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Forging a collaborative path forward

November 9, 2016 — 

Two issues are at the heart of the strike by the University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) – workload and research metrics.

In an interview this week, the University of Manitoba’s Provost and Vice President (Academic) Janice Ristock addressed these concerns, and her hopes to find common ground and a positive path forward for students, staff and faculty.

On the issue of workload, Ristock noted that UMFA’s current proposal would create a lengthy, cumbersome process – and one that is not viable as it would take away the Deans’ role to determine workloads.

Under the UMFA proposal a Dean would decide on a teaching policy and bring that forward to faculty members, who would vote on it by secret ballot.

If faculty voted against the teaching policy, the Dean would have to revise it and present a second version for another secret ballot vote. If that version was also rejected, it would then go to the Provost and Vice-President (Academic) and the executive director of UMFA for resolution.

“If we’re unable to come to an agreement, then it would go to an external arbitrator who is not a member of our community and who is not an academic,” said Ristock. “To me, it’s not a viable process. It’s a process that is very time–consuming and if it gets to the stage of an arbitrator, it’s also very costly.”

In contrast to UMFA’s proposal, Ristock drew attention to the importance of the roles of Deans, and their broad consideration of students and faculty.

“Deans have the responsibility to consider the academic programs in a unit, to consider the needs of students, the timetable,” she said, “and they also have a responsibility to consider the other aspects of an individual professor’s workload – research and service commitments.”

These considerations have to be made on an individual basis, she added.

Ristock notes the University has proposed a fund, worth $1.5 million, to help with teaching workloads by providing opportunities to hire a range of support for faculty, including teaching assistants, graders/markers and sessional instructors.

In its compromise offer, the University has also proposed creating a joint committee with faculty to examine faculty members’ concerns over workload increases due to administrative duties.

“We have been listening to the concerns expressed about administrative workloads and have offered a solution to begin to address those issues,” said Ristock. “It’s a point where we can begin discussions.”

An additional fund of $500,000 would support implementing recommendations by the joint committee for real improvements to administrative burdens.

On the issue of research metrics, Ristock noted that UMFA appears concerned the University may in the future impose research metrics on performance evaluations and decisions around tenure and promotion.

“I think it’s important to clarify that currently there are no provisions in the collective agreement that speak to the use of research metrics, nor do any of the faculties’ tenure and promotion criteria impose the use of research metrics in making assessments,” she said.

The University has reasserted that research metrics will not be used as a substitute for comprehensive assessment.

“The University’s position is that it has to be a decision amongst colleagues to decide whether or not it’s appropriate to use research metrics as one indicator of the quality of research – and that’s very discipline-specific,” said Ristock. “There’s not one research metric that can be used to assess all research. And we think it’s also very important to say that research metrics alone can never be a substitute for a thorough assessment based on the quality and the quantity of research output.”

Ristock urged faculty members and members of the community to read the University of Manitoba’s latest proposal.

It is posted on the University’s website.

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