Academic staff associations have a critical role to play in advancing equity within the workplace and beyond. Below are examples and suggestions of some common efforts your association could initiate. Please add to the list by sending ideas and examples to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Create and engage equity committees and communities within your association to identify issues and advise on solutions
It is critical for associations to engage with members from all communities. Membership surveys should request members to self-identify with results disaggregated to protect privacy. Town halls or forums can also be held for members and particular communities of members. Standing or ad hoc committees and/or caucuses of Indigenous and equity-deserving members can help guide this work of listening and advising on equity issues. A few associations have recently dedicated staff positions, in addition to governance positions, to support equity work. See Strengthening the Association.
2. Adopt an equity lens
Associations should use an equity lens to ask questions, challenge assumptions and identify potential impacts of policies, programs and initiatives. An equity lens considers the diversity of the membership. Whereas gender-based analysis, of budgets for example, is perhaps more often undertaken, it is critical to ensure that impacts on all equity-deserving groups, such as racialized people, people with disabilities and Indigenous people, and intersecting identity factors of individuals and groups influence how people differently experience policy and practices.
3. Bargain for the administration to collect and share demographic data on the campus community
Demographic data should be collected on the workforce by race, gender, disability, Indigeneity, age, and sexual identity and gender expression. This data can provide insights allowing for evidence-based decisions. Once data gathering is underway, academic staff associations can assist in this process by raising awareness among members to encourage them to self-identify as part of an employment systems review or workforce analysis.
4. Bargain for increased hiring of equity-seeking academic staff
To better align academic staff demographics with the student population and the community more generally, hiring more Indigenous and equity-deserving academics is critical. These jobs should be permanent positions, but in recognition that many courses are taught by contract academic staff, this workforce must also be representative.
5. Demand additional compensation and job security for contract academic staff
Research shows that Indigenous and equity-deserving academics are more likely to be working parttime or part-year.
Associations can negotiate greater rights for Contract Academic Staff (CAS) to continuing employment status between contracts. This provides an enforceable expectation of contract renewal based on renewal history, seniority rights, or the right of first refusal . An administrative decision not to renew a contract may be challenged and might, depending upon your collective agreement language, be subject to proof of financial distress or exigency. Associations should try to ensure that any eliminated CAS positions will be returned. Protocols should be in place to ensure that CAS are able to apply to teach the same courses once they become available again.
6. Fight for equitable compensation
Pay equity and human rights legislation compliance are inadequate to ensure the elimination of continuing discriminatory compensation differentials among academic staff. Compensation inequities have adverse impacts on individuals from Indigenous and equity-deserving groups.
Discrimination in compensation can be remedied by the periodic implementation of comprehensive studies using non-discriminatory measures to identify the internal inequities and equalize compensation.
Practices and policies such as market differentials, starting salaries and merit increases should be examined as they can be factors in pay discrimination.
Compensation is more than pay. Compensation extends to benefits and pension and goes beyond direct financial compensation to include issues such as access to additional funds for travel and research, release time, time to tenure and promotion, workloads, and service commitments.
7. Advocate for additional funding and support to accommodate members with disabilities
Academic staff with disabilities and neurodivergent members may need extra assistance with research, teaching and/or service. Academic staff associations should seek extra funding and staff supports, such as learning and teaching resources, adaptive technologies, or more teaching assistants.
8. Find ways to help de-stigmatize mental health and other disabilities to support academic staff to come forward with the need for accommodations
Identifying with a disability, particularly one involving mental health problems or illnesses, is challenging in an employment context. This is especially true for contract academic staff and pre-tenure members because of their precarious status. It is important for the association to remind members and the administration about the process for seeking accommodations, and to let members know that the association will work to ensure that no discrimination occurs.
9. Negotiate or grieve to stop the use of student opinion surveys
Student opinion surveys have been widely criticized as a poor and biased measurement of teaching. CAUT policy is that the results of these surveys should not be used in decisions concerning tenure, renewal, promotion, and merit. The weaknesses in student opinion surveys are even more acute today, as the student experience has been adversely affected by the rapid transition from in-person to remote instruction in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some universities and colleges recognize this problem in the context of the rapid transitions to remote teaching that occurred as a result of the pandemic and have paused conducting student opinion surveys. Where surveys are proceeding, the results should be provided only to instructors for their personal use. Some associations have negotiated policies where surveys containing discriminatory, harassing, or otherwise inappropriate comments are removed and neither provided to the instructor nor included in any aggregated results.
10. Reconsider tenure and promotion timelines and criteria
Many academic staff associations have negotiated stop the clock agreements for tenure and promotion. Previous studies on stop the clock policies however have shown that there may be gender differences in terms of the impact of these policies when caregiving is involved. It is important to broaden the discussion of appointment and promotion criteria as there is growing recognition of the importance of valuing diverse approaches to acquiring, teaching, sharing, and disseminating knowledge and what should be understood as service.
For example, criteria should be changed to recognize and respect Indigenous knowledge production, oracy and other forms of dissemination and pedagogy, including recognition of Indigenous languages, land knowledge and land-based practices; community and traditional activities; maintenance of relationships, and any other relevant considerations, including lived experiences within Aboriginal communities, to recruit and retain Indigenous academic staff.
Recognition and respect for disproportional or higher levels of service demands within the institution and in community, should also be considered and valued for equity-deserving academic staff.
11. Advocate for childcare and assist members to secure reasonable accommodations for care-giving responsibilities
Human rights law in Canada prevents discrimination based on family status, and requires that employers provide reasonable accommodation. Supports for those with caregiving responsibilities could include access to or funding for childcare, reduced or deferred teaching load, smaller class sizes, additional teaching assistantships, and deferral of tenure and promotion deadlines.
In addition, some associations have campaigned to expand childcare spaces on campus and in the community.
12. Take targeted action on systemic racism
A commitment to racial justice begins with an acknowledgement of inequity based on racialization. The murder of George Floyd in 2020 intensified calls for greater action on anti-Black racism. Associations have responded by initiating or participating in campus coalitions, task forces, dialogues and town halls on anti-Black racism. Action plans to address anti-Black racism, and other forms of targeted racism, including Islamophobia, must be developed, implemented, monitored and evaluated.