UOITFA Response to Form Letters Distributed to Faculty Regarding Workload and Changes to Mode of Delivery

We have all received form letters that contain a notice of change of mode of delivery of the courses we are teaching online this upcoming academic year. As these letters also notified people of their prospective course loads, many of us went right to the bottom of the letter, looked at what were being told to teach, and then filed it.  We would actually like to draw your attention back to that letter, as there were many elements within it that have implications for your workload, moving forward.

First, although the letter notes that the UOITFA was sent a communication that these letters would be sent out to Members, what it failed to state is that the Faculty Association had been in a series of attempted negotiations to get a Letter of Understanding (LOU), as other universities have done, regarding temporary measures being taken as a result of the pandemic.

Second, the university is encouraging Faculty Members and Senior Administration to “work together” to build massive amounts of online content in efforts to now become “…the best blended learning, research intensive, university in Canada.” This last statement, received in an earlier communication, represents a shift in the mandate of this university. Although President Murphy has stated that he is not interested in becoming a largely online university, suggesting that these changes in the letter are not permanent, statements made in this letter suggest that these changes could be made permanent.

The administration, unlike all other universities in Ontario, has decided to make a proactive decision to extend emergency measures out to July 1, 2021. A new survey commissioned by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) shows a significant number of students are reconsidering their plans for university and college in the fall, citing lost income, limited support, and concerns about the quality of remote learning.

Perhaps most important, is that this is considered normal workload despite the fact that in the past Faculty Members have been given course releases or overload stipends to build these online courses recognizing the tremendous work involved in creating these courses. Article 16.02e) of the UOITFA Collective Agreement states that “The Employer establishes the mode of delivery for Teaching through its established Internal Quality Assurance Process (IQAP). The principal modes of delivery for a standard course at the University are face-to-face, hybrid and fully online.” In other words, all changes have a designated review process that guarantees quality assurance.

Although we can understand the need to be flexible because of the pandemic, these quality assurance processes can be followed for Janaury 1, 2021, yet the president has decided to bypass the policies and procedures, in favour of this new agenda of “blended learning.”  President Murphy stated at the Faculty of Science Faculty Council that this transition should “not be driven by arcane IQAP process” before it was ignored in the rollout of the change to mode of delivery. This new agenda is somewhat confusing as Article 16.02e) suggests that we already have an existing blended learning environment: i.e., “…face-to-face, hybrid and fully online.

The wording of this letter suggests that if a member, as the expert in their area, wants to revert back to using a classroom in some capacity, they would have to go through all of the phases of curriculum and planning outlined in the IAQP policy, and could be rejected.  Will the quality assurance process that was dismissed as archaic and ignored for January 2021 by the Senior Leadership suddenly become important when professors decide to go back to the classroom should they feel safe and decide to do so?

Finally, there are no caveats or restrictions on this language as we are seeing in other university language. There are no indications that this change in mode of delivery is temporary. We are not seeing other universities currently extending this temporary mode of delivery out to the summer of 2021. They have rightly held off on this decision, seeking consultation, working with this evolving situation to do what is best for all involved.

We are concerned that these changes, done without consultation, with no acknowledgement in workload adjustments of the extraordinary effort that has been asked of us, may result in less than stellar learning experiences for our students. This in turn may lead to lower enrolments in addition to those we may see because students did not seem to be fully supportive of the online learning environments. Extending this workload out to the summer of 2021 seems premature at this time.. If you are concerned about your workload, you can speak to your dean and ask for consideration under Article 16.05b) which states, in part, “…If a Faculty Member encounters difficulty with the workload plan assigned by the Dean, the Faculty Member shall indicate to the Dean within ten (10) Days of receiving the plan that a meeting is necessary to discuss possible revisions to the plan.”

The UOITFA will be taking action to address the various workload concerns associated with this transition by filing group workload grievances for each faculty and providing templates, that can be found in the Faculty Forum, for individual Faculty Members to use to discuss this issue with their Deans. Please reach out to the UOITFA at office@uoitfa.ca if you have any questions or concerns about your workload for the upcoming year.

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