Note: This article was originally published in the Summer issue of URFA Update. Find the latest issue of URFA Update here.
It has been an astonishing spring for all of us. In March, with the suspension of classes for a week, and our return to “remote” teaching for the remainder of the semester, all of the employees of the University of Regina — both URFA members and others, including staff in CUPE, as well as URFA’s own staff — have been working diligently, suddenly, at times chaotically, at times heroically, scrambling to ensure that our institutional mission carries on with as little disruption as possible, in the face of a rapidly-emerging and unpredictable pandemic whose final outcomes are still far from clear. Special mention should be made of all the people – members and non-members of URFA — who were not able to work from home. Among others, security staff and facilities management together ensured that the campus remained as safe and healthy as possible, an accomplishment that might not be immediately visible to those of us working from home. This incredible effort and its results — a Winter 2020 semester completed under uniquely challenging circumstances — speak to the dedication, intelligence, solidarity, and deep professionalism of all of our membership in all of our constituencies. This includes members at the federated colleges and First Nations University; it includes APT members; and it includes our diverse academic staff of librarians, sessionals, and full-time instructors.
The costs and burdens of the transition of work to our homes have fallen on different people in different ways. For some — especially full-time academic faculty — transition to remote delivery involved skills we had already acquired, and the use of equipment we already possessed. But even in these cases, work from home coupled with the closure of schools has meant for many faculty the imposition of full-time child care and home-schooling in addition to their usual work. And full-time faculty have encountered some serious challenges to their on-going research duties, especially when that work involves specialized equipment or access to labs.
For sessionals the situation was, and continues to be, even more problematic: unlike salaried faculty who have considerable flexibility in how they schedule their duties, sessionals are paid on a by-course basis with the expectation that this will involve a predictable amount of work. There is no question that the disruption of classes and their transition to on-line and other modes of delivery has required far more work than the norm, but without corresponding compensation. Some sessionals (especially new ones) may also have been less familiar with UR Courses and other on-line technology, and may have had more limited access to necessary equipment (including access to reliable internet connections).
And none of our pedagogical accomplishments would have been possible without APT members continuing to work, sometimes from home, sometimes still on campus, sometimes struggling like the rest of us with child-care issues, and in many cases working considerable overtime, to ensure that administrative support, registration help, technical support, financial support, and many other services continued to function essentially as normal. In particular, APT members have worked overtime to assist and offer guidance to instructors having to make the sudden transition to distance delivery — those of us in the academic ranks could not have done our jobs without them. Many of them have been required by their jobs to remain on a rather ghostly campus, as well, and this has created its own strains, burdens, and, yes, risks.
It is one thing to make this extraordinary effort and perform this extraordinary work when we are suddenly presented with dramatic changes of circumstances. It is quite another, however, for our employer to proceed as if this is the new normal. The expectations placed on us by these new circumstances continue to be deeply stressful to many, and issues around work environment, safety, mental health, childcare issues, workload and overtime, quality of instruction, and many other concerns remain unresolved.
In a perfect world, the administration and faculty, APT members, sessionals, and others, would collegially and cooperatively work together to find satisfactory solutions to these challenges. In the real world, this doesn’t always happen. URFA is currently engaged in several initiatives to protect our members from arbitrary or burdensome work demands. It is important to remember that all of the collective agreements remain in force. (The terms of our seven collective agreements can be found here: https://www.urfa.ca/bargaining… — click on the link corresponding to your constituency, and there will be links to current and past contracts.) The University cannot arbitrarily or unilaterally circumvent the terms of these agreements. If you believe that any elements of your collective agreement are being violated, especially as we plan for probable remote delivery of courses in the fall, please do not hesitate to contact the URFA office.
Our Member Services Officers have a unique range of skills in conflict-resolution, hard-won experience in representing the interests of our members, and intimate knowledge of the collective agreements. They can help resolve problems before they rise to gravity of formal grievances, and can offer sound advice for how you can respond to employer demands. Dealing professionally and responsibly with a unique situation does not mean giving up your rights.
With your help, and a little luck, we can come out of this time stronger and better, and with a renewed commitment to our institutional values and responsibilities. In the meantime, be safe, be well, and be kind to yourself and others.