Dear Dr. Saini, In your message to the Dalhousie community on May 20, 2020, you announced that “The fall term will be predominantly online, with limited exceptions.” In making this announcement, you have committed to a significant change in the working conditions of the Members of the Dalhousie Faculty Association who are the individuals responsible for making the changes to courses that are necessary to ensure high academic standards in the online environment.
Our Members consistently deliver the highest quality academic experiences for Dalhousie students, and this will continue despite the significant disruptions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. I hope you can appreciate that it is not a trivial matter to redesign courses to an entirely different mode of delivery, and that no amount of technology or technical support can replace the academic expertise, time, and work necessary to ensure that high standards of pedagogy continue.
All of our Members are currently working from their homes, and many have assumed additional responsibilities related to providing care for dependents and partners. Your commitment to an online term, while arguably necessary given public health considerations, has placed a tremendous burden of work and additional responsibility on DFA Members at a time when they are already stretched to the maximum. For this reason, the DFA Nominees to the Association Board Committee will be pressing for the negotiation of a Letter of Understanding which will contain, among other things, proposals for the formal recognition of the work associated with developing, and offering, online courses.
Sincerely, David A. Westwood, PhD, President, Dalhousie Faculty Association
We’re writing to give you a comprehensive update on our work over the last few weeks to ensure your rights and academic interests are properly reflected in the administration’s response to COVID-19. First, and most importantly, we need to be explicit about this: the Collective Agreement is still in force, including all of your negotiated benefits and your rights on matters from academic freedom, accommodations, and “no discrimination,” to sabbaticals, salary and workload. Some of these provisions are detailed below.
Since March, we have been working on several fronts to identify problems that affect you in this crisis. Initially, we raised matters that were connected directly to academic issues such as the new grading policy and the processes adopted to conclude the winter term. Issues regarding online teaching in the Spring/Summer term followed. We also had some preliminary discussions about interrupted sabbaticals as well as timelines for matters such as tenure and reappointment.
As we move into May, we are consumed with the Fall term in the upcoming academic year. We have urged senior administration to work with the Senate, as the principal academic body, to consider academic programming. It is our position that the members of Senate need to develop policies that ensure we have a clear framework for delivering quality academic programming in the months ahead. The issues are many and complex, from whether there should be new course codes to how to manage normal unit- and Faculty-level approvals for substantial changes to existing courses when required for online delivery. For everyone teaching in the Fall, transitioning some/many classes to an online format is time-consuming and complicated work, and not what you had planned for when agreeing to your Fall teaching workload a few weeks ago.
In addition to the critical issues of academic programming, workplace issues such as sabbatical leaves, travel, grants, daycare, accommodation for health, and parking fees are all of concern. We have raised these, as well as the academic matters above, in meetings with administration, including with the Provost and in the regular meetings of the Association Board Committee (ABC), the joint committee of the Board and the DFA that administers the collective agreement. Indeed, we have added additional meetings of the ABC to consider workplace issues that arise due to the COVID pandemic. Despite these many meetings, we cannot report that we have been able to achieve much of substance, even on matters that should be straightforward, such as suspending parking fees during the lockdown.
We have been asking since March for a Letter of Understanding to clarify matters under COVID-19 and for the administration to consult with the DFA on emergency measures. A number of universities across Canada have created such Letters of Understanding to address issues that are related to the pandemic. It is our position that, given the cross-university effects of the pandemic, a cross-university solution is necessary to resolve matters from parking fees to workload changes across our membership. We will continue to press for Senate policies that will clarify a number of matters (such as online courses) and a LOU to clarify issues connected to changes in working conditions and other elements of the Collective Agreement.
The urgency and need for a university-wide Letter of Understanding becomes even more apparent in the recent Memorandum from the President’s Office, COVID-19 Update #10 (27 April 2020). There are many issues of concern in the memo: for example, the administration proposes to restrict travel on financial grounds. While there may be health restrictions imposed on the general population, the administration cannot do so; faculty travel is usually paid as a negotiated benefit (e.g., the DFA Travel Grant or Sabbatical Grant) or by non-university means, such as an external research grant, so it is not subject to administration financial decision-making and, if implemented in relation to faculty as the Memo indicated, would constitute interference in academic freedom as well as may raise concern with funding agencies. We raised our concerns about this and other parts of the memo with the upper administration on April 29th.
One of the most troubling aspects of the memo is the reference to “layoffs.” The implication is that the administration can only avoid layoffs if painful cuts are made to Faculty budgets (while, in other communications, we are being told that resources will be made available to support changes to the Fall term). At the April 30th Community Check-In, the President used the term “sacrifice” when responding to a question about “the e-mail on possible layoffs.” There is an unstated but clear implication that academic staff will have to do more with less in order to avoid such serious measures. In contrast to this alarmist messaging, the DFA/Board collective agreement provides clear and unequivocal protections against the layoffs of DFA Members; financial exigency language in article 27 is a strong protection against any cuts to faculty complement. The LOU negotiated in the last round is still in force as well, including the provision that "the Board agrees to replace all tenure stream Members who retire or resign during the lifetime of this Agreement with bargaining unit tenure stream appointments within the overall complement of the University." We will be monitoring hiring via ABC to ensure that any “pause” in hiring, suggested in the memo, does not violate this LOU.
In summary, the DFA continues to assert that a COVID-19 Letter of Understanding is the best means by which to protect the rights of academic staff and clarify what that means in the unusual circumstances of a pandemic; the administration continues to refuse to do so, so we are all spending time trying to address problems after they arise. We do not think this is efficient or effective, especially since it often puts the burden on you to raise concerns with the DFA office or the administration—you have enough to deal with right now without this added complication and uncertainty. We will continue to press for a LOU, as well as work on a case-by-case basis as long as the administration makes it necessary.
There are a few issues we would highlight here. Since the Collective Agreement is still in force, any changes to agreed-upon workload after March 1st should be considered a negotiation between the Member and the Dean under Article 20.05. Moreover, for the professoriate, “Unless otherwise agreed by the Member, a Member’s teaching duties shall be contained within two of the three academic terms per year. Where there is a trimester system in effect, the Member shall have the right to one complete term free of teaching duties in each academic year" (20.05c). All Members should also note that Article 33.07 allows them to refuse unsafe work and Article 30.10 allows "Release from scheduled teaching, professional service and departmental responsibilities, with regular salary and benefits shall not be unreasonably denied to Members who request it for personal problems and emergencies, including . . . unscheduled daycare closure . . . provided arrangements satisfactory to the Chairperson, Head, Director, Chief Librarian or Dean concerned are made to reschedule essential teaching, professional service or departmental responsibilities, if possible."
If you have concerns or questions, please get in touch. We will work with you to find solutions.
Dr. Julia Wright, DFA President, 2019-20
c. Dr. Deep Saini, President, Dalhousie University
DFA's 2020-2021 Executive Committee took office after the AGM on Wednesday, May 13, 2020. Thank you to the following outgoing Executive for their service and commitment to our membership: Lori Dithurbide, Jacqueline Gahagan, Roger Gilis, Jeff Hoyle, Elizabeth Kay-Raining Bird, and Lynne Robinson. For a full report of DFA's activities in 2019-2020, check out our DFA Dialogue.
An alliance of students, staff and faculty at Nova Scotia’s universities and community colleges is asking university administrations, and the provincial and federal governments, to reduce student tuition and increase student bursaries, prevent layoffs and accept the necessity of deficits this year as they work to return to normalcy from the current pandemic. An open letter outlining the request was sent to government officials, university administration and the media on April 28, 2020. Click here for the media release.
The letter was signed by 16 unions representing 18,000 staff, students and faculty at 24 colleges and/or universities from Sydney to Yarmouth.
See a joint statement by DFA, ANSUT, CUPE3912, NSGEU, SMUFU and MSVUFA, calling on universities to uphold several principles during COVID-19, including timely and transparent communication with members. DFA sent this to Dalhousie President Dr. Deep Saini, and to the media earlier today.
See the first issue of our Bargaining Bulletin here. Future issues will be posted in the Members Only area for confidentiality. If you are unable to log into the Members Only area, please contact the DFA's Communications Officer at Catherine.Wall@dal.ca or call the DFA office at 902 494 3722.
The DFA is aware of the Provost's memo, sent out March 26, and has sent this letter to the Provost, articulating our concerns in relation to collegial governance and the Collective Agreement, as well as the extraordinary conditions under which we are all working. We've heard from many of you that this has thrown a bit of a wrench into plans made under previous announcements, and we understand how difficult it is to deal with changing information when we're already under exceptional pressures. The DFA has called on the Provost to refer this matter to the Senate for discussion.
The DFA office continues to operate and support you. You can also reach out to Dal's Employee Family and Assistance Program at https://www.workhealthlife.com/.
Julia Wright, DFA President
The April 2020 issue of News You Can Use is available here.
Over the past few months, the DFA Bargaining Team has been preparing for the upcoming round of negotiations. As we move into the final stages of preparations, we wanted to introduce you to the Bargaining Team that will be working hard on our behalf at the negotiating table in 2020. We have created a 37-second video introducing you to each member of our Bargaining Team. Enjoy!
Please click here for a DFA report comparing Dalhousie salaries to those of the national, regional, and U15 comparator groups. We also look at Dalhousie salaries in terms of inflation (consumer price index) and the Income Maintenance Change (IMC) negotiated with the Board through collective bargaining.
Please read this letter (dated October 31, 2019) by DFA President Dr. Julia Wright in response to the recently released report of Dalhousie's Budget Advisory Committee.
The DFA has received a response to our letter expressing concern about inaccuracies in BAC Report LIX, as well as discovered that BAC Report LIX has since been altered and reposted. The DFA President has again written to the Interim President (dated November 19, 2019) to reiterate our concern about the quality of information and the survey being distributed to the university community in advance of BAC Consultations.
(Open letter, July 2, 2019)
Dr. Teri Balser, Interim President, Dalhousie University
First, congratulations on your new position as Interim President. We look forward to working with you in that role until Professor Saini arrives in January.
With that in mind, this letter is addressed to you as the current President and the Provost who will be in charge of drafting the budget in early 2020. You may not know that the DFA and others have been concerned for some time that budgets addressing deficits are drafted and then, shortly afterwards, surpluses are announced. This year the surplus was $6 million, more than enough to erase the .5% BAC cut applied to all Faculties in the 2019-20 Operating Budget and allow a reversal of other austerity measures.
Because the surplus is announced after the Operating Budget is developed, there is no opportunity for a transparent and collegial process. The BAC discussions are retroactively compromised because of inaccurate information, and there seems to be no process through which the Operating Budget can be amended in light of a surplus to reduce or eliminate the BAC cut to Faculties that, every year, means that faculty have to do more with less while students pay more to get less (larger classes, fewer course options, fewer staff to support them, etc.).
The DFA noted six years ago, in a detailed report on Dalhousie’s finances, “The preliminary budgets always predict a deficit, sometimes very large, even though each year returns surpluses, sometimes substantial ones at the same time academic units are told to cut back. Money is being diverted from the academic mission to capital expenditures” (iii; https://immediac.blob.core.windows.net/dfawebsite/images/2019/pdfs/iamdal/dfareviewdalhousiefinances.pdf). This year, as announced in the public portion of the June 25th Board of Governors meeting, only half of the surplus is being directed to academic spending. According to BAC numbers, 62.4% of the budget goes to Academic Expenditures (BAC 68, p. 2). We all know how math works: if only 50% of the surplus goes to Academic Expenditures, $744,000 less than 62.4% of $6m, then the overall share of university spending directed to the core mission of the university will once again decrease.
The percentage decrease may be small, and we’re aware that the different naming of various budget pieces may complicate this picture. But our ongoing concern is the trend: the Academic Responsibility Centre gets a much smaller share of the overall University budget than it did fifteen years ago (nearly 74% in 2002-03), Faculties’ budgets are cut every year, with sometimes significant ERBA variables that undermine long-term planning, while our student body grows and there is increasing pressure to admit more PhD students and secure more research funding.
Dalhousie is the smallest university in the U15, achieving much for the region and the country despite its limited size. But trying to maintain academic excellence while shrinking resources year after year after year is a losing proposition—for our students and our faculty, and for Nova Scotia.
We encourage you to consider a formal process for ensuring that surpluses are, as a matter of high priority, directed towards erasing BAC cuts to Faculties and so supporting our students’ educational experience and the research mission of the only U15 institution in the Atlantic region.
President, Dalhousie Faculty Association
Cc: Candace Thomas, Chair of the Board of Governors
Earlier this week, the DFA submitted this message to Dalhousie’s Provost and Vice-President Academic Dr. Teri Balser. We have made similar submissions in the past but this represents our first opportunity to engage with Dr. Balser on the topic of the university budget. The Board's budget rhetoric often highlights the increasing costs of employing people to do the work of the institution. Academic staff compensation is often explicitly or implicitly identified as a "problem" that justifies, at least in part, perennial increases in student tuition. This is misleading, and only serves to divert attention away from the real problem. Our analysis shows that the dominant trend has been an increase in compensation costs for non-academic staff and the diversion of operating funds to back capital projects such as new buildings. In other words, increases in student tuition have been used to fuel the bloat of central administration and to erect new buildings, while the academic staff at the front-line of the university's academic mission are forced to do more with less every year. Since 2010, annual BAC cuts have led to a cumulative cut to Faculty budgets of more than 20% while enrolments have grown. Now that the building boom is nearing completion, it is time to reinvest in teaching and research - we need to reverse the trend of cuts to academic unit budgets.
Please take a moment to read our submission – it is important for all of us to understand the university’s budgeting process and financial practices as they impact our ability to deliver on the academic mission of the university.
This letter to the chair of the Board of Governors reflects the DFA's ongoing concern with the lack of open collegial process in appointing senior administrators - a concern echoed by colleagues across the country. Our collective voice and scholarly expertise should be respected in such important decisions. The principle of collegial governance is enshrined in our Collective Agreement and we will not stand by and watch it erode.
Dave Westwood, DFA President
Click here for the letter sent by the DFA on January 28, 2019.
As a Medavie Blue Cross subscriber, you are now able to submit health claims via a mobile app. Details available at https://www.medaviebc.ca/en/members/medavie-mobile.