Making It Work

Categories: Bargaining, Bargaining Unit, Bargaining Updates 2022, Workload

It would be hard to over-state how much of a problem workload is for our membership. Everybody feels it; everybody wants it fixed. So: members who have read our “Day One” proposals will have noticed our Proposal #2: “The Association proposes to modify Part 1, Article 13 and Part 5, Article 7, to create workload language that is consistent with best practices at major Canadian research universities.” What exactly do we mean by that?

We know from our consultations that workload has created significant problems for most of our members, and we are addressing those in several different proposals. Here in Proposal #2, we are asserting one broad principle that appeals to the whole membership, and two that apply more specifically to the members (librarians and tenure-track faculty) with a pronounced mix of assigned and self-directed work. We have other workload proposals to address the additional specific issues facing Lecturers and Sessional Lecturers as well; these will be the subject of future bargaining posts.

The first universal issue we’re addressing here in Proposal #2 concerns the scale and fairness of our assigned work. Members spoke passionately to us about their excessive assigned workloads (teaching and service), and apparently inequitable workloads as well. Though we won language in the last round to require heads to consider all of the necessary contributors to workload in making such assignments, so that those assignments ought to be fair and equitable, we know that it is not often possible to tell whether fairness and balance are really steering the ship. Both issues of fairness and scale thus raise the important question: what are members’ actual assigned workloads? We have heard from colleagues at other universities that the simple act of providing each member in a department a list of the workload assignments of all members of the department greatly reduced these concerns. This is a case where a little sunlight can help to disinfect the system. Departments at UBC who already practice this reporting can attest that it creates a fairer and more accountable system for assigned workload. We think that this will also help address broader concerns about equity in workload as well. Language requiring such transparency is common in research universities that don’t have standard assigned teaching loads campus-wide, and we are proposing similar language for UBC. 

The second part of Proposal #2 focuses on the workload difficulties faced by tenured/tenure-track (TTF) faculty and librarians, all of whom are balancing necessary assigned workload against equally necessary and self-directed professional, administrative, and scholarly work. Here in Proposal #2 we are asserting a general claim that assigned workload schedules must not unreasonably interfere with self-directed work. This means that clear space for our self-directed work should be protected, and that we can seek remedies if our assigned duties are being distributed or scheduled in such a way that it becomes increasingly difficult or impossible for us to pursue that important self-directed work. For tenured and tenure-track faculty, the biggest chunk of our assigned workload is teaching, though service can also often be a significant element our assigned workload. For librarians, assigned workload is broader in scope, but the issue is similar: librarians need protected time for their scholarly collaborations and self-directed projects, from new data initiatives to research and teaching partnerships. We think it is crucial that UBC recognize and confirm the importance of self-directed work, instead of assuming or requiring that it happen only when we can squeeze it in around the edges of our workweek.

As an application of the principle of balanced workload, we are addressing for the TTF the particularly significant issue of teaching timetabling. Here the Association is proposing timetabling language similar to other universities’, limiting the number of days in a week and terms in the year that a TTF member can be assigned teaching responsibilities.

Protecting days of the week for uninterrupted research time would seem to be a given: UBC is a research and scholarly institution, and timetables in the past have generally been created to facilitate, as much as possible, members’ scholarly activity and educational leadership duties, as well as to accommodate our secret identities as Real People with family responsibilities and the like. That reasonable approach to scheduling was possible because timetabling of teaching responsibilities was typically organized at the departmental level. Unfortunately, the University has begun to centralize timetabling and redirect these important decisions to remote administrators and even more remote algorithms. It has already happened in the Okanagan, and this disaster has started to arrive in Vancouver. This has led to bizarre teaching schedules, with no consideration of either the pedagogical needs of students or the scholarly duties of faculty. In order to limit the destructive effects of this move, we’re proposing to protect two days each week free of assigned teaching for the TTF. We have proposed language like this in the past, but we’re pursuing it in this round with new urgency because of this newly centralized scheduling nightmare.

We are also proposing again to protect the long-standing tradition, here and elsewhere, of assigning teaching to tenured and tenure-track faculty in two of the three standard four-month terms, so that they can focus on their research and educational leadership work. At UBC this eminently reasonable principle is not guaranteed in the Collective Agreement, and it is sometimes violated without the member’s approval and without a legitimate operational reason. We have faced a number of such problems in the past, particularly with faculty in the Educational Leadership stream and in certain professional programs, and the problem has persisted. Just about every Collective Agreement in Canada has such language, and we should have it, too. The University of Toronto’s language is typical: “In the interest of research and scholarship, faculty members shall not be required to teach formal scheduled courses for more than two terms in any academic year and those terms normally shall be the Spring and Fall terms.”

UBC’s current Strategic Plan pledges to create a university that will “lead as a first-choice place to learn and work,” “one of the best places in the world in which to live and work”; we think these steps will help UBC to meet that promise. So far in this round of bargaining, UBC has expressed little interest in addressing workload in these ways; let us know how much this matters to you, and we will keep pressing them to live up to their own promises, both in this round and beyond.