NYCU President’s Message February 2019

With the February break behind us we can look forward to the conclusion of the Winter term and the prospect of warmer weather, spring colours, and most importantly the DFA Annual General Meeting on Tuesday, May 7, from 2-4 pm. While you are noting events in your calendar, consider attending our forum on Academic Workplace Wellness on Thursday, March 14, from 11:30 – 1 pm.  And if you are a Senior Instructor contemplating promotion to University Teaching Fellow, come to our workshop on this process on Tuesday, March 12 from 12:00 noon to 1:30 pm. Watch your email for notices about these events.

I appreciate those of you who took the time to respond to our two recent surveys on Class Scheduling and 2017-2020 Contract Provisions.

From the Class Scheduling survey it is quite clear that many folks are experiencing significant challenges and frustrations with the way that classes are being scheduled: the process is consuming far too much time, and the lack of year-to-year consistency is making it difficult to be efficient and effective with the competing demands on our time. Through the Association-Board Committee I will bring these messages to the Acting Registrar to see how things can be improved.

From the 2017-2020 Contract Survey it seems that some Members have been able to take advantage of the expanded definitions of Scholarship for Tenure and/or Promotion, but others are not sure how the new language could support their own career advancement. Similarly, some Members from designated groups have been able to gain tangible relief for extraordinary administrative workloads, whereas others were not clear how to take advantage of this benefit. Contributing to the challenge of accessing this benefit is the lack of normative information for workloads within and between academic units. This is a perennial problem that we continue to approach during collective bargaining with little progress to date. As always, I encourage you to reach out to us at for advice and assistance in matters related to the Collective Agreement – we are here to help ensure that all Members can take full advantage of the provisions that we have worked hard to negotiate during bargaining.

Over the past year there has been increasing recognition across the country of the significant limitations of student questionnaires (e.g., Student Ratings of Instruction here at Dalhousie) as a tool to evaluate teaching quality. Impressed by the testimony of academic experts on the statistical properties of such student questionnaires, arbitrator William Kaplan decided that Ryerson University must not use “student evaluations of teaching” to measure teaching effectiveness for tenure or promotion purposes due to inadequate reliability but also the presence of statistically significant biases based on the identity of the instructor (e.g., gender, race), and features of the class (e.g., required vs. elective, class size, level within program) and classroom (e.g., comfort, lighting, audiovisual features) that are outside the control of the instructor. Similar conclusions were reached in a report commissioned and recently released by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations. It seems we are now at a tipping point. Universities, including our own, cannot claim to value Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion while continuing to use unreliable and biased tools to evaluate teaching performance for purposes that affect career advancement. If not SRIs, then what? The Centre for Learning and Teaching has long advocated for the use of peer-based teaching assessments (e.g., Klopper, Drew, and Mallitt, 2015), and the preparation of a comprehensive teaching dossier as better ways to get information about teaching performance into the hands of tenure and promotion committees. It is time to end the reliance on Student Ratings of Instruction as a tool for shaping career decisions. Members can contribute to this effort through advocacy as members of Tenure and Promotion committees, and also as Senators in the upcoming review of the Student Ratings of Instruction policy.

On Friday March 1 our colleagues at NSCAD (Faculty Union of NSCAD) will begin a strike to continue their fight for a fair contract after years of working without increases in order to help their institution survive difficult financial circumstances. When I have more details on picket plans I will share with you so we can have a strong physical show of support.

David Westwood

DFA President



Klopper, C., Drew, S., & Mallitt, K. (2015). Pro-Teaching. In Teaching for Learning and Learning for Teaching (pp. 35-52). SensePublishers, Rotterdam.