In the context of the emergency response to COVID-19 in March, the FA sought a number of alterations to the terms of the Collective Agreement in support of our Members.
Many of those issues have been addressed in earlier letters or memos. They included, but were not limited to, SOTS, reviews, tenure timelines, etc. In the days since, the FA has continued to try to advocate in the interests of the membership. What follows is a partial description of some of the issues we have been engaged in. We will note tremendous difficulty getting traction on issues that will have (even minor) financial consequences for Administration.
Under the terms of the provincial University Act, decisions over academic matters are vested in the University Senate, populated by elected faculty members and others. It is intended to be a democratic body, animated by the active participation and careful debate of colleagues immersed in defining and delivering the academic program and policies of UPEI. See section 24, https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/sites/default/files/legislation/u-04-university_act.pdf. The FA has actively and consistently advocated that all academic decisions, including but not limited to those about teaching online, f2f, or hybrid, the setting of a timetable or course caps, are the purview of Senate. Provincial legislation tells us so. To date, the Administration has echoed this understanding, and for that they deserve due credit
There has been a hiccup that required FA intervention. At its last meeting, Senate approved a process by which Deans would consult with Chairs (where they exist) and Chairs with faculty members to develop a teaching plan for the fall semester. The process was intended to be consultative and collegial and centered on the departmental level process. In one faculty, that process was bypassed and an announcement issued that the Faculty would deliver its program online. Following FA intervention, the Senate-approved process was more closely applied in that Faculty. It is necessary, particularly in times of “crisis,” that the surety of collegial governance practices be preserved, perhaps even strengthened.
Working from Home
The FA has advocated for a variety of supports for those working from home. Among those items, many of them financial, we have advocated for assurance that Members will be provided T2200s. These permit claims for some home-based work expenses on one’s tax filing. The FA is aware that current T2200 eligibility may not line up perfectly with COVID circumstances, but most anticipate revisions to eligibility criteria will be forthcoming from the CRA.
For now, the Administration has advised that FA Members should keep track of expenses incurred while working from home until further guidance is received from CRA. Keep all receipts and bills concerning costs incurred in relation to carrying out your work from a home environment.
Some FA Members living rurally or otherwise without good internet access face particular challenges teaching online. The FA has received a commitment that Members who are unable or limited in their ability to teach online from their homes will be permitted access to their offices to develop course materials and teach from there. Should public health directives become more restrictive again in the fall, a system will be put in place that permits access to offices, but where a schedule for building access may be applied.
Since March, the FA has advocated for the expansion of e-learning supports for those teaching online. We have approached this in three ways: that a series of workshops – graduated in skills from basic to more advanced –be offered for Moodle and Collaborate, the platforms the Administration has indicated it will support; that the staff complement in E-Learning be increased in order to assure there is the capacity to educate and support Members as they begin to prepare fall courses; and that a number of “digital shepherds” be hired who can answer quick “how to” questions from faculty and students, thereby freeing up some time for the E-Learning specialists/Instructional Designers. To date, the Administration has advised the minimal staff is coping with demand and the administrator overseeing E-Learning has not indicated the need for more resources. There has, however, been a contract appointment to the unit tasked to develop a collection of resources under the Resilient Teaching site. That will be helpful, undoubtedly, but the FA recognizes and continues to advocate for an increased investment in personnel in the E-Learning unit. Demands on that unit will only increase over the summer as fall term approaches. Teaching Members want to teach well, but the ability of many of us to do so depends upon the Administration supporting us, and by consequence, our students.
There has been an initial Collaborate workshop. The FA requested that that session be recorded and made available to Members who were unable to attend. This request was accommodated, and the workshop is available here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/119ZjWTrmekVnUKtDR20gTCPTSXIH10ai/view You will need to be signed in through your upei account to access.
Access to Moodle course sites is now linked to the university’s Colleague system. As part of that integration (linking course registration to Moodle, for eg.), course sites appear on Moodle automatically eight weeks before the start of the course. The FA has advocated that earlier access be provided so Members have more time to experiment with the various features of Moodle, its integration with Collaborate, and to design or build their courses. The default will remain the eight weeks. However, the FA has been advised that Members who want earlier access to their Moodle course sites should request this of the University Librarian, Donald Moses, at email@example.com. He can provide early access. Additionally, Members may request the set-up of a “sandbox” course in Moodle, which will allow one to try out various features of Moodle.
One of the recurring difficulties Sessional Instructors face – in times of COVID or not – is even later access to their courses on Moodle (sometimes mere days before courses begin). The FA advocacy around this issue has produced this outcome: Chairs should email Ryan Giddens in the Registrar’s office (firstname.lastname@example.org) and cc. the VPAR (email@example.com)with the names of Sessional Instructors to attach to courses in the timetable (ie., replacing TBAs). This can be done immediately, and should result in the course being available at the eight-week window.
While we have no positive information to provide on this issue, it is important that Members know that we have been consistently advocating for additional stipends for Sessional Instructors who transitioned courses to online in March, and we continue to advocate for additional stipends to acknowledge the increased workload associated with the creation of online courses in spring/summer/fall sessions. We thank all Members who have reached out asking for this advocacy, who are, in the majority,full-time faculty members who are concerned about the interests of Sessional colleagues.
Those teaching online this spring were informed SOTS had been set up for students to complete online. The issues are twofold. First, the SOTS are invisible to instructors, so it wasn’t clear whether the standard SOTS questions were presented to students or, in departments where there are supplemental questions, both the standard and supplemental questions were presented. The FA has been advised the answer is the latter. Secondly, given the rapid pivot to online teaching in March, with very little time to then prepare for online teaching in May, the fairness of using spring and summer SOTS for purposes of review, tenure, or promotion is questionable. The FA is advocating that the use of spring and summer SOTS in review, tenure, and promotion files should be at the option of the Member. We are engaged in a conversation on this matter.
It would appear that advertising of Sessional positions for fall term is delayed. The FA has received confirmation that Sessional Instructors who hold right of recall for courses that have been timetabled should understand that those courses are proceeding, subject to normal mechanisms. The FA is nevertheless very concerned that fewer than twenty fall and winter courses have been advertised. We are awaiting further clarification from Administration on this issue.
Conference & Research Support, and Sabbaticals
Some FA Members had conference travel scheduled for this spring or summer, but those conferences have been converted to online formats, delayed, or cancelled. The FA has advocated that Members who had already received UPEI travel grants should be allowed to apply those grants toward online conferences (registration, for eg.); and, if the conference is postponed until a later date, should be permitted to carry-over the approved travel grant until the conference is held; and, if the conference has been cancelled entirely, should be permitted to carry-over the funds for use at a similar conference without having to re-apply for a grant. The FA has been advised that Members who received a travel grant may apply it to costs associated with an online conference, primarily to cover registration. Additionally, Members who have not yet applied for a travel grant, may apply for one for forthcoming online conferences. We are still advocating that a carry-over for delayed in-person conferences or a conference-of -a-similar-kind should be permitted.
Public health circumstances and directives may make it difficult for some FA Members to complete research projects within the timelines associated with their internal research grants. This includes those who will now spend their summers designing online courses, or who will have increased care responsibilities, or those whose access to archives, libraries, or labs outside PEI is impossible. The FA has advocated that all internal grants should have timelines extended one year. The FA has been advised that Members may apply for extensions to their grant deadlines per the usual process, and that the consideration of such applications will indeed take into account the exceptional circumstances COVID-19 has presented to researchers. External funding agencies, including the Tri-Council, have developed their own policies.
Some members slated to begin sabbaticals in July may now find it impossible or unlikely that they will be able to carry out their defined sabbatical projects. The Administration has advised that it understands the nature and approach of sabbatical projects may shift owing to current circumstances and, additionally, that applications to defer sabbaticals will be received and considered.
Health & Safety
Members may have noted that under various sub-sections of the Phase 1 and Phase 2 ease-back web pages, it indicates FA Members (and others) will need to provide written confirmation of this, or some variation of this: “Supervisors must have individuals in their area confirm that they have read and understand all aspects of UPEI’s Operational Ease-Back Plan. This can be done either by email or in writing. .” The FA asked, by “all aspects,” does that simply mean they have read the Phase 1 and 2web pages, or is there something more?
More particularly, we were concerned that Members might be presented with a liability waiver they would be asked to sign. The Association has received confirmation that this simply means Members should provide written confirmation to their Supervisor, by letter or email, that they have read and understood the material on the Phase ease-back pages. If you have any concerns about this, please contact the FA.
Members may have noted that the Phase 1 and 2 ease-back plans make reference to a “Supervisor.” This is the person to whom you would send your note (above paragraph) and to whom you could report any health and safety concerns. This person would have action and follow-up responsibilities. The FA was concerned that the term “Supervisor” is ill-defined in those documents and often obscure in usual academic working relationships. More precisely, we were concerned Chairs might be tasked to assure health and safety standards are met and concerns responded to, duties that most Chairs have neither the training to carry out nor the resources to address. Simply put, this is not a Chair’s job. The Association has received confirmation: for the purposes of health and safety matters, Supervisors are one’s Dean/UL. Members might also choose to contact the Department of Health, Safety and Environment at firstname.lastname@example.org should they have a health and safety concern, and can file an incident report for items ranging from an empty hand sanitizing station to concerns about potential exposure to COVID-19, and anything in-between or beyond. Incident report forms are available at: https://files.upei.ca/vpaf/health-and-safety/incident_report_form.pdfand can be sent to email@example.com left in a dropbox on the 3rd floor of Kelley. Additionally, you can phone the Manager of HSE, Liz Rostant, at 902-566-0516.
As campus re-opens, and moving forward as Members may begin to engage with colleagues and students in labs or in clinical settings, the FA was concerned about the provision of PPE and whether or not the Administration will provide that. The Association has been advised that PPE in the forms of masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer is available by contacting Health, Safety and Environment at firstname.lastname@example.org. We have been advised it will be made available immediately, upon request