Updates #14 and #15: Welcome to SFU: where teachers are “consultants,” and students are “customers”

November 13

In negotiations November 13, the Contract Committee presented a proposal package to SFU Administration. This group of proposals illustrates to SFU Administration that we are willing to negotiate and happy to update our workplace. For example, we proposed, and have now agreed, that Administration can deliver members’ Union check-off forms in electronic form, which will decrease the University’s reliance on paper and save administrative time and money.  

The Contract Committee’s proposal package shifts our position toward agreement in an attempt to gain momentum at the negotiating table and to focus SFU Administration’s attention on the mandate delivered to us by TSSU members back in February. While we may adjust our position, we will never negotiate cuts to our rights or our security of employment. We heard our members loud and clear: you need us to decrease uncertainty,  assure the basic right to paid sick leave, create equitable and consistent pay systems, and make sure work does not negatively affect our studies and / or our health. 

At the session, SFU Administration presented a second counter-proposal to TSSU’s proposed Graduate Facilitators (GFs) article that continues to present GF work as piecework compensated on an hourly basis, while refusing to recognize this work as teaching. GFs joined TSSU in order to see their conditions codified and improved, and the committee will not agree to cuts in these workers’ first negotiated agreement. The session was cut short for contract committee members and other organizers from the Research Is Work Campaign to meet with SFU Administration to negotiate voluntary recognition for Research Assistants, read more about that here.

November 27

On November 27, SFU Administration presented counter-proposals on Graduate Facilitators, Job Postings, and Student Evaluations of Teaching (SET). 

Our proposal on Graduate Facilitators seeks to ensure that the only hiring qualifications for a position are those necessary to conduct the work. This basic proposal would not infringe Administration’s hiring process, but would recognize that a teacher’s competence is not represented by their GPA. 

At this session, SFU Administration revised their November 13 counter-proposal on Graduate Facilitators: one of the key changes was to connect the definition of “excellent” with SFU’s grading system, further raising the qualifications from their previous proposals from August 22 and November 13 from “a GPA of 3.5 or above” and “demonstrated strong academic performance,” to “excellent academic performance,” which, by their new definition, would be a 3.67 GPA or above. If we agreed to SFU Administration’s proposal, it would ensure that qualified graduate students would be denied access to this work.

Also at this session, SFU Administration’s spokesperson presented a summary of a 2018 Arbitration decision regarding student assessments. During this presentation, they referred to students as their “clients” or “customers.” Reading from SFU’s Teaching Assessment Working Group’s final report, SFU Administration recognized that:

  • SETs have value because they capture the student experience
  • SETs are easy to administer
  • Numerous factors – including personal characteristics, response rates, and course characteristics  – skew the results  
  • Averages of SET scores establish nothing relevant or useful about teaching effectiveness, and should not be  compared across course formats, levels, topics, or disciplines
  • If SETs must be presented, they should be presented as a frequency distribution with response  rates and as a source of information about the student experience, and not as a measure of teaching effectiveness
  • Deans, Chairs and TPCs should be educated in the inherent and systematic biases in SETs  
  • The best way to assess teaching is through the use of a teaching dossier and in‐class peer assessment  

Despite affirming these conclusions, which were based on the conclusion of expert academic witnesses in a major arbitration case, SFU Administration still insists that student assessment is a valid measure of teaching and should be part of employment evaluation for TSSU members. The contract committee is puzzled by this dissonance, but we will continue to press for a fair evaluation system in future negotiations. Our proposal recognizes students’ ability to evaluate the student experience and encourages teachers to consider the feedback provided by students to enhance their teaching. However, we refuse to implement a flawed evaluation system that has students rating teaching ability, especially since research has shown that SET results allow students’ social prejudices to impact the hiring and promotion process, often with demonstrably sexist and racist results. For more information, reach out to tssu@tssu.ca and set up a time to meet with someone from the contract committee! If you would like one or more of us to speak with your department, lab, or caucus, please get in touch! We’re happy to answer questions about bargaining.

Upcoming Bargaining Dates

On December 5th, SFU Administration has offered to demonstrate how their proposals for ELC/ITP will affect annual scheduling and the assignment of teaching work.

Our next formal negotiation sessions are scheduled for December 10th and 12th from 9 am-5 pm at SFU Burnaby in room SWH 10051. Though our proposals are still far apart, SFU Administration stated that they want to reach an agreement for Graduate Facilitators on the 10th. The parties agreed that negotiations on the 12th should begin with a focus on Teaching Assistants. The contract committee requests any available members to attend on December 10th and 12th. Let’s show the Administration what it means to be a union!

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