September is always an incredibly busy and stressful time for academic staff across campus, and I know that COVID-19, all its added challenges and stresses, and the uncertainty of the current funding scenario and the restructuring process are not making things any easier. Therefore, I'd like to begin this message by acknowledging all that you do and applauding your commitment and dedication to the mission and goals of the University of Alberta and the students we are here to serve.
I have a few important updates for you today, and some reminders of upcoming events and deadlines.
University administration is currently aware of close to 6,700 staff (including academic, non-academic, and post-docs) that are spending time on campus on either a full-time or part-time basis. Given that cases of COVID-19 have started manifesting on campus, including the recently announced outbreak at St. Joseph's College, administration is requesting that all staff on campus follow the safety checklists and protocols detailed on the U of A website, and that you use the Here@UAlberta tool to record what buildings on campus you visit.
In my previous update I mentioned that we had not received a response from the employer with regards to our proposal for compensation for the extra work required to move instruction to on-line or remote teaching, and for a reimbursement fund for out-of-pocket expenses incurred in moving to on-line or remote work. We recently heard back from the employer, and the response was a clear and unequivocal "no", with no counter-proposal offered and no opening for ongoing discussions. While the employer conveyed that they acknowledge and are grateful for the tremendous work and efforts of academic staff in moving to on-line or remote delivery, they asserted that employees are already compensated for delivery and as such no extra compensation is warranted. Additionally, the employer recognized that although staff had to incur one-time or monthly expenses to improve home working environments and connectivity, they asserted that for many this was off-set by savings on the parking, commuting, and meal costs associated with going to campus.
The employer also reminded us that many of our members are eligible for Professional Expense Reimbursement (“PER”), which can be used to off-set some of the extra costs incurred, and that staff should speak to their supervisors to make arrangements for borrowing equipment, furniture and supplies from on-campus.
As a union we found those responses inadequate and unsatisfactory, and we will continue to look for ways to ensure that our members are properly compensated for their extra work and reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses.
By now most of you will have seen the Interim Report of the Academic Restructuring Working Group released by the President's office yesterday afternoon. The report is meant to present the three scenarios on which the ARWG will be basing its consultation going forward, and to provide some rationale for how they arrived at those scenarios. We have not yet had an opportunity to do a deep dive into the report's contents, but will be doing so over the next few days and would appreciate hearing from members about their thoughts, concerns, and impressions of the report.
The interim report has failed to quell three of our most significant concerns about the process. The first is that most of the information provided by the consultant, Nous Group, and derived from Uniforum (a platform the University has only been piloting for just over a year), seems to focus almost exclusively on measuring financial efficiencies, while questions of academic integrity, research quality, talent attraction and stewardship, and student needs have taken a back seat.
Our second concern continues to be with the speed at which this process is being pushed through, without the necessary time for adequate and fulsome consultation. NASA and AASUA continue to be denied a seat on either ARWG or the Service Excellence Steering Committee (SESC) despite the presence of the Students Union and the Graduate Students Association on both bodies. General Faculties Council, the body ostensibly charged with approving/recommending these changes, has been given less than five full working days to digest 130 pages of material, and has only been allocated 50 minutes of agenda time to discuss those 130 pages. After next week's GFC meeting, the plan is to carry out an extensive consultation with a campus population of over 50,000 students and staff and have a final proposal ready for approval in December. We do not see how it is possible to have a fulsome conversation on all the content in such a compressed period of time.
As concerning as the proposed timeline for ARWG approval is, it pales in comparison to the Service Excellence Transformation (SET) process, whose proposal is set to be presented to the Board of Governors for approval in October. One of our key questions here is how we can possibly approve a new administrative structure two months before we know what kind of academic structure it's intended to serve. Added to this concern is the reality that GFC will not be given the opportunity to approve or sign off on the SET recommendations. In recent presentations and documents it has been made clear that SET will result in rationalization of teaching space and research labs on campus, that it will change how professors are supported with financial and administrative processes, and that it will transform how student services and advice are provided. Every one of these outcomes has serious implications for academic activities on campus and directly affects the quality of research and education. As such, these recommendations should be vetted and voted on by GFC.
GFC is the site for democratic and collegial governance at the University, and its meeting on Monday September 28th will be of critical importance to the future of our university. I encourage all members to reach out to their GFC representative(s) to chat about their views on both the ARWG and the SET processes.
Please remember to log into the AASUA website and fill out the AASUA Member Survey. The survey will take 10 to 15 minutes of your time, and will be available to AASUA members through Friday, September 25th.
Coffee with the Table Officers will take place on Thursday, September 24th. Drop by between 11:00 am and 12:30 pm at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83137205274 to let us know what's on your mind or ask us any burning questions you might have.
That same afternoon a number of NASA and AASUA members have organized a Collegial Conversation on Restructuring: A Town Hall from Below, a zoom-based discussion to discern how restructuring might be addressed and to prepare for various Faculty Council, GFC, and Administrative Town Hall information and decision-making processes coming in the next few weeks. The meeting will be September 24, 2 pm – 3:30 pm. Register at this link: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUvc-GuqTwqHtz-j8Ij1YZviOI4UCD8wlzA
As always, I leave you with an invitation to reach out to me, or any of the AASUA Table Officers or Directors with any questions, concerns, insights, or ideas you might have.