Faculty and Students Need Answers Video Background

Faculty and Students Need Answers
April 1, 2016
Lots of Questions, Few Answers, No Adequate Responses
April 4, 2016
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Faculty and Students Need Answers Video Background

According to a TRU senior administrator speaking on Radio NL last week, questions posed in a TRUFA video were “all new to admin,” and that “all TRUFA has to do is ask administration questions and they will get answers.”

Well the truth is that TRUFA has been asking lots of questions—regarding some issues, for more than a year—but TRU faculty are receiving few answers and certainly no adequate responses.  An appropriate response from TRU administration must be, first, acknowledgement that a problem exists, followed by a  willingness to work collegially with TRUFA to address the problem or take specific action that moves towards resolving the issue.

I want to share our experience on two of the issues.

Course Evaluations:
TRU and TRUFA agreed in a signed Memorandum of Settlement in July 2015 that student questionnaires would be “administered in class.”  In October, Senate approved a document that recognized the rights of students who had missed the in-class questionnaire opportunity, due to illness or other reasons, to be allowed to complete the questionnaire at another time.  TRUFA was, in addition, fully aware that the Memorandum also stated “nothing herein overrides the jurisdiction of Senate.”

In October I wrote to two administrators who were responsible for the course evaluations and pointed out that the Memorandum’s requirement that questionnaires had to be administered in class, and that TRUFA was concerned about unsupervised completion of questionnaires by students.  I did not receive an answer to my e-mail.

It wasn’t until the series of videos TRUFA produced on the subject of course evaluations in March that TRU administration responded by calling for a meeting to discuss the issues.   At that meeting, TRUFA was willing to accommodate the Senate requirement through having the questionnaire survey open on-line only during a designated class time, but then – upon request of a student who had missed the initial class – the survey would be re-opened.  This suggestion was rejected by administration, who pointed out that surveys had to remain open for 48 hours.  TRUFA still does not know whether that response was due to technical limitations, or was possibly due to a lack of administrative personnel to monitor the closing of surveys once class time had expired.

What TRU administration has committed to doing is to monitor the student responses, identify numbers of students who respond outside of classroom time, and look for possible anomalies.  These actions are not sufficient.

Failure to Budget for Sessional Positions:
The new cost-based budget model has created some challenges for Deans when they work with the Provost and the VP Finance on finalizing Faculty and School budgets.  Since TRU administration will allow for budgeting for only “core expenditures,” namely fixed salary costs of tenure-track and tenured faculty, plus any Limited Term Contract faculty salaries that extend through the next academic year. there is no guaranteed allocation of funding for Continuing Sessional or Sessional faculty, even in some programs where a significant portion of the course delivery is performed by those faculty members.

After the decanal budget meetings in the middle of March, some department faculty members were told by their Deans that Deans “could not budget for sessional positions.”  In the case of one department, more than 44 course sections had been taught by Continuing Sessional faculty during the 2015-2016 academic year and the likelihood was that a similar number of sections would need to be covered by these faculty members, especially since one of the department’s tenured members had retired.  In other areas of the campus, Chairs have told me that a similar refusal to allow budgeting for sessional positions has occurred, in spite of an ongoing and persistent need for sessional delivery of core courses.

On March 23rd, TRUFA raised this issue with administrators on the Joint Labour Management Consultative Committee.  No answer or explanation was forthcoming.  On March 31st, TRUFA again met with two TRU administrators.  Again, no answer or explanation was offered.  TRUFA has heard somewhat contradictory reports indicating that some Deans have asked for sessional funding – at least, for some programs—and the Provost has denied the requests very selectively.  In other words, some departments and programs are “more equal” than others on this campus.  In addition, TRUFA has heard that the Deans were told outright that they cannot request funding for sessional positions.

In the absence of a response from TRU, I can only speculate as follows.  Despite a pattern of reliance on sessional faculty delivery in a number of departments, TRU has decided to—at least attempt—to run programs without sessional hiring.  Reasons?

  1. After the mediator’s recommendations were ratified in February, sessional pay rates will be rising.  Is TRU Finance looking for a way to reduce costs?  Remember, however, that the provincial government is funding every cent of those increases.
  2. When TRU administration does not allow sessionals to be included in departmental workload plans, they can claim that there’s no expectation of future work, thus denying medical, dental and extended health benefits to those Continuing Sessional faculty who qualify.
  3. Most disturbingly, TRU administration intends to maintain service to the same number of students by cutting sessional course sections and increasing the class capacities of all tenure-track and tenured faculty.  For some programs, additionally, Deans have put pressure on individual faculty members to adjust their workloads to take on more hours and service to more students.

For TRU administration to blithely claim that either these and other issues had not been raised previously by TRUFA with TRU administration, or that asking would result in adequate answers and action, is unfortunate.  TRU faculty deserve better.