COVID-19 Update: March 27, 2020
Message from the Association President
I hope you are all doing as well as possible in these challenging times. I’m writing to update you on a number of changes happening on campus, and what the Association is doing to try to ensure that you receive the support you need as you navigate a range of new realities.
Summer Online Teaching
As you probably saw in Valerie Kuehne’s email yesterday, the University is planning to offer all of this year’s spring and summer courses online. For the majority of those doing summer teaching, this will be a significant change in the nature of your working conditions and an increase in your workload. Thanks to all of you who completed our survey on summer teaching. I have attached the quantitative results of the survey to this email.
Following the survey, I sent requests to the senior administration focusing on the issues you identified as your highest priorities. Many of you noted in your comments that you needed to know as soon as possible if you were going to be expected to teach online. We asked that faculty be informed by this Friday (today) if this was going to happen. We were pleased that this information was indeed provided to faculty in a timely manner.
But more support is needed for those now required to teach online in the summer. As you will see in the survey results, the highest priority was better technical advice and support for online teaching, and the second highest priority was more RA and TA support to assist in developing and teaching online courses. I have heard from the senior administration that they are working on these issues, and will provide the Association with concrete information next week. It does appear that they will be increasing support in these areas, and we hope that the increase will be a significant one. For example, they are currently looking into getting a UVic license for Zoom, as this was the online platform that many of you requested. They have also agreed to provide two dedicated TIL support people for each Faculty, to support the transition to online summer teaching.
While the majority of Members were in favour of starting the term a week later and compressing it into a shorter time period, responses were more mixed on this issue. I asked the administration to consider starting the 12-week courses a week later, but they did not agree to this.
A number of you requested that Course Experience Surveys for the summer term should remain optional for evaluation (as has already been agreed for this term). I have strongly urged the administration to continue for the summer term to make CES scores available only to instructors, who can then make their own decisions as to whether or not to use them for evaluation purposes. This is only reasonable, given the stresses facing both faculty and students as we transition to a new teaching format, while dealing with the many other issues related to the ongoing pandemic.
I am urging the administration to permit those who were assigned online summer teaching, and who are facing major and unexpected caregiving responsibilities (either childcare or major elder care), to be able to cancel summer courses, in return for teaching an additional course at some time over the next three years. This is an option available when Chairs cancel courses due to low enrolment.
We are exploring what can be done when courses that cannot be taught online (e.g. field schools) are cancelled after faculty members have done a great deal of preparatory work for them. We are also looking into the issues involved when members believe that certain courses cannot be appropriately taught online.
As you are aware, most laboratory research has had to be suspended at this time, as well as face-to-face research with human subjects. In my own field, archives are closed all around the world. This means that in addition to the stresses of online teaching, most of us are unable to do much of our normal research. This is a major problem for us all, but I want to acknowledge that it is a particular concern for our junior colleagues, who have not yet gained promotion and tenure, continuing status, or a confirmed regular librarian appointment. Valerie Kuehne has sent out an email to reassure junior faculty on this matter, which is helpful, but the Association is seeking further assurances in this regard.
I have therefore sent a proposed Letter of Understanding to the administration, asking that the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic be added as a reason that all pre-tenure faculty could use to request to “stop the clock,” so that they would have the option of having an additional year before being required to apply for tenure, promotion and/or a continuing appointment. Many other universities have already done this in the US, and some in Canada, while others are moving quickly in this direction. I have been advised that the Association will hear back on this matter by early next week, so we hope to have good news for you on this important issue soon.
In terms of research, I am also in discussion with the VP Research regarding what can be done about disrupted research trajectories, in terms of possible future bridging funding, extending timelines on IRCPG funding, and a range of other issues. I will update you as more information becomes available. I would also welcome suggestions of any additional issues the Association should address in this regard.
While faculty members still have access to their offices, I would again encourage you to take home anything crucial, as the University could be required to close the physical campus at any point.
The Association does not currently have the leverage that we would have in a period of formal collective bargaining. However, I can present arguments (backed up by your survey responses and emails) to make a case to the administration. The administration is aware that they need to do what they can to assist faculty and students at this very difficult time, but realistically, we cannot expect miracles—although that would be nice!
Concerns about other Members of the Campus Community
I have heard concerns from many of you about our sessional colleagues, and other employees on campus who have less job security than Association members. Thank you so much for this valuable feedback. The Association will be meeting (virtually) with other unions on campus to see what we can do to support their more vulnerable members, and to work together on supporting us all.
FA Facebook Group
I promised last week that we would have an Association Facebook group where Members can share thoughts, feelings, and experiences around the current pandemic, as well as sharing online resources around teaching, culture, entertainment, leisure and whatever else will help us get through this time.
If you would like to join, please click here.
I’d like to thank our Vice President Monica Prendergast, Secretary Martha McGinnis, and staff member Ben Johnson for pulling this together in record time. The group is open to Association members only, and will be moderated to ensure that it provides a welcoming and positive space for all.
I’d like to close by thanking all of the Association officers and staff for their excellent work at this difficult time. Those I haven’t yet mentioned include our Treasurer, Elisabeth Gugl, and staff members Reuben Kellen, Esme Friesen and Penny Murray. Thanks to all the Chairs from whom I have solicited advice, and thanks also to Victoria Wyatt, Annalee Lepp and Helga Hallgrímsdóttir for their advice and support. And congratulations to Annalee, who is moving shortly to the “other side” as Acting Dean of Humanities. I know she will do a great deal to support Humanities faculty members in her new role.
I’d also like to thank all of you for filling out our summer teaching survey and for your many emails. It is extremely helpful for the Association to be aware of your concerns regarding the new and difficult waters we are all charting, so we very much appreciate hearing from you. Again, we can’t promise to solve every problem, but the more issues we are aware of, the more we can focus our energies on solutions that will make a difference. Please stay tuned for more surveys in the near future.
Finally, a reminder that we will be having a virtual AGM on Wednesday, April 8th at 1:30 pm. More details will be coming soon. It will be a brief meeting—only one hour—but we have some important Association business to do. Hope to see you there, on the computer screen!
Please take good care of yourselves and your loved ones.
All the very best,
President, University of Victoria Faculty Association