Our Working Conditions are Students’ Learning Conditions
Thank you for joining us for the UPEI Faculty Association Annual General Meeting. As with most years, the FA has been busy addressing a range of issues while adapting to this new environment. The reports outlining many of these activities are available on our website (https://www.upeifa.ca/newsletter-blog-feed/) and I encourage our members to engage with the co-chairs of the various committees if you have further questions about these activities. In just a moment, I will be providing a grievance update as well as an update on our preparations for the next round of contract negotiations. At this time, I would like to thank the UPEIFA Executive Committee for all of their work over the last year. Through this work, I think the Executive Committee has developed a close and productive relationship and I am forever grateful for their support and for their dedication to this work. It has been a tremendous honour to work with the Executive Committee and all our members who have dedicated their time to our activities over the last year.
For the remainder of this report, I would like to focus on our members working conditions in these uncertain and challenging times. In the midst of the global pandemic, it is clear that our members’ workload has increased dramatically while the resources they have been provided for meeting these new demands have proven to be woefully inadequate. With student enrollments on the rise and UPEI Administration making further commitments to enhancing our students’ educational experience, many our members are being pushed to the brink. As dedicated faculty members, librarians, sessional instructors, clinical nursing instructors, and clinical veterinary professionals, our members have faced these challenges with compassion and integrity ensuring that students receive a world class education even in these tumultuous times. But rising to the occasion has inevitably taken its toll on our members’ health and well-being. With their time split between adapting courses to this new environment and attending to the significant needs of students who are struggling with this new reality, our members have precious little time to address their own health concerns not to mention that of their loved ones.
While we believe that UPEI Administration shares our concerns regarding the health and well-being of our members, we nonetheless have significant reservations with the way these concerns have been handled by Administration. Since the start of this global crisis, the UPEI Faculty Association has continually reached out to UPEI Administration with proposals designed to address these urgent concerns. We are disappointed to report that in nearly every instance, those efforts have fallen on deaf ears. Rather than engage with the systemic issues underlying the deteriorating health and well-being of our members, UPEI Administration has focused its efforts on developing a UPEI Employee Wellness Strategy that seeks to alleviate these concerns through exercise, stretching, and meditation techniques. While such activities are certainly an important part of a healthy lifestyle, on its own this is not a viable strategy for addressing the needs of our members in these difficult times. These are serious times and we believe our members and students require serious solutions that are equal to the challenge.
In contrast, many of our colleagues in Atlantic Canada and across the nation have – in collaboration with university administrations – developed innovative and robust strategies for improving their working conditions and by extension the learning conditions of their students. Such strategies include:
-Providing additional funding to enable contract academic staff to transition to online course delivery.
-Redistributing workload to enable faculty to manage the challenge of teaching under these conditions.
-Transitioning institutional supports for travel into teaching resources to support instructors as they navigate this new teaching reality.
-Targeted supports for members disproportionally affected by public health measures.
-Committing to regularly consulting with campus unions on COVID mitigation measures.
Because of these supports and others, many of these colleagues are better positioned even in these difficult times to devote their energy and passion to enhancing their students’ educational experience. And in a global context where students can increasingly choose among a wide range of educational institutions, such supports are paramount.
As educators dedicated to the success of our students, we applaud the Administration for providing vital supports for students who face additional challenges in meeting or exceeding their goals. From a dedicated Student Services staff to a robust UPEI Student Accommodation Policy, we believe that students are well served by the supports available at our institution. Yet, when it comes to our members, once again the situation is decidedly different.
We remain disappointed that despite our best efforts and in contrast to Universities across the country, UPEI Administration continues to oppose the development of a formal employee accommodation policy which would enable employees to address – in a spirit of respect, dignity, and equity – the impact of their own personal struggles on their working lives. These are our friends and family who deserve every bit as much support and compassion as our students.
As always, the UPEI Faculty Association is committed to working with UPEI Administration on practical and sustainable solutions for supporting our members in these unprecedented times. As committed educators, we remain proud of our University and confident that with a reasonable workload and adequate resources and supports, we can continue to deliver an exceptional educational experience now and in the future. We cannot lose sight of the fact that our working conditions are students’ learning conditions and that fighting for improvements in our working conditions is a struggle to defend a vision of University education against an onslaught of austerity and managerialism that threatens to erode that vision.
By: Dr. Michael Arfken (UPEIFA President)