Work-Life and Work-Work Balance in 2018: Winter Study Days

 

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Happy 2018 everyone. One of my resolutions this year is to try to find better work-life balance. As an academic, I also believe I should try to improve my work-work balance, ensuring I’m giving the appropriate time to my teaching, research, and service activities. Like most resolutions, turning those intentions into actions is easier said than done.

As FAUW President, I want to see all UW faculty find the appropriate work-life and work-work balance. What that is for each of you is individual and different. I imagine that, to most of us, ideal solutions would include a 36-hr day or cloning ourselves. But there are realistic actions we can take and I want to encourage all of you to do three things in the hopes of improving your work-life and/or work-work balance in 2018:

  1. Make sure the week of February 19–23 is in your calendar as ‘Reading Week’ or ‘Winter Term Study Days’ or ‘Spring Break’. Additionally, to ensure marital bliss, I also strongly suggest those of with families block off February 19 as something called ‘Family Day’.
  2. Plan to do what you want to do on Reading Week! Say no to other things in order to make this happen.
  3. Think twice about scheduling any type of committee/service meetings during Reading Week and maybe even cancel them.

Continue reading “Work-Life and Work-Work Balance in 2018: Winter Study Days”

A Fall Break at UW?

by: Bryan Tolson, FAUW Vice President

“Should classes start on the first Thursday after Labour Day to allow for two additional days off in the fall term?”
Our undergraduates said yes in their November referendum (74% of roughly 20% of eligible voters according to the Daily Bulletin).
My answer to the question above is no.  Starting the term earlier negatively impacts my mental health and my work-life balance. I’m not saying I don’t care about student mental health and well-being.  I certainly do and I think there are means to improve these things for students (see a few paragraphs below). My point is that we need to start this Fall Break discussion by realizing that UW has to balance the perceived improvement to undergraduate student mental health and well-being with the perceived degradation of mental health and well-being to other UW community members such as faculty, staff and graduate students.
The reason UW does not currently have a Fall Break, and would be justified in continuing with this approach, is very simple: Co-op. UW flexibility to accommodate a Fall Break is incredibly constrained, unlike any of the 14 Ontario universities that currently have a Fall Break, by our massive Co-op program, which involves more than half our full-time undergraduates (>60%) and thus has our campus buzzing over the summer.  Providing the co-op program means that a large proportion of faculty members, staff and graduate student TAs are committed to lectures, tutorials, labs and proctoring and then grading exams May through mid-August.  
Based on my personal experience of teaching in almost every spring term since I have been at UW, I can tell you that it is quite limiting to have to plan a family vacation for the final two weeks of August or the first week of September. This is even more frustrating when holiday plans sometimes need to wait until the spring final exam schedule is released in mid-June. 

However, I don’t have it as bad as lecturers who typically teach all three terms in a calendar year. Their only current dependable opportunity to take a two week or longer holiday not over Christmas (they have 4 weeks of holidays to take) is the period between spring exams ending and the start of the fall term. There are also UW staff and faculty who choose to take family holidays during orientation week (week of Labour Day) with the rationale that this is the only dependable non-teaching week outside of December when their family can take a week long holiday that only requires four days of vacation time.  

Perhaps more UW staff and faculty with children at home use the week of Labour Day to deal with the stress of transitioning the family into new routines for the new school year as that is the week their kids return to school.  Adding the work stress of the start of term at UW to that of an already stressful week at home is not very attractive.  For all these reasons, it is not acceptable in my mind to further reduce the potential vacation period at the end of the summer by starting the fall term on Thursday after Labour Day.   
After ruling out an earlier start to the fall term, perhaps the next option the campus would consider is Sunday exams.  Students didn’t answer to this option/question but my answer is again no.  This is not for religious reasons.  Sunday happens to be the only day of the week that I can currently count on having no mandated commitments and thus plan family gatherings for the Christmas season in advance.  Faculty and graduate student TAs all deserve to count on having one such commitment free day a week in December. Faculty and graduate student TAs are already required to work a few Saturdays a year without overtime and I personally think that is fine.     
As I mentioned earlier, I do care about student mental health and well-being and so we should talk about ways to improve this. Here are two approaches that do not require a Fall Break
  1. Follow the advice of a wise student-senator who suggested we just have a 24-48 hr moratorium on deliverables and exams immediately after the Thanksgiving long-weekend.  This is easy in my view and makes complete sense.  We should let the students decompress and not have to work over that weekend.
  2. Use the new campus scheduling software to maximize efficiency of final exam scheduling and constrain the system so that students never write two exams in one day.  While it is entirely plausible that this is not feasible, our campus won’t know for sure until this is tested.  We could even consider melting one of the Columbia Ice sheets to make available more large scale final exam writing space. 

      If the above improvements are not enough and a Fall Break must happen then how about having the break only when the scheduling of Statutory Holidays during the September-December are favourable? Why not just change UW guidelines on the pre-exam study days to say only that there must be a two day break (weekend or weekday, but not statutory holiday) between last day of classes and first day of final exams [actually I think this just partially happened at Nov. Senate meeting – see the minutes, pg 27]? This is arguably better than the current guidelines, which can sometimes yield only a 48 hour study period like this term while in other terms students have 96 hours to study before their first final.


      What about squeezing the final exam period into a 12-day instead of 14-day stretch?  Note that both of these stretches will usually cover two non-exam writing Sundays and so students with perfectly spaced exams would on average go from writing an exam every 2.8 days to every 2.4 days (see #2 above for feasibility assessment of perfectly spaced exams). 

      In fact, the spring term exam period is only 11 days of exams while the other terms have 12 days of
      exams. If the exam scheduling could be made to work over 11 days, why not move to 11 days of exam writing in all terms? One way to squeeze the exam period without having to rely on the scheduling system software would be to increase the number of exam time slots from four to five per day. This is achievable by changing the first exam time to start at 8 am, moving to only 30 minutes in between exam times and then finishing the last exam at 10:30 pm.
      I believe UW can find the right balance on this issue but it will not be achieved by implementing a Fall Break in the way the students voted for. I’d like to think that a faculty referendum on this issue is not necessary. But if it is, perhaps this question is appropriate:
      “Should classes start on the first Thursday after Labour Day thus, shortening the period between the end of the spring term exam period and the start of the fall term by two working days?”

      FAUW Issues Update

      David Porreca, FAUW president

      It has been an extremely busy start to the Fall term.  Now that we are at the mid-way point, it is time to provide you, dear reader, with an update as to what has been keeping us at FAUW on our toes over the past several weeks.

      ADDS status

      The task force on the Approved Doctoral Dissertation Supervisor status regulations is pursuing its work with a view to reporting to the Faculty Relations Committee and the Graduate Student Relations Committee in November.  We are looking at solutions to ensure good graduate supervision that meets students’ needs while addressing the manifold concerns with how the current ADDS policy is communicated, applied and enforced.  At FAUW’s request, the Provost’s Office has written to each individual faculty member who has been hired in the past 6 years to inform them of the current policy, and equivalent language has been included in employment letters for those colleagues hired this past year.

      Since doctoral dissertation supervisors can belong to a number of different categories of faculty members (e.g., visiting, clinical, tenure-track, tenured at UW, hired with tenure from elsewhere), the eventual policy would need to be formulated in such a way as to address the issues relating specifically to each one.

      New AF&T chair

      I am very pleased to announce that our colleague Christopher Small from Statistics and Actuarial Science had kindly agreed to replace Peter Van Beek as the Chair of FAUW’s Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee when the latter ends his term of office at the end of August 2014.  The AF&T Chair is a challenging position that can have an enormously positive impact on the careers of our members, and we at FAUW are very pleased that Christopher has expressed such keenness to take on the role.

      Athletics

      Our blog post from September 9 highlighted some of the issues relating to athletics that affect faculty members’ working environment.  New concerns have come to light in the meantime:

        University of Waterloo Physical Activities Complex

      1. There is no controlled access to the change rooms (e.g., turnstiles), which is commonplace in most reputable athletics facilities.
      2. All staff members who dispense towels and oversee the (otherwise) uncontrolled access to the change rooms must walk through the men’s change room area in order to gain access to their office space.
      3. Upon examination of the floor plan of the PAC, it turns out that the female change room is about ½ the size of the men’s. Unless there is a demonstrable difference in usage rates between the two groups, this layout is evidently problematic from an equity perspective.
      4. A rough estimate sees 1/3 of the lockers in the men’s change room being broken and unusable, and another 1/3 being unused (those with the locks upside down). In other words, the space is under-used by a substantial margin. The lockers are in a deplorable condition, and we should all be grateful that campus ambassadors do not take visitors through the change rooms.

      In light of the above, the Faculty Association is pushing for renovations to the PAC that would

      • Restore separate change rooms for faculty and staff
      • Replace the lockers with new equipment
      • Maintain safe access to the emergency exits
      • Ideally, address the concern over equity

      If all groups of stakeholders – faculty (FAUW), staff (UWSA), graduate students (GSA), undergraduate students (Feds) and the university administration (via Athletics or the Provost’s Office) – could come together to fund such renovations, all the stated groups would benefit at a modest cost to each.

      Also, feedback from female colleagues as to the state of the women’s change rooms at the PAC would be greatly appreciated.  Please comment below or e-mail the FAUW president at dporreca@uwaterloo.ca.

      Best practices in hiring

      FAUW’s Status of Women and Equity Committee (SWEC) produced a 6-page report on “Best Practices in Hiring” for faculty members. This document has received endorsement by Deans’ Council and will be presented to the Executive Council of the university in late November. Recognition of the need for such a document at those high levels of university administration is an encouraging sign to be sure, as long as we eventually see proportional corresponding action.

      Grad House memberships

      Some of you have been asking about how faculty memberships at the Grad House work. Henry Ensley, manager of the Grad House, has written a letter explaining how it all works.

      Instructor evaluations

      FAUW is being consulted on what shape we would like to see course evaluations take in the future. Discussions will include student representatives and qualified staff from CTE. If you have strong feelings or ideas you’re willing to share about course evaluations, please comment below or e-mail the FAUW president at dporreca@uwaterloo.ca.

      OCUFA Queen’s Park Lobby Day

      UW’s Kate Lawson (OCUFA President) and David Porreca (FAUW President) met with four local MPPs on Wednesday 23 October at Queen’s Park: Ted Arnott (PC – Wellington–Halton Hills); Catherine Fife (NDP – Kitchener–Waterloo); Rob Leone (Cambridge) and Hon. John Milloy (Kitchener Centre). We had four basic messages to deliver to our representatives:

      1. That the province needs to fund an independent study on the working conditions of contract academic staff across the province in order to help resolve long-standing concerns about their job precariousness, lack of real academic freedom and potential for exploitation.
      2. That the province needs to provide temporary solvency relief to university sector pension plans for those institutions that need it.  We had been asking for a 1-year extension of such relief in order to give enough time to OCUFA to complete its study on university-sector pension plans. Much to our relief, however, in the middle of our meeting sessions, news came out that the province had granted a 3-year window of solvency relief.
      3. That the province needs to restore funding to its faculties of education. This question did not concern UW as much, so I shall not belabour it here.
      4. That the province need not incentivize differentiation between universities in the province because institutions of higher education are already plenty differentiated as it is, from small liberal arts colleges to the University of Toronto, with UW standing out – among other things – for its long-standing commitment to the co-op stream and for having a full Faculty of Mathematics.

      Our messages were well-received, in particular, the first point, with members from all three parties agreeing to request such a study from the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities.

      Scheduling

      FAUW is anxiously awaiting the results of the latest simulation of the new scheduling system, as discussed in last week’s post by Bryan Tolson.

      Senate bylaws

      The Secretariat has announced plans to undertake a full-scale revision of the Senate bylaws. The first phase of this initiative is restricted to housekeeping changes, but revisions to Section 5 (selection of members of the Senate) are being left for last as they are more likely to be substantive. These revisions require great vigilance to ensure that nothing deleterious to our working lives as faculty members happens as a result of the proposed changes.  Faculty senators are encouraged to exercise active vigilance when these documents become available for consideration.

      UW’s numbered policies

      The Secretariat is also undertaking a full-scale multi-phased revision of all 69 of UW’s numbered policies (still listed as 1-77, with some gaps).  The first phase will involve housekeeping changes (e.g., regularizing and updating the names of buildings and offices that are mentioned in the policies), but later phases will also involve substantive changes.  Through the Faculty Relations Committee, the approval of the Faculty Association will be necessary for any changes that are to be made to Class F, FS and A policies.  FAUW plans to devote substantial time and energy to make sure that any changes are favourable to faculty members’ interests.  The numbered guidelines and procedures will also be subject of an eventual analogous revision.

      Work-Life Balance Report update

      The joint FAUW/Provost’s Office Work-Life Balance Report that was presented to Senate back in February 2013 is becoming integrated purposefully into the “Value System” focus area of UW’s newly released (but-not-yet-fully-Senate-approved) Strategic Plan.  FAUW’s Status of Women and Equity Committee produced a “Compassionate Care and Bereavement Leave” report that will be considered in conjunction with the WLB report at the same level.

      Event reminders

      Please mark your calendars for the following events:

      Privacy Colloquium: Wednesday, December 4, 2 – 5 in M3 1006, with reception to follow.
      Fall General Meeting: Monday, December 9, 11-1, Location TBA. Light lunch provided

      Burning Issues Update & Introducing the New Board of Directors 2013-14

      David Porreca, FAUW President

      This week’s post will accomplish two things: bring you up to date on some of the outstanding issues that have been of concern to our members this year, and also to introduce the members of the Faculty Association board for next year.

      Burning Issues Update

      Covered, secure bicycle parking

      As a pilot project, UW is looking into and costing out the installation of secure, covered bicycle parking in the vicinity of several buildings on campus. Any suggestions for good examples of existing secure, covered bicycle storage would be greatly appreciated.

      FORE Research Accounts access

      Dennis Huber informed us that a new user interface would be installed on the FORE accounting system to increase useability and user-friendliness. This process will take some time, however, so we are not to expect improvements before the end of the new academic year. 

      Advanced Doctoral Dissertation Supervisor (ADDS) Status

      UW administration has accepted FAUW’s suggestion and agreed to set up a task force involving faculty members and graduate students, and chaired by the Associate Provost, Graduate Studies. The purpose of this task force will be to determine what the current ADDS regulations are intended to accomplish, and then to provide recommendations on how to accomplish those things without the drawbacks of the current arrangement. Faculty members hired in the last three years have been informed individually about their ADDS status and supervisory privileges. Sorting out the inconsistencies on the various faculty websites is still an unresolved task. 

      Short-Term / Long-Term Disability

      This question of the improper collection and transfer of personal, confidential medical information has been a major concern for FAUW for almost a full year now, yet a resolution is still a work in progress. We can expect an official response to FAUW’s 8-point plan either before the end of this month or, more likely, sometime early in the Fall term. 

      Bright Starts: Amalgamated Daycare at UW

      At long last, construction on the amalgamated daycare facility, known as Bright Starts, is well under way, and I understand that it is still on schedule for completion in November this year. I am the fourth Faculty Association president to be involved in shepherding this project through concept to implementation, so the relief at it reaching this advanced stage is spread quite widely. Many thanks are owed to all those who have been involved throughout the process. Future generations of UW faculty, staff and students will carry on being grateful for all the effort deployed. 

      Work-Life Balance Report

      FAUW is working on an implementation matrix for the recommendations of the Work-Life Balance Report. The matrix will include suggestions for allocating responsibility for each of the recommendations, as well as an aspirational timeline for implementing them. We hope to have this matrix submitted to UW administration before the end of this year’s cycle of FAUW Board and FRC meetings (i.e., the end of June). The recommendations of FAUW’s Compassionate Care and Bereavement Leave Report will be considered simultaneously in this exercise.

        2013-14 FAUW Board of Directors, effective July 1, 2013

        Voting Members
        David Porreca (Classical Studies) president
        George Freeman
        (Electrical & Computer Engineering)
        past president
        Greta Kroeker (History) vice-president
        Frank Zorzitto (Pure Mathematics) treasurer
        Metin Renksizbulut
        (Mechanical & Mechatronics Engineering)
        chief negotiator
        Jasmin Habib (Political Science) OCUFA director
        Vivian Choh (Optometry & Vision Science) director
        Roydon Fraser
        (Mechanical & Mechatronics Engineering)
        director
        Bryan Tolson
        (Civil & Environmental Engineering)
        director
        vacancy
        Ex Officio, Non-Voting Members
        Lori Curtis (Economics) Pension & Benefits Committee liaison
        Carla Fehr (Philosophy) Status of Women and Equity Committee Chair
        Christine Jewell (Library) Library Liaison
        Cyntha Struthers
        (St. Jerome’s/Statistics & Actuarial Science)
        SJU-ASA rep
        Peter van Beek (Computer Science) Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee Chair
        FAUW representatives on the Faculty Relations Committee
        George Freeman, Greta Kroeker, David Porreca, Metin Renksizbulut, Bryan Tolson

        FAUW News Flashes

        David Porreca, FAUW President

        Today’s blog post aims to bring our readership up to speed on a number of different issues that FAUW is working on at the moment.

        FAUW elections

        All of the open positions on the FAUW Board of Directors have been filled by acclamation this year.  I am very pleased to welcome the following new faces for the 2013-14 academic year: Vivian Choh (Optometry and Vision Science), Jasmin Habib (Political Science) and Bryan Tolson (Civil Engineering). We also have an experienced hand with Frank Zorzitto (Pure Mathematics) returning to the Board, and I will be continuing as President.

        MoA changes

        Expect an electronic vote imminently on two separate questions, both of critical importance:

        1. Adding a modification clause to our MoA, which had been absent before; and 
        2. Re-configuring Article 14 on Research Integrity in order to abide by the Framework established by the Tri-Agencies and imposed upon all institutions receiving Tri-Council monies.

        In principle, UW has until the end of the month to sort out the latter.  We are still collaborating with the Secretariat to establish mutually agreeable wording before presenting the final draft to a membership vote.

        Scheduling

        Discussions are ongoing with the Registrar’s Office to improve communications and procedures surrounding the testing of the new scheduling software.  FAUW has been informed that a communications professional has been hired by the Registrar’s Office in an attempt to remedy a long-recognized problem.  We wait to see whether this welcome development will make a positive difference.  FAUW is well aware that this issue rankles faculty members like few others can, so we are keeping a sharp eye on it.

        Daycare

        Construction is underway on Columbia just north and east of the optometry building.  Since we have a significant financial stake in the operation, FAUW is helping Bright Starts Inc. (the amalgamated daycare operator) negotiate a lease agreement with UW.  Discussions are ongoing – this very morning, in fact. Stay tuned.

        Access Copyright

        Access Copyright has decided to press a lawsuit against York University for copyright infringement.  This will be a test case for the viability of that enterprise’s approach to academic users of copyrighted materials.  CAUT is paying very close attention to this issue, as is FAUW.

        Fallout from our Spring General Meeting

        The following items were raised at FAUW’s Spring General Meeting that we plan to tackle over the next weeks and months, in addition to all of the rest of what we are pursuing:

        • We need user-friendly software that allows faculty members to track their research funds in real time.
        • We need to push for the modification of the provisions for choosing membership on university-level committees such that regular faculty members are not placed in a position to run for election against their own Dean.
        • UW needs covered, secure, well-lit bike parking, and/or the ability to park one’s bike in one’s office, while acknowledging that the latter doesn’t work for students.
        • The net effect of full-cost programs has been exactly what FAUW feared it would be: the diversion of the teaching efforts of the full-time professorate to those programs, while leaving our regular students to be taught by sessionals and TAs, thereby de facto relegating them to a second-class student status.  This is a serious problem that will need careful attention, since it arises at the intersection of pedagogy and university finances.

        Do you know of anything we need to add to this list? Please leave a comment below!

        Work-Life Balance Report

        FAUW has been asked to provide a prioritized list from the recommendations contained in the Work-Life Balance Report (full text available in the Senate materials from March) that UW is to tackle first for implementation.  If any of you have strong feelings on this question, please do not hesitate to provide a comment below, or contact the FAUW President.

        In conclusion

        There are a number of other issues we are dealing with at the moment where discussion is ongoing but there isn’t any concrete progress to report in this forum.  These include:

        • Our concerns over ADDS status.
        • Finding alternatives to the Registrar’s Office restricting student access to LEARN when their fees aren’t arranged on time.
        • Information collection from Short-Term and Long-Term Disability claims.
        • Parental leave salary top-up for families with both parents being university employees.
        • Compassionate care and bereavement leave.
        • Ongoing concerns over scheduling.

        All this to say that there’s a lot going on behind the scenes for FAUW on behalf of our membership, and we’re far from idle!