Friday, November 28, 2014

A Fall Break at UW?


**New articles in the FAUW Blog are normally published on Mondays but we are releasing this one early to inform discussion at the upcoming Fall General Meeting**

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?"

    Thursday, October 23, 2014

    Take Back the Night: Point & Rebuttal

    Take Back the Night: Point

     by: Sheila Ager, Department of Classical Studies

    I have always had very strong objections to the Take Back The Night policy that bars men from participating in the march.

    I would consider myself quite a committed feminist, and I am familiar with all the reasons that have been put forth in support of this policy. Nevertheless, I find it both short-sighted and inconsistent with the premises of human rights. The latter objection should be pretty clear: men should not be excluded from the opportunity to participate in an activity on the basis of their sex, when that activity is not such as to necessitate a gender division. The implicit message is that all men are sexually abusive or otherwise violent (and conversely, that all women and all trans* people are not). The policy also sends a message that men who have themselves been victims of sexual violence and abuse do not rate the same consideration as women, children, and trans* people.

    On a more pragmatic front, I think this policy is seriously short-sighted. It once again implies that this is a "women's issue", instead of a grave social issue that concerns society as a whole. Men should be encouraged to adopt values and take actions that are conventionally labeled as "feminist" but this policy does the reverse, in spite of the invitation that men line the route of the march and so on. In my view, society will move forward more quickly and effectively towards desirable social goals of the type that Take Back the Night stands for if men are encouraged to partner with women in achieving those goals. Activities and rhetoric that discourage men from doing so are counter-productive, however well-meaning they may be. If anything, I think our society needs to take a much stronger stance, through education and other means, in getting men to actively espouse such goals.

    Barring men from the actual march may be a "tradition", as the message states, but I really think it is a tradition that needs to change. 


    Take Back the Night: Rebuttal

     by: Diana Parry, Recreation and Leisure Studies

    Take Back the Night (TBTN) is an annual event that sparks critical public discourse and action to stop violence against women, children, and trans* people. Historically, TBTN marches are rooted in 1970's England, when, in response to murders by the “Yorkshire Ripper,” police put women under informal curfew, urging them not to be out on streets after 10 PM without male accompaniment. Outraged women took to the streets and marched to reclaim their right to walk in public without male accompaniment.

    Waterloo TBTN consciously honours both this history and its core symbolic gesture: women, children and trans* people walking at night unescorted by men. This symbolism powerfully conveys that women, children and trans* people should not have to be escorted by men to exercise their right to move about in public space without fear of violence (sexual, physical or otherwise). Indeed, for many who march, violence has intimately touched their lives, and the act of uniting in solidarity with others offers the opportunity to reclaim some of the power, and potentially the voice, that such violence may have eroded.  

    Far from being excluded, men help to organize TBTN, they volunteer at the event, and they attend the opening rally and the post-march reception. Organizers also ask men who wish to show their support for women’s, children’s and trans* people’s right to walk at night unescorted to do so by flanking the streets and shouting words of encouragement.  This year, as the marchers filed into City Hall after the march, we were greeted by a sizeable group of men smiling and clapping. Many of my fellow marchers voiced their appreciation for the support they felt from these male allies. 

    TBTN events have certainly never endeavoured to suggest that all men are perpetrators of violence, nor that men are incapable of being victims of sexual or intimate partner violence themselves.   Organizers are well aware of research such as a 2005 Statistics Canada study that suggested nearly 7% of men in intimate relationships have reported being slapped, kicked, bitten, or hit by their female partners (http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/050714/dq050714a-eng.htm).  

    This same study, however, demonstrated that when women are victimized, the level of violence is often much more severe than that experienced by men.  Women were found to more likely to be beaten, choked, sexually assaulted, and threatened with a weapon by their partner than men were.  Women were also more likely to be injured through such violence and were three times more likely to fear for their lives than male victims. Within the Waterloo region alone, 14 women experience some form of sexual assault every single day (https://www.facebook.com/events/1484815838430775/permalink/1513855365526822/). Clearly, sexual and intimate partner violence represents a major social problem in Canadian society and one that can affect anyone, regardless of gender. TBTN draws attention to these social issues and serve as a call to action to end gendered violence. 



    Tuesday, September 30, 2014

    Are lecturers at Waterloo professors?

    by Bryan Tolson, FAUW Vice President

    As FAUW’s new vice-president this year, I have volunteered to advocate for Lecturers on our campus.   I recognize the inherent difficulty associated with FAUW representing both tenure/tenure-track faculty members and lecturers, as the interests of both groups are not always the same.  I plan to write about this issue more in a future blog.  Today’s blog is about the titles we give (or should be giving) to those who are currently lecturers on campus. 

    Regular tenure/tenure-track faculty members typically have a 40/40/20 job responsibility split among the research, teaching and service components of their job.  Policy 76 suggests that the faculty appointment rank can include the word “professor” for faculty hired as research professors who are focused only on research (“Duties will be primarily research-oriented, but in some cases may include some service, teaching and/or student supervision”).  Note that research is only 40% of what most tenure/tenure-track faculty do.  On the other hand, according to Policy 76, the suggestion is that lecturers' “duties are primarily limited to teaching and service”, which is 60% of what most tenure/tenure-track faculty do.  Further, consider that our Memorandum of Agreement (Article13, part 13.5.5b) allows tenure/tenure-track faculty to reduce their research component to only 20% of their duties.  This means that lecturers could have an 80% overlap of duties with some tenure/tenure-track faculty.  Based on the above policy interpretation, the argument to designate lecturers as professors clearly has some merit.

    Rainbow coloured graphic outlines of five people standing
    © puckillustrations / Dollar Photo Club
    Looking for further rationale, let’s consider what it means, according to UW policy, to be a professor.  Whether one has a research appointment or a regular appointment in the professorial ranks (and thus is designated as a professor), the only common thread I see in Policy 76 is that such a person “normally has a doctorate or terminal professional degree, as well as experience or strong potential in teaching and scholarship”.  How many of our lecturers on campus meet these criteria?  I am confident this number is significantly larger than zero.  For such individuals, what other reason is there to suggest that they are not worthy of using the word “professor” in their title?

    Beyond policy interpretations, I tend to think of professors as having, or working towards, some form of robust job security.  In contrast, research professors have no form of job security and are limited to definite-term appointment types.  So it seems odd to me that some colleagues with no prospect of job security get to use the word “professor” in their title while others who actually have job security (Continuing Lecturers) do not. 

    At the end of the day, I believe that any colleague of mine that has the same terminal degree as I do, has effectively the same level of job security as I do, and can do 60% of my job (often much better than me) deserves to have a title that includes the word “professor”.  The biggest question I see moving forward with such a change is the word “scholarship” in the Policy 76 statement.  For lecturers, what is it precisely and is it fundamentally required?

    Do you think this campus should move forward and give some or all lecturers titles that include the word “professor”?  Please do comment below.

    Monday, September 22, 2014

    FAUW Updates - Part 2 of 2

    David Porreca, FAUW President

    This is a continuation from Part 1 posted last week.

    6. Pharmacy building

    East side of the pharmacy building showing flower garden
    Photo by George Freeman
    FAUW has received reports that certain peculiarities of the newish Pharmacy building on the corner of King & Victoria in Kitchener have been generating substantial environmental problems for the users of the building.  In particular, large teaching laboratories on the King Street side of the building have been experiencing high temperature and humidity levels on hot summer days.  Their large windows face roughly north east and would get direct sun in the early morning, especially around the summer solstice.  Users of the lab need the full protective gear of safety glasses, long-sleeved lab coats, etc., along with giant fume hoods to whisk away any hazardous vapours. It is possible the HVAC equipment in that part of the building is not sufficient to its task or needs adjustment in view of the exhaust force of the fume hoods.  FAUW and colleagues working in the Pharmacy building are working with Plant Ops to find a solution.

    7. Fall break?

    Sign post labelled October pointing to the right
    © Filipe Frazao / Dollar Photo Club
    The Federation of Students has expressed an interest in running a referendum on whether or not to call upon the university to establish a Fall Break, similar to the winter-term Reading Week.  Currently, 14 Ontario universities have such a break, leaving only 8 without one (UW included).  A Task Force has just produced a report for the Provost detailing the various trade-offs that would be needed for such a break to be established (e.g., some combination of shortening Orientation, allowing exams on December 23, Sunday exams, and other options). The mandate of the task force was simply to gather information about these trade-offs, and to comment on their relative feasibility, rather to make any decisions or formal recommendations about whether or not to go ahead with this idea. The Task Force had good representation from all relevant stakeholder groups, and any moves toward a Fall Break would certainly involve much more extensive consultation of all the relevant parties. Any changes would require formal approval by Senate.

    8. FAUW staffing

    Just as the university itself is facing a crisis of continuity, the Faculty Association is also in a similar bind with respect to our staff. We have already bid farewell in early July to Jim Tigwell, our Communications Coordinator and Administrative Assistant, as well as to Carrie Hunting in mid-August, who was our Academic Freedom and Tenure and Policy Officer.  Job postings forthcoming….
    
    
    Geese graxing on the lawn beside the ENV3 building
    Photo by George Freeman

    9. Revamped course evaluations

    Another Task Force, chaired by Mark Seasons (School of Planning) has been working on revising how UW conducts its in-class instructor evaluations by students. The faculty of mathematics and the faculty of science have been doing some pilot testing of all-electronic course evaluations using a very promising in-house electronic system. FAUW will be paying close attention to who has access to the completed evaluations, their format and content as well as to how they end up being used.

    10. FAUW retreat and priorities for 2014-15

    In July, the FAUW Board of Directors held its first-in-a-long-time strategic retreat to discuss large-scale issues facing us over the next year. During this retreat, we established a list of items that we hope to devote time and effort to over the course of the year. Some have already been discussed above, others are listed briefly here:

    a - Surveys: the FAUW Communications Sub-Committee intends to do more intensive polling of our membership on assorted questions of concern during this year.

    b - Revisions to Policy 33 (Ethical Behaviour)

    c - ADDS status: the revised ADDS regulations are winding their way through various Faculty Councils before going for approval at Senate. Revisions to the draft FAUW negotiated with grad students and the administration last year is likely to undergo revisions as a result of this process. More as it arises.

    d - Performance evaluations: The idea of shifting tenured faculty members to a biennial performance evaluation scheme will be considered once again over the course of the year.

    e - Arts 1.25 for service: This refers to the manner in which standards were set and communicated for assessments on the faculty annual performance (merit) evaluation.  It remains unresolved from last year.

    f - Best practices in graduate supervision: In collaboration with FAUW and the GSO, the Graduate Students’ Association is planning to develop a document setting out best practices in graduate supervision.

    g - Athletics: We will continue to explore ways of improving our health and wellness facilities on campus in collaboration with the student and staff associations.

    Wednesday, September 17, 2014

    FAUW Updates - Part 1 of 2

    David Porreca, FAUW President
    
    
    Geese watch the science construction crane
    Photo by George Freeman
    Welcome back! Although this blog went dormant over the summer months, this does not mean that FAUW has been idle. In fact, so many things have kept us busy of the past couple of months that this inaugural 2014-15 update blog post needs to be divided in two. The first five of the following topics are posted today, while the rest will be posted on Monday.

    The topics:
    1. Continuity in UW administration
    2. Meeting with lecturers
    3. Negotiations
    4. Scheduling
    5. Electronic expense claims
    6. Pharmacy Building
    7. Fall Break?
    8. FAUW Staffing
    9. Re-vamped Course Evaluations
    10. FAUW Retreat and Priorities for 2014-15

    1. Continuity in UW administration

    This topic practically deserves its own blog post. The concerns arise from the following observations:
    • UW has had no fewer than six Vice-Presidents Academic & Provost since 2009: Chakma, Hamdullahpur, McBoyle, Keller, McBoyle, Orchard.
    • UW’s Executive Council can be considered a good proxy list for the main decision-makers on our campus. Of the 27 people on the list, only 6 or 7 have been in their positions more than 5 years.
    • We are witnessing a change in 4 of the 6 deans within a 12-month period. By July 2015, Doug Peers will be the senior dean on our campus, with 3 years of experience under his belt by that point.
    Consequently, UW runs the risk of losing a lot of institutional cultural memory. Precisely those things that make UW work better than most other places hang in the balance: informal networks of people who have developed relationships over time and therefore can be relied upon to get things done.
    FAUW suggests that the decanal hiring committees give serious consideration to internal candidates for these open positions. In order to tackle this problem from another direction, FAUW is aware that the new provost plans to arrange for more robust onboarding of new senior administrators so as to share UW’s culture and practices more effectively, especially with those hired externally.

     

    2. Meeting with lecturers

    In July, FAUW called a special 3-hour meeting specifically inviting our Lecturer and Continuing Lecturer colleagues to voice their concerns. The meeting was very well attended (~1/3 of lecturers attended!), and the bulk of the problems fall into one of the following categories:
      Words: Assistant Teaching Professor, Associate Teaching Professor
    • Compensation: Dave Tompkins (Computer Science) gave an enlightening presentation comparing the lifetime incomes of lecturers vs. tenure-track faculty with an eye to the effects of their (very different) salary thresholds. Dave will summarize his findings for a future blog post that will appear in this space. Stay tuned!
    • Nomenclature: A broad consensus emerged at the meeting suggesting that FAUW push for the revision the designations “Lecturer” and “Continuing Lecturer” to “Assistant Teaching Professor” and “Associate Teaching Professor,” respectively.
    • Lecturers’ leaves: According to the current reading of Policy 76, “lecturers shall have the option to have at least one term in six be a non-teaching term.” This wording has not been interpreted consistently across campus, with some units granting this leave without question, while others insist that any lecturer availing themselves of this leave must ‘make up’ for the teaching not done during the term of leave during the other teaching terms s/he is on campus.
    • Clarity of promotion: One of the principal complaints raised at the meeting was the lack of clarity and transparency involved in attaining the status of Continuing Lecturer. Ideally, revisions to Policy 76 will create a parallel and equally transparent process for Lecturers as there is for the progression along the tenure track.
    • Departmental contributions: There also appears to be unevenness across campus in the extent to which Lecturers and Continuing Lecturers are allowed to contribute fully to departmental activities such as hiring committees, curriculum development, performance evaluation, student advising etc.
    Over the course of the 2014-15 academic year, FAUW will be working with the Secretariat and Office of General Counsel to give Policy 76 a full revision, which will provide an excellent opportunity for resolving points b. through e. above. Such major revisions must receive the assent of the Faculty Association at the Faculty Relations Committee before being considered at Senate.

     

    3. Negotiations

    Math building distorted reflection in windows of EIT building
    Photo by George Freeman
    FAUW is coming to the bargaining table this fall to begin work on our new compensation agreement with the university. FAUW’s negotiating team is made up of Lynne Taylor (History, Chief Negotiator), Lori Curtis (Economics) and Shelley Hulan (English). The university, for its part, has put together the following team: Ian Goulden (Dean of Mathematics, Chief Negotiator), Jean Andrey (Acting Dean of Environment) and Doug Peers (Dean of Arts). On account of the precedents being set by other recently concluded collective bargaining sessions within our sector in the province and across the country, we have reason to be both extremely vigilant (witness the example of the University of Windsor) and cautiously optimistic (see recent settlements at Carleton University, Brock University and the University of Saskatchewan).
    As a reminder, at UW, our negotiators only deal with issues of compensation. The rest of our terms and conditions of employment are set out in the Memorandum of Agreement (major changes to which require a full membership vote) and assorted Class F and FS numbered university policies (changes to these are subject to Faculty Association vetting and approval through the Faculty Relations Committee). Pensions and benefits are governed by the Pension & Benefits Committee, which has representation from all employee groups on campus. Currently, the faculty representatives are Lori Curtis (Economics), Peter Forsyth (Computer Science) and Mary Hardy (Statistics and Actuarial Science).

     

    4. Scheduling

    The build for the winter schedule is being done as I write, while we are experiencing the effects of the first on-the-ground run of the scheduling system this fall. How is it working out for you? Please send comments to the Faculty Association President or leave a comment on this blog post.
    FAUW is aware that the problem we had foreseen of a deluge of scheduling constraint requests is overwhelming the coping capacities in the Registrar’s Office. We’ve been recommending since last winter term that the successor of the Provost’s Advisory Committee on Timetabling be formed in order to address some of the problems that have come to light in the meantime. Our aim is to have clearer guidelines for chairs to assign levels of priority to scheduling constraint requests, as well as establishing appropriate appeals mechanisms for when scheduling goes seriously awry for a colleague.

     

    5. Electronic expense claims

    Pilot testing of the new Concur expense claims system has been going ahead in a number of units within the Faculty of Mathematics. As of this writing, approximately 20 claims have been successfully shepherded through the system without any major glitches. The pilot testing and training of administrative staff on the new system is ongoing (~150 have been trained so far), and will include the undergraduate recruitment team in the Registrar’s Office as well as ~60 co-op coordinators from CECA. Based on the result of these extensive trials, the Steering Committee will be meeting in November to determine the final go-ahead (or not) for this system. The consultation process for the implementation of this system has been exemplary, especially when compared to other large-scale electronic systems that have been deployed on campus over the past several years.
    One of the key advantages of the new system will be that it will allow for the processing of per diem expense claims for those accounts that do not involve provincial monies (e.g., Tri-Council grants). Faculty members have been clamoring for the return of per diems ever since UW was forced to do away with them as a result of the tightening of broader public-sector expense regulations at the provincial level.
    One lacuna from FAUW’s perspective is that the privacy and security assessment that was made on the system by IST has not yet been made public. We are working to make that happen such that is will be accessible on the university’s website.

     

    A Final, Important Note

    On behalf of the Board of Directors of the Faculty Association, I would like to extend our sincerest condolences to the family of the student who died tragically on the last day of Orientation Week during a powerful lightning storm. No words can make up for the tragedy.

    Come back on Monday to read about the next five topics in David's FAUW update.

    Monday, June 16, 2014

    Vote Results & Discussion: MoA Outstanding Performance Award (OPA) Changes

    David Porreca, FAUW president

    This week’s post features the results from the poll FAUW conducted at the beginning of the month to do with the proposed changes to the Memorandum of Agreement’s clauses relating to the OPAs.  Please see the previous post for more discussion.

    Thursday, May 29, 2014

    Memorandum of Agreement – Article 13.3.3(e) Changes Explained + Q&A

    UPDATED Q&A (30-May-14)

    David Porreca, FAUW President

    On Monday, the Faculty Association circulated an e-mail that lays out the changes in wording to the Memorandum of Agreement we have discussed both at the FAUW Board of Directors and at the Faculty Relations Committee over the past few months.  This blog post is intended to a) explain more fully the reasoning behind the changes, and b) to respond to some of the questions and feedback that we have received since the message went out.