CAUT Town Hall on Contract Academic Staff and COVID-19
This town hall series looked at the unique experiences of contract academic staff (CAS) in the time of COVID-19. Academic staff association leaders and activists discussed practical steps they have taken to provide additional support for their members
“Our members were asked to learn a lot of new technology in a short period of time and change their courses in the middle of term. It was like building a plane while flying it,” said Concordia University Part-Time Faculty Association (CUPFA) President Robert Soroka, adding that several professors did not have the pre-requisite hardware they needed.
The crisis proved that contract academics are dedicated and essential to their institution, argued Françoise Guay, vice-president of the Syndicat des chargées et chargés de cours de l’Université de Montréal (SCCCUM). “We had one short week to adapt our courses and this was a lot of work. We clearly demonstrated our efficiency, our adaptability and our professionalism.”
As the emergency measures unfolded, academic staff associations quickly began supporting and protecting contract academic staff. “Because we are contract faculty, how much we eat depends on how much we teach. We have a vulnerability, but we were able to work collaboratively with the employer. We benefited from the tone that was at the last round of bargaining,” added Soroka.
At the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD), the academic association was quickly asked to be part of its institutional crisis management group. “It is not perfect and it is not the place where you negotiate with the university administration, but it helped by putting everybody on the same page and to establish a basis of trust,” said FUNSCAD president Mathew Reichertz.
He added that the administration honored all contracts until the end of the winter semester and committed to support members who needed to apply for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) even though the first summer semester was cancelled before contracts were sent. “We also negotiated language on online class development as we had none before. It was all new to us and it was happening at light-speed,” indicates Reichertz. FUNSCAD negotiated a $1,500 payment for the development of the course and an option to release the content to the university for $3,500.
At Wilfrid-Laurier, the faculty association quickly negotiated a letter of understanding with the administration to deal the emergency measures being taken. “Some language should have been tighter and we will be renegotiating on July 1st,” said Wilfrid-Laurier University Faculty Association vice-president Kimberly Ellis-Hale. The union managed to get an additional $1,000 added to CAS stipends, but is still trying to get financial support for members who need to purchase technology.
For the Fédération national des enseignantes et enseignants du Québec, the priority is to make sure that universities and colleges do not use this crisis to move permanently online or that the provincial government adopt an austerity agenda. “We see that institutions are managing for the short-term because they are worried about having a deficit,” explained FNEEQ vice-president Richard Bousquet. “They are cutting contract academics in the wake of the pandemic, but we are basically cutting off the supply of the next generation of researchers who will help find solutions to solve the next big crisis.”