COVID-19 UPDATE: May 22, 2020
Message from the Association President
I hope that all is well with you. By now we have finished our marking for the spring term, and some of us are well into the summer term online. Some of us may be excited or relieved that things are starting to open up, while others may be more nervous, or are experiencing distinctly mixed emotions.
I am writing primarily about fall term teaching, now that there is more clarity on this issue. While the situation is still not entirely clear, and we continue to live with levels of uncertainty unthinkable a few months ago, plans are being made, in the hopes that the virus will not derail them.
Fall Term Teaching
As our President informed us a few weeks ago, most fall undergraduate courses will be offered online. There is a process to approve exception requests to ensure that we have the necessary capacity (according to government mandated protocols) to support students who will need to live, eat and study on campus. Department Chairs were asked this week to provide requests with rationales for undergraduate courses that require in-person instruction, where they cannot realistically be offered online. By Monday, Chairs must provide lists of courses that will be offered asynchronously and those which will be at least partially synchronous. I am told that this information is important to building an initial timetable so that students are encouraged to register – but it is expected that the timetable may change over the next few weeks as new information is presented or circumstances require course changes.
Graduate course guidelines are currently being prepared and Deans and Chairs should be able to share these guidelines with you soon.
Options and Accommodations in Starting to Open Up the University
The University is following all of the requirements set out by WorkSafeBC and the Public Health Officer to try to minimize any possibility that faculty, staff or students will contract the virus. However, such risk cannot be entirely eliminated. Both the University Administration and the Faculty Association recognize that people may have personal or family health issues as well as different risk tolerances for in person work. I have been told that faculty who are uncomfortable with face-to-face teaching during the pandemic protocols period will be permitted to do their teaching online.
The University is finalizing protocols for returning to regular work and providing guidance on the processes to be used. You may be in a situation that makes it difficult to come to campus and/or do all of your teaching, service, research or scholarly work. As I noted in an earlier email, the University has agreed that if childcare facilities and schools remain closed, and a faculty parent can demonstrate that they have no one else to care for their child(ren) or other dependents, they can make a request to their Chair (subject to approval by their Dean) to defer the teaching of a course to a future term, or for other necessary accommodations on the basis of family status. If you need a medical accommodation because of the difficulties you are facing as a result of the pandemic, the process for requesting this accommodation is found in Article 39 of the Collective Agreement.
For all requests of this nature we encourage you to approach your Chair with your concerns as soon as possible. If you are not comfortable doing so, or if your Chair is unable to support you, we encourage you to approach our Membership Services officers for assistance in making an accommodation request:
Reuben Kellen – [email protected]
Ben Johnson – [email protected]
If you are not comfortable with the way in which pandemic protocols are being put in place in your workplace (in regard to teaching, reopening labs, the library or other pandemic related workplace issues) you may also wish to contact WorkSafeBC for their advice on these matters. They can be reached at 1-888-621-SAFE (7233).
Supports for Online Teaching
The vast majority of faculty members will be teaching online in the fall term (and possibly spring as well, but no decisions have been made about that yet). Many of us are facing an increase in our teaching workloads as we create new online courses or convert existing courses to an online format. The University has provided more platforms for teaching online, and is offering a range of webinars to learn about these platforms and other online teaching resources, including the website TeachAnywhere which provides information about how to teach online, and other helpful resources. The University has also increased the number of technical support workers available as we move our courses online and plans are being made for additional supports.
We will be sending out a survey on Monday which will focus on fall teaching, issues related to the reopening of research on and off campus, and the impact of the pandemic in general. We will ask what further supports you need to help you manage the increased workload of preparing and teaching online courses, so that the fall term can be a success for you and for your students.
We are discussing various options with the Vice President Academic’s office and they are also consulting with Deans and Chairs. The University recognizes the need for some flexibility at this time and I am told that, following the consultations and a review of survey results, a list of possible options to make your workload more manageable will be provided to Chairs.
The University needs us to provide high-quality online courses for UVic students, so that they will enroll at UVic and remain here. Maintaining and increasing enrolments is in all of our interests, as the financial health of the University is important for us all. We hope that federal and provincial governments will provide the financial support needed to help UVic get through the temporary major financial shortfall created by the loss of international students and other sources of revenue, and as well as the additional costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. As you can see in this recent op-ed, the Association is working with other UVic unions to encourage the government to provide such support. As we note in the op-ed, this support may be needed to prevent layoffs within some union groups on campus. While I am not concerned about potential layoffs among faculty, it is in all of our interests to work together. Budget shortfalls affect us all, potentially leading to ongoing faculty hiring freezes, and other limitations to the options available to faculty members. While both unions and the University seek additional government support, there are no guarantees in this regard. So at this critical time, the University is trying to maintain enrolments to the extent possible, and needs us to rise to the challenge of providing the excellent teaching that our Members always offer our students.
At the same time, the Association has encouraged the University to recognize the major burdens the pandemic places on our Members, including the extra workload associated with online teaching. The Administration is aware that it is in everyone’s interests to make it possible for you to teach this fall without sacrificing your health and family life. The Association will be doing all we can to advocate for the supports and accommodations needed to make it possible for you to do this. I would encourage you to fill out our survey, which we will be sending out on Monday. By answering the survey, you provide us with the evidence we need to advocate on your behalf.
Thank you again for all you are doing in these challenging circumstances.
Wishing you all the very best,
University of Victoria Faculty Association
Email: [email protected]