Eduvation Blog

Labour Unrest and Burnout

Good morning! 

Today I’m gearing up for a half-day strategy session with the leadership team at University Canada West in Vancouver (well, virtually). We’re going to be looking at the landscape for higher ed in Canada post-COVID, and the challenges of planning in turbulent times. (Do let me know if that’s something you’d like to explore for your senior team or board.)

As always, there’s lots of bad news out there about the pandemic. COVID19 is spreading uncontrollably in more than half the states in the US, with rising case counts, test positivity rates, and hospitalization rates in all but 10 states. Almost half of the new cases in Alberta cannot be traced – a sign of testing and tracing being overwhelmed, and making it almost impossible to contain the spread without significant restrictions.

But you know all that, if you’ve been paying attention. Today, news stories seem to be coalescing around a theme I’ve been watching for several months now: faculty and staff precarity and unrest. TBH it was a trend long before COVID19, but the pandemic has pushed it to centre stage, like it has intensified so many other trends affecting higher ed.

But first –


University Canada West

UCW has been operating in BC since 2004, but if you only remember troubling headlines from its early years, I should bring you up to date. (This isn’t a paid announcement; I just found this interesting and thought you might too.) Since its acquisition by Global University Systems in 2014, UCW has stabilized financially, brought in an experienced administrative team, and grown from 150 to about 2,000 graduate and undergraduate students. This fall, UCW expanded into 90,000 sq ft in the podium of Vancouver House, a distinctive, twisting tower set at the foot of the Granville Street Bridge. The new campus adds room for an additional 3,400 students, once social distancing is back to normal. UCW


“Academic staff are worried about their students, their research, and their jobs.  It is not clear how the concerns about remote teaching, research and jobs at universities and colleges are going to be addressed without more government and institutional support for post-secondary education.”Brenda Austin-Smith, President, CAUT


“We are unfortunately not seeing large swaths of the country taking battling this virus seriously and, as a result, cases are rising. This is a virus. It can be beat. But if only 80% of us try, it won’t be enough. We can only crush it if 100% of us do our part.”Ryan Panchadsaram, former US Deputy Chief Technology Officer


Growing Labour Unrest

Normally I tend to omit labour relations stories, since they follow really predictable patterns and seldom shed much light about the future for CdnPSE. But a number of developments in recent days underscore the many concerns raised by the pandemic, which collectively might be a trend to watch…

Overworked, Stressed, Anxious

A crowdsourced survey of 4,300 Canadian faculty finds that the pandemic, and the overnight shift to emergency remote teaching, significantly increased the workload and stress level of academic staff. 84% reported somewhat or much higher stress levels, “balancing work and dependent care, challenges with teaching and research, and job insecurity.” Almost a third reported they were working >10 additional hours per week, and two-thirds were researching “less or not at all” due to pandemic restrictions on conferences, dependent care, and research. 80% of part-time workers felt insecure in their jobs, and a third fear layoffs – particularly in Nova Scotia and Alberta.  CAUT

Abuse of Emergency Powers

Based on a survey of Ontario faculty associations, 88% of Ontario universities took a “non-consultative and top-down” approach to pandemic response, and 73% of those that established a COVID19 task force or committee did not include any faculty or student representatives. About 68% did not consult senate about emergency remote teaching or academic plans for the fall, and 65% were not consulted about budgetary decisions. OCUFA is concerned that established governance practices are being “sidelined,” and reports “violations of collective agreement provisions, abuse of emergency powers, implementation of unilateral decisions on academic matters such as increasing class sizes, lack of recognition of the increased workload of faculty and academic librarians, and post-approval presentation of plans and decisions to the campus community.”  OCUFA

Intellectual Property Rights

Many universities regard faculty lecture notes as the intellectual property of the professor, but have different rules for online courses, where the completed courses and sometimes even the lectures are the property of the institution. American U specifically advised its faculty this spring that lectures recorded using Blackboard would become the property of the institution, but lectures recorded using other platforms would not. Last year, Purdue U established a new policy that claimed institutional copyright on all online modules – leaving faculty concerned about the implications of emergency remote teaching this spring. Recorded lectures could potentially be used to “teach your classes without you,” and untenured, contingent faculty are particularly vulnerable.  The Verge

“Double-Whammy” for Contract Staff

More than half the faculty appointments in Canada are contract instructors, and the pandemic has highlighted the precarity of their employment. Thousands of contract staff and faculty have been laid off, had their hours reduced, or simply not had their contracts renewed – and few other institutions will be hiring anytime soon. Most are paid on a per-course basis, and many are not being compensated for the additional work of converting in-person courses for online delivery. (Which takes “ten times longer.”)  The pandemic is therefore also a setback for equity and diversity initiatives, since contract faculty are disproportionately female, racialized, or to have a disability.  Huffington Post

New Developments

Burnout among Dal Faculty

Dalhousie U was to have entered conciliation this week with its Faculty Association, which says the pivot to online delivery has “drastically increased instructors’ workloads” and “driven people to the verge of burnout.” The FA suggested a one-year extension of the expired contract, but administration argues a new contract is necessary to provide stability in what will likely be a difficult time. Proposed changes to faculty pensions are the main unresolved issue.  CBC

uOttawa Support Staff on Strike

More than 1,300 support staff at uOttawa began a legal strike yesterday morning after they could not negotiate a tentative agreement with administration after 19 months of bargaining. Key outstanding issues include proposed cuts to retirement allowances, parental leaves, and prescription drug benefits. (“This is a very difficult pill to swallow,” said the OSSTF president.) The university intends to maintain all operations, although “students can anticipate delays and potential interruption of service.”  Ottawa Citizen

Objections to “Outsourcing”

The uLethbridge Faculty Association reports that Australian educational services company Navitas is in discussion with UofL administration about a pathways partnership to improve the recruitment and retention of international students. The ULFA observes that Navitas has contracted with Simon Fraser, Ryerson, uWinnipeg and uManitoba, and is apparently in discussions with Western, Memorial and uLethbridge. The ULFA cite Western’s Faculty Association concerns about privatizing and outsourcing union jobs, undermining academic freedom, and compromising academic standards. They also believe such programs allow “wealthy international students” who are less academically qualified to “jump the queue” into the university. But Ryerson’s instructors appear to be unionized.  ULFA

COVID on Campus

CdnPSE reports 8 more cases…

McMaster U reports a 7th case of COVID19 on campus: a student who was on campus 3 days prior to testing positive.  McMaster

Olds College has reported its first case of COVID19 in the campus community, of an individual who lives off campus. Olds

uOttawa has suspended the Gee-Gees football training program after 5 players tested positive for COVID19, and were reportedly “not following self-isolation rules.” Until further notice, uOttawa has closed all sports and rec facilities, and cancelled fitness, wellness and sport programs.  CTV

And a Correction…

Yesterday I reported that Laurier added 9 more cases on Friday – but actually I had already counted those cases from Thursday. (They just made it into local media a day late.) So actually, the total cases since Sept at Laurier have been 24, as detailed in the “Historical Data” section of their COVID tracker page.

My sincere apologies for the error! (And thanks to Graham Mitchell for getting me to “check my work,” as my Math teacher would say.)

CdnPSE Updates

Mohawk College enrolment is down 12%, much less than the 20% predicted earlier this year. Compounded with lost revenues from ancillaries like parking, Mohawk is projecting a $6M deficit for 2020-21, which will be covered from reserves. “Some” of the ~150 staff laid off in July are back on the job. Flamborough Review

uToronto Scarborough announced on the weekend that all in-person class elements will be moved online for the remainder of the fall semester, in response to the PHO restrictions imposed in Toronto on Friday. Fitness facilities and sit-down dining are closed.  The Varsity

Vancouver Island U has announced that it will continue with hybrid learning for “much of our programming” in the Spring 2021 term (starting Jan 1).  VIU

York U has closed its indoor gyms and seated dining areas, in response to new provincial restrictions in Toronto and York Region.  YorkU


Art is Freedom

Northeastern U (Boston) released a 2-min vid last week in which design major Dylan Steinberg shares his virtual gallery show “Done Talking.” Putting the exhibition online allowed him “huge reach” and almost limitless hanging space, while still having a “walk-through feel.” The vid is simultaneously a student testimonial for the design program, and an interesting glimpse of how the program has adapted to pandemic reality. YouTube


Thanks for reading. Stay safe and be well!

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