Myth #4: More than just academic infill

This article is from the WLUFA Advocate April 2016 4.9.

It’s about fairness

In this series of articles, the Advocate explores the relationship of Contract Faculty members with the University, taking on prevalent misconceptions or “myths” about their working conditions, and providing some hard facts and figures so readers can assess the fairness of the two-tiered employment standards that are now well entrenched at Laurier. As we prepare to re-new the Part-time Faculty Collective Agreement this spring, all faculty have the opportunity to press the Ad-ministration to address these and other issues.

Myth #4: More than just academic infill

By Kimberly Ellis-Hale, Sociology

Our Administration is quick to report—and with rock solid consistency—that the ratio of students to full-time faculty is absolutely within the dictates of the Full-time Faculty and Professional Librarian Collective Agreement. In other words, Contract Faculty (CF) are hired only in proportion to what is contractually permitted: 25 (full-time equivalent) students for each (full-time equivalent) faculty member (Article 18.2.3.1). The Administration also insists that, as stated in that Agreement, CF teach no more than 35 percent of courses (Article 34.4(a)). It is not unreasonable then to conclude that CF are academic infill—a supplementary workforce, reinforcing the principal, full-time, permanent mainstay of the university.

By the letter of the law, the Administration is correct. With such a consistent and concise message borne out by irrefutable calculations, why question it? Well, there is a matter of reality. We know a little about this because a comprehensive review of CF teaching undertaken in preparation for the last round of contract negotiations found that CF were responsible for 55 percent of student course spots in 2012-2013. That is, of all the individual student course registrations, more than half were for courses taught by CF. Fast forward to today and, despite the significant stipend cuts in 2015, the situation remains largely unchanged: CF continue to teach unprecedented numbers of students in a growing number of courses. Yet the Administration steadfastly refuses to publicly acknowledge this, and repeatedly states that teaching by CF does not exceed the 25:1 student-to-faculty ratio, or the 35 percent cap.

Is it possible that WLUFA’s numbers and the Administration’s are both correct? Yes.
Let’s go back to the letter of the law, for that is where we can begin to unravel this numeric conundrum.

The law—as set out in the CA—defines a course in a very curious way. Apparently online and sprummer courses (with the exception of certain SBE offerings) are not really courses. Funny that, because that’s just where you’ll find a lot of Contract Faculty. The law also excludes adjustments accompanying provisional appointments (the first stage in a tenure-track appointment), retirement replacements, and labs and tutorials from its definition of what comprises a “course.”

These may all look and smell and walk like a course, but they are not—according to Article 2—courses. Insofar as it is precisely these non-courses that are taught overwhelmingly by CF, this restrictive definition skews the calculations of ratio and caps dramatically. And, more to the point, when all the “exceptions” are included, it becomes clear that CF are not academic infill as the Administration would like you to believe. They are very likely the new workforce majority—comprising the solid ground under Laurier’s feet.

Why has WLUFA gone along with and agreed to include this definition in the Collective Agreement? Well, “it’s a tricky issue” for the Association, says WLUFA Executive Director, Sheila McKee-Protopapas. Were the definition of a course to change, it could reduce the number of courses available to CF to teach. That is, if online and sprummer courses are defined as courses, then the total number of courses taught by CF will go up, which means CF teaching would exceed the 35 percent cap. At that point, financial penalties for the Administration kick in. As a result, the Administration will do all it can to avoid this scenario by lowering the number of courses taught by CF—maybe by increasing class sizes or pushing regular faculty to teach more on overload.

WLUFA does, however, raise the issue at every full-time contract negotiating table, proposing that sprummer and online courses are included in the definition of a course. “We feel that this teaching should be recognized and placed on an equal footing with other courses taught at Laurier,” explains McKee-Protopapas.

At first glance this issue may seem relevant only to Contract Faculty. But the cap restrictions clearly make it an issue for permanent faculty, too. As things stand, permanent faculty are shouldering the increasing burden of university and department responsibilities with a shrinking number of colleagues. Recognizing that CF are not academic infill—and addressing the inequities that arise from the pretence that they are—is a compelling basis on which to build solidarity between WLUFA’s two bargaining units.

After all, without solidarity, the ground upon which Laurier stands is only weakened.

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