UPEIFA Annual General Meeting (2021) President’s Report

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)

2020-2021 Social Committee Report

In an effort to build relationships and solidarity across campus, the UPEIFA Social Committee typically organizes regular events for our membership throughout the academic year. Given COVID-19 protection measures, we had significantly less events than in past years. The events we did organize occurred largely online and required innovative ways of bringing members together while also keeping them apart. Winners of the FA Gold, Silver, and Bronze Medals as well as recipients of the FA Entrance Scholarship were honoured at a special online FA time this year.

Thanks go out to this year’s committee members: Pamela Bastante, Laurie Brinklow, Michelle Evason, Raquel Hoersting, Martha Mellish, and Jim Sentance.

And a special thanks goes out to Ashley Hansen and Charlene VanLeeuwen for keeping our members engaged during these challenging times.

by Michael Arfken (Co-Chair)

2020-2021 Ad Hoc Contract Academic Staff (CAS) Committee Report

The Ad Hoc Committee on Contract Academic Staff (CAS) was formed this year with the mandate of raising awareness of issues of particular concern to our CAS members, and of providing support to the FA Executive Committee as we seek to engage with the Employer on these issues. Members are  Kellie Lockheart, Colm Magner, Keri McCaffery, Martha Mellish, Dale Sorensen, and Margot Rejskind (Chair). 

This year the Committee undertook small but essential tasks as it ramped up. The Committee made a recommendation to the FA that it send out occasional reminders to CAS on things of particular interest to them, such as the availability of PDTR funds. It also advocated on behalf of CAS and especially sessional instructors for expanded PDTR and teaching supports in light of COVID; the Chair wrote to the VPAR and the VPAF, highlighting the inequities in teaching supports between T/TT Faculty and CAS, and urging them to raise the amount of PDTR available to sessionals, make it available to all sessionals including those on Step 1, schedule eLearning training sessions at times when most CAS are actually on contract and available to attend them, and other supports. Unfortunately the Employer has not been receptive to these recommendations. 

The Committee also reached out to the provincial government in response to comments made in the Legislature by Minister Brad Trivers, that he does consider job precarity to be an issue on PEI. We informed him that precarity is rampant at UPEI, and pointed out some of the many ways in which it has a negative impact on faculty, students, and the broader community. We are still awaiting a response from the PC government; however, Opposition Leader Peter Bevan-Baker has agreed to meet with us to discuss these issues, and we are hopeful that Minister Trivers will do so as well. In the coming months we look forward to providing further suggestions and perspective on CAS issues, as well as provide model language in advance of the next round of bargaining.

by Margot Rejskind (Chair)

2020-2021 Communications Committee Report

The past academic year has been difficult for the Communications Committee—as it has been for everyone else connected with the Faculty Association in any capacity. The Committee’s job is to get out information about issues facing Members and news about the Association’s campaigns and activities. But in the fluid situation in which we have all found ourselves this year, this has proven very difficult. With the Executive focussed on enforcing the Collective Agreement and helping Members protect their rights as the pandemic has tried to re-write the way we do our jobs and our relationship with the University, this has left little time for new initiatives.

Nevertheless, we produced one issue of the Microfiber—watch for a new name for our communications bulletin coming soon. The website subcommittee met regularly to fine-tune our new(ish) website. Members of the Committee also attended a CAUT training session workshop on media messaging in January.

I would like to thank, Mike Arfkin (co-chair), Laurie Brinklow, Kim Mears, Ariana Patey, Nia Phillips and Chris Vessey for all of their toil on behalf of the committee this year, and to Ashley Hansen, the Association’s Professional Officer, for her support.

Finally, I would also like to thank Sharon Myers for her service to this committee as co-chair (ex officio) in her capacity as President.

By Richard Raiswell (co-chair)

2020-2021 Joint Equity Committee Report

The Joint Equity Committee met only a few times this year, owing in part to the pandemic, as well as various shifts in membership on the FA side. Members at this time were Ann Braithwaite, Sharon Myers (co-chair), and Margot Rejskind for the FA, and Nola Etkin, Kathy Gotschall-Pass (co-chair), and Ron MacDonald for Administration. Meetings in the Fall, previous to the change in committee membership, were focused on providing comment on early drafts of the UPEI EDI Strategic Plan. Although the final document is imperfect, we were pleased to see that some of the recommendations discussed were taken on, and overall the document provides a starting place for the work of promoting EDI for our members across campus.

 Recently, the FA Executive Committee took steps to more effectively align the membership of the Joint Equity Committee with that of the FA Equity Committee, passing a motion to make the Executive Committee Chair of the FA Equity Committee the automatic FA-side co-Chair of the JEC. This will hopefully assure effective communication between the two committees as well as between them and the EC, and ensure that they do not work at cross-purposes, or duplicate work between them.

By Margot Rejskind (Chair)