as decisions affecting faculty working conditions are made, to respect the collegial governance model of the university.
We appreciate that most* FAUW members have been given a fair degree of choice as to how they deliver their courses this fall, but faculty were asked to make these decisions without access to essential information, including:
Anticipated safety protocols (e.g., information on ventilation, social distancing, how classroom changes are handled in buildings with constrained hallways, the availability of asymptomatic rapid testing responsibility for disinfection, and responsibility for compliance enforcement).
Expected decision rules which will trigger a shift from in-person to online (e.g., infection and vaccination rates, whether classes might shift from in person to online and back to in person).
Anticipated support for various models (e.g., the availability of classroom technology to enable streaming, registrar and AccessAbility support for testing and exams, the availability of technical support for hybrid models).
Consideration of faculty workload for hybrid models which will accommodate both remote and in-person students simultaneously, in the same section (e.g., extra teaching credit, overload pay, or temporary reweighting to accommodate extra work).
We heard updates on some of these items at the virtual town hall on May 11, but course delivery decisions were due on May 7, and many aspects of our fall working conditions are still unclear.
FAUW asks for transparent communication and updates on Waterloo’s position regarding access to vaccinations for faculty, staff, teaching assistants, and students, as well as availability and protocols surrounding regular asymptomatic rapid testing. While we recognize that best practices continue to evolve and may change over time, we are aware of multiple initiatives at other institutions regarding testing and vaccine protocols, and infrastructure and teaching support, and ask to be kept informed of Waterloo’s evolving stance on these items.
We suggest that one way of achieving meaningful communication is by giving a member of the FAUW Executive Committee membership in key decision-making groups such as the newly announced Workforce Planning Task Force. We look forward to being more involved and better able to support and inform our members as we prepare to have more activity on campus.
*We have heard reports of some members, particularly lecturers, being pressured or forced to commit to in-person instruction for fall against their wishes, which is very concerning.
Here’s the good news: After much discussion at Senate and behind-the-scenes lobbying, theRegistrar’s Office is now scheduling synchronous meet times for fall 2020, as they normally would.
Synchronous = students and instructor interact online in real time. Asynchronous = weekly tasks and deadlines exist but there is no set class time.
The bad news is that at least one Faculty (maybe more) has opted not to use the Registrar’s Office (RO) to schedule synchronous activities, without appropriately engaging collegial bodies such as faculty council. FAUW believes this needs to change.
Why not scheduling synchronous activities centrally is a problem
It’s bad for students. When scheduling synchronous activities is left to individual instructors (as in at least one Faculty), it’s very easy to create conflicts for students. That’s one big reason we have centralized scheduling in the first place. In an already confusing, difficult time, it is also unfair to expect students who are enrolled in more than one Faculty to navigate different scheduling processes. Further, instructors surveying students about their availability may inadvertently violate student privacy and confidentiality in a way that the RO won’t because the RO has existing systems in place to optimize scheduling without compromising student privacy.
It’s more work for instructors. Instructors are already working as hard as they can so let’s not ask them to do scheduling work that others normally do on their behalf (and are still employed to do).
It violates academic freedom. We are concerned thatwithholding central supports from instructors with the aim of constraining their pedagogical choices sets a worrisome precedent and risks violating instructors’ academic freedom to teach as they judge fit using the resources that are available.
It undermines collegial governance. Academic decisions of this type need to be made collegially through bodies established for such deliberation and decision-making. This circumvention of collegial governance is even more concerning given the substantial debate that colleagues had about this matter at Senate—the University’s highest collegial body and indeed the body charged in the University of Waterloo Act with making academic decisions.
It’s possible: Despite their long history, universities aren’t immune to change. Digital technologies have fundamentally altered how people relate to factual information. Being resistant to commoditization, our teaching and research costs are mostly in personnel. Increasingly, research spans disciplinary boundaries and is collaborative. Global problems, especially with the environment, are becoming local and urgent. Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission charges us to better include Indigenous scholars and ways of knowing. The ever-growing body of scholarship on teaching and learning gives evidence as to how university teaching should evolve.
The university is always adapting and responding to challenges like these. Participation in the distinctive university apparatus called collegial governance affords faculty members influence in that process.
How collegial governance works at Waterloo
The University of Waterloo is organized on a
bicameral model. Loosely, this means that our Board of Governors looks after
the institution as a nonprofit corporation with an annual cash flow of about a billion
dollars, and our Senate looks after the institution as an educational community
of about 40,000 scholars (faculty, students, many staff).
It’s not a total separation of interests,
however. To manage finances and risk, our Board must know the higher-education
sector, its value and values, its trends, and Waterloo’s distinctive roles in
it. To manage academic programs and policies, our Senate must promote academic
initiatives that show an attractive cost-benefit and risk-reward tradeoff.
Tensions are part of the model: autonomy versus dependence, academic freedom
versus responsibility, individual versus group ambitions, etc.
On October 26, FAUW held a 60th anniversary discussion exploring the unique relationship between faculty and the administration at Waterloo, and presented our first Awards of Appreciation to honour members of the University community who have made real differences in the lives of faculty members.
Panelists Roman Dubinski (FAUW president 1970–71), David DeVidi (FAUW president 2007–09), Lynne Taylor (chief negotiator and board member 2014–16), and Ian Goulden (dean of mathematics 2010–15) described the evolution of faculty representation at Waterloo, from the early relationship characterized by the University’s “benign paternalism” (in Dubinski’s words), through three attempts to unionize in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, to the “honest conversation” of the current arrangement.
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
There are few (if any) other institutions that offer a 6-month sabbatical leave for tenure-track faculty members after their first contract.
UW offers 100% ownership to the creators of the intellectual property generated on our campus.
UW offers an automatic one-year delay on the tenure clock for those taking parental leave.
The consolidated daycare, with 160 spots, opened in early 2014, is a potent recruitment device for prospective faculty members with young families.
In my 22 months’ experience as FAUW President, I have had the opportunity to attend a number of meetings with my counterpart colleagues from other institutions at the provincial level under the auspices of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA – of which our own Kate Lawson is President) and at the federal level under the Canadian Association of University Teachers(CAUT). At these meetings one thing inevitably stands out to me in the starkest possible terms: how differently UW operates as compared to other institutions.
Generally speaking, the tone of interaction between faculty representatives elsewhere and their institutions is one of chronic mistrust and by-default antagonism. By contrast, UW manages to operate smoothly, with open and constructive dialogue on issues and concerns happening through well-recognized, well-respected and effective channels (e.g., Faculty Relations Committee (FRC), FAUW’s Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee (AF&T)).
In my experience observing other large organizations both academic and non-academic, institutions end up with the unions they deserve, initially as a result of poor management. UW somehow has avoided such pitfalls.
So, what makes UW operate so differently? I’ve been puzzling over this question and have the following speculations to offer, most at the intersection of faculty working conditions and financial considerations: