Why Workload Matters

Categories: Bargaining Updates 2014, Workload

While the parties have agreed on many issues there are a number of issues still in dispute. On some of these issues the parties are likely to engage in further discussion that might lead to resolution, others will have to be decided by an Arbitrator. Please note that any items agreed to at the bargaining table will not be implemented until the interest arbitration is complete. This is the fourteenth in a series of blog posts to discuss both the matters that have been agreed to and those that are still in dispute, and the sixth dealing with matters still in dispute.

Prior to the 2010 Bargaining Round the Association conducted its usual survey of its members. In that round, responding to many comments we had been receiving from members, we inserted a special section in the survey on workload. What we found was significant dissatisfaction with the transparency and equity of workload assignments, as well as a concern that many members were suffering from unhealthy workloads and difficult work-life balance challenges. At that time we developed a proposal to the University on faculty workload that aimed to make sure that our members would experience a healthy and productive work environment, with workloads assigned collegially, fairly and equitably. We based our proposal on workload language at other universities like the University of Toronto, Western and Queens, but particularly focussed on the University of Toronto.

The Association believes that the workload policy at the University of Toronto contributes to its number 1 status in Canada, as well as being ranked as the top Canadian university internationally. In the 2014 survey we asked if members supported the Association in its emphasis on continuing to achieve workload language that is similar to the University of Toronto, and received a strong positive response.

However, as a result of the destructive budgeting process that UBC has adopted, we are increasingly hearing complaints not just about the transparency and fairness of workload allocation, but the overall amount of work that faculty are being expected to do. Members comment on having to deal with increased student numbers, higher research expectations, and more and more downloaded administrative work with fewer resources, less support, and in some departments, fewer colleagues. This is a problem that our proposals do not adequately address and why we will continue to bring workload issues to the bargaining table.

In this round we have focussed on five specific goals:

  • First, to introduce the kind of language around the development of equitable departmental policies on normal teaching loads similar to the approach at the University of Toronto.
  • Second, to ensure members with joint appointments are assigned teaching and service duties consistent with their appointments.
  • Third, that there should not be significant discrepancies in workload in the same disciplinary areas between the Vancouver and Okanagan campuses.
  • Fourth, that in the interest of scholarly activity and educational leadership, faculty shall not be required to teach in more than two four-month terms, or the equivalent, in any academic year, nor shall they be pressured to volunteer to do so.
  • Fifth, that faculty members in the Lecturer classifications shall not be assigned more than eight three-credit courses, or their equivalent, in any academic year. Each of these goals is designed to address different specific problems that are raised frequently by our members.

In all cases our proposals are “industry standard.” Although we model our teaching load language on the University of Toronto’s, every major research university in Canada has some version of the same language. Language to ensure a research/educational leadership term without teaching assignments exists not just in major research universities, but in pretty much every university in Canada. Equity language for joint appointments is common, as is cross campus equity language (in universities with multiple campuses).

As for Lecturers’ workloads – therein lies a tale. In Canada most contract academic staff are paid based on how much teaching they do (like Sessional Lecturers). The situation with Lecturers at UBC is a bit unusual. They are salaried employees and, once hired, their salary can only rise with general wage increases, career progress increments, merit and PSA. Thus, their salary is unrelated to the number of courses they teach. Consequently, there is nothing in the Collective Agreement that prevents the University from increasing the number of courses assigned to Lecturers to the point that, on a per-course basis, they earn less than the Sessional minimum scale. In fact, we did receive comments from Lecturers claiming that they were being paid less than Sessional Lecturers. Upon investigation we discovered that in some departments Lecturers were being hired at such low annual salaries that a workload of any more than 8 courses per year would indeed result in per course compensation below what Sessional Lecturers are paid.

We had some considerable discussion with UBC over our workload proposals, but ultimately the University informed us that they were unwilling to agree to any workload language. The clear implication was that the University wanted to reserve the right to increase teaching loads in order to deal with budgetary issues rather than use the University’s considerable annual budget surplus to provide adequate budgetary support for the academic mission of the institution.

We feel strongly that workload issues must be addressed, and we will be taking this issue to arbitration.