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Town Hall Series: COVID-19 and the Academic Job

CAUT webinars highlight impact of COVID-19 on academic work

More than 500 members participated in CAUT’s first webinars on the effects of COVID-19 on work of academic staff. Moderated by CAUT President Brenda Austin-Smith, the English webinar featured Ian Milligan (Waterloo), Stephanie Ross (McMaster) and Julia M. Wright (Dalhousie).

“What we were forced to do to end the semester was not online teaching, it was emergency remote teaching and that’s what we should call it,” said Milligan, adding that creating a real online class requires time and resources. Students will have higher expectations if campuses stay closed in the fall.

Julia Wright made the case for academic staff associations to push for change to minimize the damage on the post-secondary sector. She suggested the federal government could boost research capacity by investing in a new national research program that would allow universities and colleges to hire contract academic staff.

Stephanie Ross explained that remote instruction will particularly affect contract academic staff.

“We all have productivity and excellence as mantras, but we don’t all have the same social context to be excellent and productive. And what will happen with enrolment comes the fall? Who will pay? Our sessional colleagues will be on the frontline.”

The French webinar was moderated by CAUT Treasurer Yalla Sangaré and featured the Executive Director of the Association canadienne-française pour l’avancement des sciences (Acfas), Sophie Montreuil; the president of the Fédération Québécoise des professeures et professeurs d’université (FQPPU), Jean Portugais; and the president of the Fédération nationale des enseignantes et des enseignants du Québec (FEEQ), Caroline Quesnel.

Sophie Montreuil explained that ACFAS members are overwhelmed because the pandemic forced a major reorganization of their research.

“Some people were about to go collect data and will have to work with old data instead or postpone their research. Researchers who are doing better are the ones that were at the writing stage.”

Jean Portugais added that with anticipated budget cuts, the FQPPU will ask the provincial government to maintain funding for post-secondary teaching and research. “We need solid, stable and permanent funding.”

Caroline Quesnel said that she was proud of her members for adapting so quickly in exceptional circumstances, but that remote teaching cannot be implemented without resources and mutual agreement between the administration and unions.

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