COVID-19 Response

Dear USFA members,

By now you have likely seen the university’s messages concerning Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the suspension of all classes on the Saskatoon campus and regional colleges today, tomorrow, and Wednesday. Remote delivery of classes begins on Thursday March 19, and continues for the remainder of the winter term. The university is also closing its recreation facilities.

USFA supports these measures. The time to act is now, with community transmission (spread of the virus with no known link to travel or previously confirmed cases) likely underway in Canada, according to experts

The university is encouraging the practice of social distancing in the library while it remains open, and we in turn strongly encourage our leadership to consider how best to ensure the safety of library staff and students and their families. We also firmly advocate for the university to facilitate employees working from home without giving priority to “performance,” productivity,” “work assignments,” “outcomes,” “accountability,” and “tracking and monitoring,” as articulated in the university’s document COVID-19 – Work from Home/Telecommute Arrangements posted on the COVID-19 Updates page.

Understandably, there will be some uncertainty about what this rapidly evolving situation will mean for the campus community and for the work that we all do here.

The following addresses some questions you might have about your work and your rights under the Collective Agreement. 

Do I really have to be ready to teach remotely by Thursday?

Teaching remotely will unquestionably create additional workload pressures for some employees.

The Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning has issued a very helpful email (subject line “Remote instruction supports”), including the advice to choose simple digital alternatives and omit non-essential elements, such as synchronous (all at the same time) instruction, to assist student completion of the course. 

If necessary, you can change your syllabus. The email from Gwenna Moss advises: “To support you in the move to remote instruction and examinations, University Council has granted authority to instructors to alter syllabi for their classes for the duration of the COVID-19 Pandemic. This includes looking at alternative forms of delivery and examination.”

USFA’s view is that given the very short notice, and in the light of Academic Freedom, members should have the broadest possible latitude in decisions concerning substantial changes or reductions to the scope and content of the course. In cases where it is not feasible or pedagogically sound to provide the remainder of a course online, you should be making arrangements with your academic supervisor as soon as possible. Can you give a final grade based on work done to date, for example?

If you have any concerns or questions about delivering courses as a result of the outbreak and the university’s response to it, simply reply to this email.

What should I consider if I record and post my lectures online?

Article 26 of the Collective Agreement makes it clear that you are the sole copyright holder of lectures that you deliver. However, the Agreement also states that you do not retain copyright for “recorded works (films, videotapes, audio recordings, etc.)” that you create, if that work is part of your assigned duties. We will be seeking clarity from the employer about how the university administration will interpret this language, given the situation at hand. 

If you have any concerns about retaining the copyright in recorded lectures, discuss them with your academic supervisor, or consider alternate means. If you have questions or comments for us, simply reply to this email. 

What if my unit needs to have an important meeting?

Article 10.10 of the Collective Agreement allows for “virtual” participation in meetings by members: “Where any provision of this agreement provides for a collegial meeting in a department or college, participation by employees in such meeting shall be by personal attendance or by simultaneous audio and/or video technological means that provide for full collegial participation by all employees.”

Committees considering Web or telephone conferencing will need to put in place a means to vote, and to maintain the secrecy of voting when required. For example, in a search committee meeting when there is a vote on the question, “Shall appointment be recommended?” units might choose to send their votes by  email to the unit’s administrative assistant who would then report the resulting number of ballots in favour, the number opposed, and the number of abstentions. These procedures should be clearly stated in advance of any vote.

What about other work that is affected, such as research and conference travel? 

At the last Joint Committee for the Management of the Agreement (JCMA) meeting, we asked the employer to clarify expectations for research outputs, especially for our untenured members, given the cancellation of conferences and other circumstances that might delay progress toward tenure. The employer advised that Renewals and Tenure Appeal Committee now (as of the 2014–17 Collective Agreement) has the authority to recommend an extension of probation up to a maximum of two years. 

Additionally, faculty will need to prepare for the possibility that they might have to delay, scale back, or stop research activities. It is possible, for example, that new protocols will be put into place with regard to the management of and access to laboratories. 

This item will remain on the JJCMA agenda, and we will convey any concerns and questions that arise from USFA members. If you want to alert the USFA about an issue concerning your research as a result of the outbreak and the university’s response to it, simply reply to this email.

Contact us

If you are encountering unreasonable expectations as a result of the university response to the COVID-19 pandemic, please reply to this email. USFA needs to know where you stand on these concerns, and will convey your message to the employer.