Late afternoon on Thursday March 12, AUNBT received a CAUT advisory regarding temporary preventative measures likely to be taken by universities in response to public health concerns related to the novel coronavirus COVID-19. Universities have a legal obligation to protect the health and safety of employees and students, and it was anticipated that preventative measures would be taken, although it was not clear at that time what they may be as the situation was (and still is) evolving rapidly.
AUNBT immediately contacted the UNB senior administration and requested a meeting to discuss possible steps contemplated by UNB in this context. We received a response the same evening from President Mazerolle. A meeting with senior administration was held around 2:30PM Friday March 13, including VP MacLean, VP Hauf, VP Cunningham and A-VP Wilson. By that time AUNBT was receiving numerous notifications from faculty associations across Canada, indicating a pattern: suspension of classes for a period and transition to “alternative modes of delivery”, which in practice meant online delivery.
While preventative measures taken at different universities vary in minor detail, steps taken by UNB on Friday March 13 are consistent with the information we received from many other faculty associations across Canada. Based on the information we have received, the period provided for transition to alternative methods of course delivery at UNB is at the longer end of the spectrum of what has been done across the country.
AUNBT shares the concerns for the well-being of our members, our students, as well as administrative, professional and technical staff. There is an informal agreement with the UNB senior administration that the parties need to continue regular discussions to jointly consider any potential effects on AUNBT members.
A subsequent meeting was held on Monday March 16 with campus Vice-Presidents and the University Secretary, to address concerns we heard from members and senators during the weekend. While some of the concerns relate primarily to Senate matters, they intersect with AUNBT matters in the area of collegial governance and collegial rights, and in some aspects relate to collective agreement rights.
Some concrete steps taken by AUNBT in recent discussions with UNB senior administration:
- AUNBT raised the question of fairness of Student Opinion Surveys conducted in these extraordinary circumstances, and UNB immediately recognized this concern. As a result, Student Opinion Surveys for Winter 2020 will not be considered in future assessments of full-time and contract academic faculty and will not be entered into any member’s official file unless so requested by the member. Although details have yet to be formalized, the parties agreed that an earlier agreement between UNB and AUNBT will be used as a model: see https://www.aunbt.ca/2018/07/09/winter-2018-online-sos/
- AUNBT expressed concerns regarding the lack of representation on the UNB Bi-Campus COVID-19 Response Committee of members of the University community directly engaged in delivering UNB’s core academic mission of teaching and research. We also expressed the view that adequate time should be provided to Senates to address this at the special meeting of UNB Senates held on Tuesday March 17. It is our understanding that UNB Senates did discuss this issue and that adjustments will be made to address it.
- AUNBT raised concerns we have heard from faculty members regarding the academic integrity of exams written online, as well as concerns about courses that require a significant in-person component, ranging from labs to theatre production. We recognize there is no easy solution at hand, and we have asked that this academic matter be discussed by Senates.
- AUNBT and UNB agree that course instructors are best positioned to make considered decisions regarding adjustments to course syllabi, and that it is our members’ academic freedom to make such considered determinations within academic guidelines and overall academic regulations approved by UNB Senates, and within a broader framework of duty to accommodate.
We acknowledge the University’s responsiveness to issues raised by AUNBT. Public health concerns appear to be accelerating, and we encourage members to follow the advisories issued by the federal and provincial health authorities.
It is important to keep in mind that this is an unprecedented situation and that neither AUNBT nor UNB may have definite or ready-made solutions. A special meeting of the AUNBT Executive is being held today to discuss how these extraordinary circumstances may affect members and normal association affairs, including the Annual General Meeting.
AUNBT staff has been working remotely, as will members of the Executive. We remain available by email and will continue to monitor phone calls to the AUNBT Office.
[Sent by email to AUNBT members on Wednesday, March 18, 2020]