COVID 19 Update: December 15th, 2020

COVID 19 Update: December 15th, 2020

Message from the Association President

Dear Colleagues:

I hope that things are starting to slow down, at least marginally, and that you can look forward to a few days of rest over the holidays.

In my last email, I shared the quantitative results of our survey with you. We are still in the process of analyzing some elements of the survey, but the central concerns emerged clearly.  In this email I’ll be updating you on some of what the survey has revealed, along with an update on the advocacy we have been doing on your behalf based on those results. I will also provide you with information on available workload supports for January. 


The survey revealed clearly that most of you were concerned about the Administration’s plan to return to using CES for evaluation in the January term. Therefore, the Association strongly advocated that the Administration reconsider this decision. I’m very pleased to let you know that I was informed today that the Administration has agreed that CES will not be used for evaluation in the January-April 2021 term.  As in the previous three COVID-impacted terms, CES will be available to faculty members who can choose to use them in evaluation if they wish, but CES results will not be available to Chairs or Deans.

Workload Supports

The survey makes it clear that most of you are struggling with the overwork of online teaching with a new LMS. Through the survey you have told us that preparing for and teaching online courses takes significantly more hours than face to face teaching. The survey also revealed that a troubling number of you have had to take medical leave for reasons related to the pandemic, while more than a quarter of those who completed the survey have considered going on medical leave. Many others noted that online teaching has created new health issues or exacerbated existing ones.

If you are struggling, I would encourage you to reach out for help.  I know it is difficult for some of us to do that, but it is very much both in your interests and in the interests of your students.  The best first step might be to speak to your Chair about support.  If you’re not comfortable doing that, the FA is also available to support and advocate for you, either through our membership services officers, Ben Johnson ([email protected]), Reuben Kellen ([email protected]) or myself.  Depending on the nature of your concerns, I would also encourage you to reach out to Kelly Simpson, the Work Life Consultant dedicated to supporting faculty wellness, at [email protected].  Kelly’s faculty-focused position was put in place in response to Association advocacy and we are finding Kelly to be a caring, supportive and knowledgeable resource person for faculty members.

In response to your concerns about the excessive workload involved in online teaching the Association has lobbied the Administration for further workload supports (particularly for those teaching exceptionally heavy loads). The Administration notes that they have granted about $6M in technology and workload relief supports since March and that they recognize the need to continue enabling faculty to do quality teaching and maintain personal wellness.

The survey indicates that many faculty members are not aware of existing supports that have been put into place and are intended for those dealing with particularly heavy teaching loads during the pandemic.  An analysis of survey results by Faculty also demonstrates that some supports appear to have been more available in some Faculties than in others.

Following a discussion between the Association and Faculty Relations, the Administration has sent out an email to Chairs and Deans encouraging them to check in with faculty members and to offer workload supports to those struggling with issues of overwork and other pandemic stresses. 

Advice for January

So, if you are facing an unusually heavy workload in the January term and are not sure how you might manage, I would encourage you to go to your Chair, Director or Dean, and request workload support. This support might take the form of  increased TA funding, although this seems to be the area where members in most Faculties are relatively satisfied with what is available.  But this is not the case for everyone. So, if you need more TA support, please ask your Chairs. Co-teaching is also an option that seems to have reduced the workload for faculty in some parts of campus.  If this is something that seems like a possible solution to you, I would encourage you to suggest it to your Chair or Director. 

If you are scheduled to teach three or more courses in the January term, and feel that the nature of your particular workload will not be at all manageable under current conditions, please ask for help. You can request a course release to address overwork concerns, although in most cases if you receive a course release you will “owe” the course at some point over the next five years. 

An alternative to a course release is to request an Alternative Workload (AWL) arrangement for the coming term. If you are scheduled to teach three or four courses over the coming term and do not believe you can manage it under current circumstances, you could request an Alternative Workload, in which you might teach one less course, but replace that course with more service, or more research or scholarly activity. For teaching stream faculty, scholarly activity can involve activity related to further developing resources for current or future courses, as well as more distinct projects. 

While some might suggest that having an AWL would not reduce overall workload, the reality is that since for most faculty members each online course is actually considerably more work than a face to face course, an AWL can limit overwork stresses. And if you have an AWL, you are still doing 100% of your academic and professional responsibilities, and will not owe a course in the future.  If you are concerned that an AWL will affect your salary evaluation by changing your evaluation ratios, note that under the Collective Agreement, you can ask for an evaluation ratio that differs from your AWL, so that it could be the same as your normal evaluation ratio.  The Collective Agreement normally requires six months notice for an AWL, but under current circumstances, if your Chair and Dean are supportive, this requirement has been waived.

You should be aware that not all requests for workload support will be granted. It will depend on the nature of the situation. For example, in some cases, courses may be required for a program, and there may not be sessional instructors available to offer them. If you are not comfortable with asking your Chair or Dean for support, I hope that you would be willing to discuss these issues with the Association. We would do our best to help you in acquiring the support you need to get through the coming term without damaging your health and well being.

In addition, I would encourage you, where it is possible, to take the LTSI advice to streamline courses for next term, to reduce the burden on yourselves and your students.  At the same time, the Association is well aware that depending on the essential learning outcomes for particular courses, this may not always be possible.

More to come

There are a number of other issues emerging from the survey that we will be addressing with the Administration. We will be submitting a proposal to them soon regarding inequities between Faculties in the way reimbursement for purchasing equipment for online teaching has been addressed  We will also be further analyzing and assessing the impact of the pandemic on the research trajectories of our research stream members, and seeking both medium and longer term solutions, both in addressing the impact of COVID on salary evaluation and RPT and  in providing resources to assist faculty in successfully restarting research trajectories fully or partially derailed by the pandemic. 

Thank you for all you are doing for your colleagues and your students.  Again, I hope that you are able to look after yourselves at this difficult time, and if necessary, reach out for support.

Wishing you light, peace and some time for rest over the next few weeks.

All the very best,

Lynne Marks,

President, UVicFA

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