2021-2022 President’s Report

I’m pleased to welcome you to the 2022 UPEIFA Annual General Meeting (AGM). It has certainly been an eventful year and the next year shows no signs of disappointing. So with that let’s get going.

I’d like to begin by highlighting the important work of FA members who has volunteered their time to keep our Association afloat and on track. As I intend to discuss in the rest of my remarks, our Association is nothing more and nothing less than our collective contributions. Whether you’re serving on standing or ad hoc committees, adjudicating awards, or supporting your colleagues through a grievance process, your work makes it possible to defend and advance our working conditions. For that, I would like to congratulate you for playing these important roles in this collective project.

I’d also like to draw attention to the outstanding folks who serve of the UPEIFA Executive Committee – Margot Rejskind, Larry Hale, Andrea Bourque, Fred Kibenge, Simon Lloyd, and Sean Weibe. Particularly in the lead-up to negotiations, we have spent considerable time together discussing strategy and initiating a range of processes in defense of our Collective Agreement. These are people who are passionate about our working conditions and committed to improving the lives of everyone who lives, works, and study on our campus. I feel fortunate to be able to count them among my friends.

I’d also like to single out the work of our Office Manger Ashley Hansen. She does an incredible job of keeping us on track and ensuring that we have all the resources we need to advance your collective interests.

While I have been a UPEI employee for the last 16 years, I must admit that I’ve only been actively involved in the Faculty Association for the last 6. During that time, I’ve had an opportunity to experience our working conditions both as an uninvolved beneficiary of our collective agreement as well as someone who has played a variety of roles from grievance officer and member-at-large to Vice-President and my current position. Through those experiences, I’ve come to understand both the challenges and rewards of being more involved – and encouraging our colleagues to become more involved – in our Association.

What I’ve come to appreciate is that the principle obstacle to greater participation in our Association is not so much that our colleagues fail to understand the importance of a vibrant academic association but that under the terms of our collective agreement and in the context of our current administration, there is precious little time to devote to such an endeavour. Just think of it: many of you are being asked in the context of a global health care crisis to provide a word-class education to your students, maintain a productive research program, fulfill service requirements, and have some semblance of a life outside this institution. For others, the reality of insecure employment makes it necessary for you to cobble together a collection of individual or short-term contracts without job security and with little or no benefits. In this context, who has extra time and why would they choose to waste such a valuable commodity on their academic staff association?

It’s difficult to argue with this until we appreciate the circularity of the problem itself. Why don’t many of us have enough time to be engaged in our Association? Because our working conditions leave us with little time for anything else. Why do our working conditions leave us with little time for anything else? Because we haven’t been engaged in our Association? The circularity of the problem makes it clear that any improvement to our working conditions must begin with an interrogation of the way we relate to one another in a unionized context.

There are a number of models for how academic staff associations can function. On the service model, members pay dues to a faculty association whose primary purpose under the Labour Act is to serve as their sole and exclusive bargaining agent. Under this model, most members of academic staff associations come to view the association as a third-party to be called upon if they have specific workplace issues. While there are certainly a number of important and dedicated people devoted to the cause of the Association (and if you are attending this meeting, there is a good chance you are one of those people), they make up a small fraction of the entire membership. For the rest, in the absence of any pressing individual issues, members take little interest and have minimal involvement in the association.

It is important to make clear that you are not alone. Exacerbated by a pandemic that shows little signs of abating, academic staff associations across the country are struggling to improve working conditions for colleagues who are often overworked, burned out, and in a poor position to devote any significant energy towards their associations. Yet increasingly, associations across the country have been exploring another model – what is sometimes referred to as an organizing model for academic associations:

Under the organizing model, academic staff associations are viewed not as external entities providing a service but rather as the sum total of the membership itself. Within this model, the aim is to empower academic staff to improve their working conditions through direct collective action both inside and outside of bargaining.

Rather than placing inordinate emphasis on mollifying an Employer in the hope that this can give the Association a seat at the table, the organizing model harnesses the power of the membership and the local community to realign the employment relationship itself. Through collective action, public relations campaigns, and coordination with other campus unions, it becomes clear that academic staff and administration stand on equal footing and that the trajectory of our institution depends not only on our students but also on the working conditions of the academic staff that are the bedrock of this institution.

So within an organizing model, what does collective action look like?

Collective Action

There are of course going to be different levels of collective action. For some, changing your Zoom background or profile pick, placing a FA sticker or poster on your door, or attending an FA event is going to be an important first step. And for those of us attending this meeting, I hope you will do whatever you can to help our colleagues take these first steps.

But there are other levels of involvement as well – some in fact that have already led to important changes across campus. For example, over the last year, we’ve solicited your thoughts on a range of issues from health and safety measures to collective bargaining priorities. Your collective voice has made it possible to secure if not improve our working conditions in what has proven to be an exceptionally challenging context.

Health & Safety

On the health and safety front, you may recall that just prior to the beginning of the Fall 2021 semester, our employer notified the campus community that nearly every COVID-19 mitigation measure would be lifted. Not long after we received this notification, the Faculty Association distributed a survey requesting your input on the precautions you felt were most appropriate for ensuring all students, faculty, and staff have a healthy and safe environment. We cannot lose sight of the fact that in the face of employer resistance and in the context of a public relations campaign, your collective voice pressured a recalcitrant employer to adopt (and subsequently celebrate) a formal mandatory vaccine mandate and masking requirement.

Moreover, in the face of repeated assurances from our employer that the campus community should have no concerns about campus indoor air quality, you collectively pushed for further measures and increased clarity around a robust COVID-19 ventilation strategy. Your perseverance lead to a professional evaluation that uncovered significant concerns which has resulted in commitments from our Employer to make significant improvements to campus ventilation systems – improvements that will benefit the entire campus community.

In the midst of these improvements, you have also made another significant gain. You have made it clear that health and safety decisions are collective decisions involving the entire campus community. Regardless of what happens going forward, you have secured your role in these important decisions.

Collegial (Shared) Governance

While ensuring that we have a larger role to play in health and safety decisions is certainly important, we must recognize it as but one part of a larger goal of ensuring that academic staff play a central role in shaping the trajectory of our institution. From speaking to you, it has become clear that you feel increasingly sidelined from a range of decision that impact our campus and by extension the entire community.

To that end, over the last year we have tried to make significant inroads into protecting and improving collegial governance at our institution. Much of this work has involved doing our part to facilitate your participation in various decision making processes. I have no doubt that together, academic labour unions and robust collegial governing bodies can act as bulwarks against the centralization of authority in an employer or administration that might otherwise place fiscal and managerial priorities ahead of our working conditions and academic values.

This shared commitment to the decentralization of authority and the priority of academic (rather than managerial) values creates a fruitful environment for academic staff to work collaboratively to defend academic freedom, address excessive workloads, and ensure that we have the resources we need to carry out our academic function. Put simply, academic labour unions and collegial governing bodies function most effectively when they grasp the undeniable connection between our working conditions and our students’ learning conditions.

Working with a number of your elected representatives on UPEI Senate, we’ve pushed for greater transparency and accountability when it comes to the operation of UPEI Senate. We’ve ensured that UPEI academic staff are aware of upcoming meetings, in a position to engage with their elected representatives, and provided the means to attend these meetings. I have no doubt that your presence at these meetings has made a significant contribution towards improving administrative transparency and accountability. On that note, UPEI Senate is meeting at 3:00p today. I encourage you to use the link that was distributed to the campus community to join us for this important meeting.

Negotiations

So far, what I’ve described is what you’ve been able to accomplish collectively outside of bargaining and often with little more involvement than completing surveys and attending meetings. While these are no doubt important achievements, they pale in comparison to what we can achieve in the context of negotiations. As of the end of March, both of our bargaining units have formally entered negotiations with our employer to secure a new collective agreement. While your Chief Negotiator will provide you with an update in just a moment, I cannot overemphasize the power of this moment and the opportunity you have in front of you. Under our collective agreement, the term and conditions of our employment are set for the length of our agreement. Outside of grievance and arbitration – which I will update you on in a moment – neither party is entitled to challenge the terms of our agreement for the duration of our agreement. As of July 1st, those terms will have expired and new terms will need to be negotiated. In this context, our solidarity and your support have never been more vital.

In addition, this year nearly every campus union – from UPEI support staff and security to maintenance and facilities worker – will be going through a similar bargaining process. While we are in constant communication with other campus union representatives, now more than ever it is important for you to share your words of support and solidarity with administrative assistants, research staff, and custodial staff. More than ever, we share with all campus workers the struggle to improve our working conditions.

In preparation for negotiations, we have gone to unprecedented lengths to understand your concerns and identify your priorities. The bargaining mandate that you unanimously approved at our last meeting has been integral in drafting collective agreement language to make your priorities a reality. While we believe our proposals are fair and reasonable, it is important to stress that we cannot place all of our faith in our Employer’s ability or interest in being swayed by the reasonableness of our positions. In collective bargaining, our ability to negotiate improvements in our working conditions rests entirely on your collective support and the ability of your bargaining team to operate in the context of a credible threat of job action.

So what can you do?

First and foremost, make it clear whenever possible that you support your collective bargaining team. Whether it be a button on you shirt, a poster on your door, or a Zoom background on you call, there is nothing that enables your bargaining team to advance your collective interests more than our Employer recognizing that the people across the table have the unwavering support of YOU – the academic staff that are the driving force behind this institution. At the end of the day, our greatest strength in negotiations is our solidarity with our colleagues, with all campus workers, and with the entire labour movement.

In conclusion, I imagine that when most of us decided to pursue an advanced degree in our respective fields, we did so out of our love for a particular area of inquiry, our dedication to teaching, or simply because we were inspired by someone who was in a position similar to the one that many of us now occupy. But if we remain dedicated to our craft, to our colleagues, and to our students, we cannot lose sight of the fact that such dedication is of little consequence if we fail to secure the material conditions for the work that we do. This is what we mean when we say that “our working conditions are our students learning conditions.”

  • If we hope to inspire our students, then we cannot miss an opportunity for them to learn from our example.
  • If we hope to support our communities, then we cannot be afraid to speak truth to power.
  • And if we hope to salvage the reputation of OUR University, then we cannot let this moment pass us by.

Within an organizing model, this struggle cannot be OURS unless it is YOURS as well. The last few years have taught us the importance of our shared responsibility to protect our communities. We must appreciate this lesson, seize this moment, and work together to build a University that we can once again be proud of. Let’s get to work.

Solidarity!

by Michael Arfken (UPEI Faculty Association President)

2021-2022 Social Committee Report

This year, the following FA Members served on the Social Committee:

  • Michael Arfken (Co-Chair)
  • Laurie Brinklow (Co-Chair)
  • Pamela Bastante (Member-at-Large)
  • Raquel Hoersting (Member-at-Large)
  • Martha Mellish (Member-at-Large)
  • Jim Sentance (Member-at-Large)

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 once again 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.

Late last year, the Social Committee did have an opportunity to sneak in an in-person FA Time at the Fox and Crow. The event was well attended and made clear the importance of in-person events for building solidarity. While we had planned other in-person events this year, unfortunately the Omicron variant had other ideas. As a result, our post-AGM FA time will be held online on Friday, April 8 with food provided by Gallant’s.

We look forward to returning to in-person social events just as soon as it is safe.

Finally, we want to thank  Ashley Hansen for her work in support of the committee.

by Michael Arfken (Co-Chair)

2021-2022 Communications Committee Report

This year, the following FA Members served on the Communications Committee:

  • Michael Arfken (Co-Chair)
  • Kim Mears (Co-Chair)
  • David Hickey (Member-at-Large)
  • Ariana Patey (Member-at-Large)
  • Nia Phillips (Member-at-Large)
  • Chris Vessey (Member-at-Large)

For much the year, the committee provided support for collective bargaining preparations. This included generating stock pictures and video for use in future communications.

In addition, committee members provided support for the “We Are UPEI” campaign in the lead up to collective bargaining. Now that we have entered bargaining and with this campaign drawing to a close, the committee will be focusing on keeping our members updated on bargaining including generating infographics and other content around specific issues and producing reports summarizing bargaining sessions.

By Michael Arfken (Co-Chair)

2021-2022 Awards & Scholarships Committee Report

The Awards and Scholarships Committee oversees awards and scholarships that are sponsored and co-sponsored by the Faculty Association, as well as the events celebrating FA award recipients. As Co-Chairs, we are assisted this year by committee members Cora Gilroy, Susan Graham, Krishna Thakur, Raquel Hoersting, and Armin Bodaghkhani.

During a virtual FA Time on April 8th, we will celebrate the 2021 Faculty Association entrance scholarship recipients and medalists. Thanks to the support of the Social committee, members will be picking up delicious appetizers later this afternoon to enjoy during the event. Our Entrance Scholarship recipients are Emma Ledgerwood and Liam Kelly. Recipients of the Undergraduate Medals are Bronze Medal – Grace Burns; Silver Medal – Allison Winters; and Gold Medal – Desiree Rehel. The Graduate Medal is awarded to Meagan Walker.  We invite all FA members to join us on Zoom to celebrate the accomplishments of these students at 5:00 today. For our new members, the entrance scholarships and medal awards are funded entirely by the Faculty Association, including through individual contributions by members. If you are interested in supporting our awards, go to the UPEIFA website https://www.upeifa.ca/get-involved/donate/ for details on how to set up a donation through payroll deduction. 

At the time of writing this report, nominations for FA Member Awards are about to close with files being turned over to the four adjudication sub-committees. You may have noticed a call for nominations for Hessian Merit Awards for Excellence in Teaching for Sessional and Full-time members was issued every semester this year, including summer sessions.  This is in recognition that colleagues in some programs are teaching year-round.  

We would not be able to celebrate the accomplishments of our students and colleagues without the service of quite a few people. We have four sub-committees that will be adjudicating nominations our FA awards in the coming few weeks. We’d like to acknowledge these FA members for the careful consideration they give to these nominations. Amy MacFarlane is chairing the Hessian Merit Award for Excellence in Teaching Subcommittee, joined by Rachelle Gauthier, Grant McSorley, Krishna Thakur, Gail Macartney, Simon Lloyd, Chris Vessey, and Richard Raiswell. The Merit Award for Scholarly Achievement Subcommittee is chaired by Edward Chung with Carolyn Thorne, Mike MacLellan, Christina Murray, Emily John, Aitazaz Farooque, and Kim Mears also serving on this sub-committee. Our third subcommittee for the Merit Award for Outstanding Service is chaired by Laurie Brinklow, joined by Lara Cusack, Xiao Chen, Kuljeet Grewal, MacKenzie Johnson and Christopher Power. Finally, our fourth sub-committee for the Janet Pottie Murray Award for Educational Leadership will be adjudicated by Jason Pearson as chair and committee members Sue Dawson, Philip Smith, Libby Osgoode, Andrew Carrothers, Kathy Snow, and Patrice Drake. We appreciate the time and care dedicated to the adjudication of awards and we are looking forward to celebrating this year’s recipients.

As we wrap-up this report, we are happy to let members know about plans for our annual Faculty Recognition Celebration on Wednesday May 4, 2022, at the Charlottetown Rodd Hotel. We will be celebrating our FA award recipients as well as recognizing retirees and tickets will be available in the next week or so.  We hope to have an excellent turnout so keep an eye on your email in-box.  You don’t want to miss out on tickets. After a two-year hiatus on in-person award celebrations, it promises to be an exceptional event.

By Charlene VanLeeuwen (Co-Chair) & Nadja Bressan (Co-Chair)

2021-2022 Research & Advocacy Committee Report

According to its formal mandate, the UPEIFA Research and Advocacy Committee is: “tasked by the Executive with completing research and making recommendations on issues being discussed by the Executive. In addition, the Committee serves an advocacy function to external groups and organizations, and to governments.” In practice, the Committee has generally focussed on its research role, supporting the FA Executive (and the Negotiating Team, in years when negotiation positions are being prepared), and this continued in 2021-2022.

The main area of Committee activity over the past year has been to assist the Executive in crafting and delivering a number FA membership surveys on issues of interest and concern.

As noted elsewhere, it has, unfortunately, been necessary for the FA to apply considerable pressure on the employer over the past year to ensure any action on the University’s responsibility to provide safe and fair working conditions for our members, and the UPEI community at large. To inform and guide these efforts, a number of membership surveys have been conducted, including:

  • June 2021 survey on members’ experiences and expectations in preparing for the Fall 2021 semester, after the University announced plans for more “in-person” [on-campus] learning in the 2021-2022 academic year.
  • August 2021 survey on a campus vaccination requirement [vaccine mandate].
  • September 2021 survey on members’ experiences of the start of the Fall 2021 semester.
  • October-November 2021 survey, “Improving Access to Physical Activity for Members” (survey developed by UPEI researcher Dr. Travis Saunders)
  • January 2022 survey on members’ experiences and expectations regarding UPEI supports for their work as the University reverted to primarily online learning, in response to the Omicron surge.
  • February-March 2022 “mini-survey” on the experiences of any members who requested extensions to online course deliver, as the University reverted to predominantly in-person learning at the end of February.
  • March 2022 survey on members’ expectations on continuing UPEI COVID precautions, in the context of the PEI Government’s stated intention to end most provincial pandemic measures on April 7th.

Further, as reported in detail at the FA’s December 2021 AGM, detailed bargaining surveys were also sent to members of both bargaining units in late October 2021.

Great appreciation is due to the many members who took time to provide such careful and considered responses to the above surveys: the quantity and quality of feedback provided in all surveys was very good, and the more impressive in light of all the extra burdens our members have continued to carry over the past year. Members’ survey responses have been absolutely critical for the FA Executive’s ongoing efforts to engage with the employer on issues of concern.

Thanks are also due, of course, to the Research and Advocacy Committee’s members, including Nino Antadze, Jean Mitchell, Rebecca Reed-Jones, and Javier Sanchez — as well as former members Andy Trivett and Tess Miller (who had to finish their terms early to take up other appointments) — for their readiness to assist and advise. Unfortunately, the focus on preparing and analyzing surveys, often on very tight time-lines, has meant that there has been far less opportunity for consultation with the Committee than I would have liked, but Committee members were nevertheless been most helpful and supportive when called upon, and this was appreciated.

Looking to the coming year, I am (cautiously) hopeful that there will be opportunity for a more deliberative and proactive approach to the Committee’s research mandate. While we must remain ready to deal with time-sensitive issues as they arise, the development of a planned research agenda has the potential to ease the heavy workload of the Executive — and especially our President and Vice-President —and better draw on the collective wisdom of the Research and Advocacy Committee’s members. In this context, I am especially thankful to those who are remaining on the Committee, and those who will be joining us at the AGM. We have an exciting year of learning ahead.

By Simon Lloyd (Co-Chair)