MUFA Member Flash Survey Results
Thank you to the 272 members who took the time (an average of 2½ minutes!) to answer our short member survey. That’s a response rate of 29.2%. In the next newsletter, we’ll have a digest of the open-ended comments. For now, we’d like to report our initial results from the other questions. A large majority of members have not contacted MUFA recently (83%), and we hope this means that our members are satisfied with their workplace and haven’t needed our help with information or advice.
Though only about 16% of respondents had contacted MUFA, about twice as many respondents (38%) visited the website. Please let us know if there is information that you think should be posted that is hard to find or not available.
Of those that have contacted the MUFA office or an Executive Committee member, most report being satisfied (59%) with the accuracy of the information received. I would encourage those who were dissatisfied with the accuracy of the information received to let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org) how we didn’t meet your expectations.
Finally, we are interested in encouraging more of you to attend our two annual meetings (in December and April) and to be engaged with the Faculty Association in general. To this end, we asked questions about past meeting attendance and reasons for not attending. A majority of the survey respondents reported not attending a recent meeting (72%), and the most common reason for not attending was a scheduling conflict (40%). A majority of the write-in explanations for not attending referenced having too many other demands and not enough time.
Qualitative responses in member survey
The short survey included an open-ended item in which we asked members to identify an issue or concern to be brought to the attention of the MUFA leadership. There were about 130 responses to this open-ended question, and about 15% of the responses listed more than one discrete issue. Overall, there were about 143 separate substantive comments or issues raised.
I have read all the comments and grouped them under the following broad types of concerns:
- Issues of austerity or equity impacting morale and faculty workload (33)
- Salaries and/or benefits (30)
- Teaching professors (18)
- Administration (collegial governance) (11)
- Gender equity and/or family friendly policies (11)
- Teaching roles (6)
- Implementation of MOSAIC (6)
- Judicial Review related to the DeGroote School of Business (6)
- MUFA’s advocacy in general (8-9)
Issues of austerity or equity impacting morale and faculty workload
The most common theme in the comments were concerns about faculty workload and morale, and these concerns were often either explicitly or implicitly linked to budget constraints and how budget pressures are being managed either centrally or locally.
Specifically, several members mentioned pressures to either increase class sizes, cancel classes, or increase teaching loads and the effects that such changes have both on the student experience and research productivity. Several also highlighted how these pressures were being exacerbated by deficits (in some cases made more apparent by the New Budget Model) in particular Faculties. Further, these observations sometimes also included concerns about inequities in teaching loads between and within faculties. Several comments articulate a sense that budget constraints are undermining teaching and research activities in some Faculties, while others are unaffected, and that this contributes to an accumulation of advantage in some Faculties and disadvantage in others.
These are clearly complex and difficult issues but also ones that must be addressed in order to maintain or even improve McMaster’s teaching and research excellence. MUFA can raise these concerns with the Administration, but we are more effective when we can point to specific examples of poor policy or policy implementation or when we have sufficient data to support our claims. (To that end, let me remind our members to complete the OCUFA survey on workplace stress, which could give us more data about the pressures of our workplace.) We are also working to put in place a more robust system for tracking inquiries and concerns brought to our attention by members so that MUFA can better identify areas of concern.
Six members specifically asked about MUFA’s position on the number of teaching-intensive (teaching-track, permanent teaching) faculty members. It is worth clarifying some apparent misunderstandings. First, there is no limit to the number of teaching track positions in the Faculty of Health Science. If the Faculty of Health Science is not creating new teaching track positions, this in no way is a consequence of any formal policy or agreement with MUFA. Second, every time a Dean has requested, through the Provost, an increase in their allotment of teaching stream positions, MUFA has approved this request. Indeed, since 2011, MUFA has approved 8 additional teaching stream positions in the Faculties of Business, Humanities, Science, and Social Sciences as well as 15 positions for Engineering’s Bachelor of Technology program.
MUFA agrees that it would be preferable for the University to limit its use of temporary (CLA) contracts and instead hire permanent academic staff. Between 2005 and 2013 (teaching track appointments were introduced in 2007), about 17-18% of all full-time faculty appointments have been CLA or teaching-track appointments combined. Both CLA and teaching-track appointments tend to be teaching intensive, with similar workload distributions (80% teaching, 20% service).
Previously, MUFA proposed “that SPS-A9 be superseded by an agreement that limits the allocation of CLA plus TP positions University-wide (and excluding Health Sciences) as a percentage of all full-time faculty positions (CLA, TP, and TT) to a value that reflects the current and recent distribution of such positions (with some flexibility for annual fluctuations)“ (full text available here). Further, “the MUFA leadership believes such an agreement would be beneficial for both MUFA members and the University. It would create greater flexibility than the current policy and allow for growth while ensuring a reasonable and historically informed balance between research-intensive and teaching-intensive full-time faculty members.”
Other comments regarding teaching-track positions focused on issues of workload, equitable treatment, and other concerns raised by a Senate Committee on Appointments Sub-Committee to Review Policies and Procedures Surrounding the Appointment Category of Teaching-Stream Faculty. MUFA solicited additional member feedback related to the report and its recommendations and has discussed many of these issues with the University administration. Some issues identified in the report, such as evaluation of teaching expertise, are being addressed by other committees looking at the issue more broadly. Some other issues identified in the report are difficult to address systematically through policy interventions because the roles of teaching-track members can vary significantly across campus and individual teaching-track faculty members have different preferences for the allocation of their workloads. For example, some teaching-track members would like discipline-based research to be acknowledged as part of their workload, while others want recognition for pedagogical research. Still others want no expectation of research whatsoever. This makes it difficult to articulate a clear policy position that is likely to satisfy everyone. Nevertheless, MUFA will continue to advocate that existing policies be implemented fairly and transparently.
Salaries and benefits
Under the general heading of salaries and non-pension benefits a number of suggestions or issues were raised (about 15 responses). The issues that were raised by more than one member included better health coverage and tuition bursaries for dependents. About 15 members specifically raised concerns either about erosion of pension benefits or requested greater information about retirement planning. I would direct those concerned about our pensions to an update on provincial discussions of a sector-wide, jointly-sponsored pension plan, which was included in the last newsletter.
Gender equity/family-friendly policies
About 10 members raised issues of broadly related to gender equity or family-friendly policies. Most of these comments suggested that though MUFA’s involvement in gender pay equity was welcome, significant issues remain. One member specifically raised concerns about lack of spousal hires, which has historically affected female academics who tend to have higher rates of marrying other academic staff than their male colleagues. Other members raised concerns about maintaining productivity during parental leave. I will note that MUFA recently worked with the Administration to clarify how merit pay following parental leave is calculated. The revised policy went into effect this summer. This is a small step toward addressing these issues. MUFA continues to discuss opportunities for promoting equity with the Administration, particular with the AVP Faculty Susan Searls Giroux, who leads a working group that has been discussing implementation of recommendations from the Equity Task Force.
Administration (collegial governance)
More than 10 members raised concerns about the Administration of the University, particularly with regard to collegial (joint) governance. Phrases used included “lack of consultation,” “heavy-handed,” “managerialsim,” or “fiefdom.” Most of these comments reflected a sense of frustration about general trends rather than specific instances of abuse. Three of the comments specifically mentioned non-specific concerns about the Faculty of Health Science, the only Faculty to be singled out this way.
With regard to our teaching roles, six members raised concerns. Specific concerns were how student evaluations of teaching are used in our merit and promotion processes as well as potential misuse or bullying of faculty through such feedback tools. Mounting evidence suggests that student evaluations of teaching are significantly biased and poor measures of instructional quality. A working group headed by AVP Faculty Susan Searls Giroux has been reviewing best practices for evaluation of teaching—beyond student evaluations—and is expected to have recommendations this academic year. Often, our existing formal policies are quite clear and appropriate, but sometimes there are gaps in implementation that should be addressed. Faculty members also expressed concerns about how retroactive accommodations are managed, online education, and grade reporting on McMaster University transcripts.
Six members specifically mentioned concerns about MOSAIC, including the downloading of work to faculty and staff in academic departments and programs. In several other comments, MOSAIC was mentioned in conjunction with general concerns about workloads and demands on faculty and staff time for tasks not directly related to our teaching and research missions.
Judicial Review related to the DeGroote School of Business
Six members expressed concerns over MUFA’s position on the judicial review filed related to a McMaster University Board-Senate Hearing Panel in the DeGroote School of Business. Interested members can review key documents online. MUFA has members on both sides of the dispute in the Faculty, and the comments in the survey reflect that. More troubling to me is that one member described the Faculty as in a state of “ongoing dysfunctionality.”
MUFA’s advocacy in general and dues
Some (6-7) would like MUFA to be more aggressive in its approach toward the administration, including several (3 of the 7) who would like to see MUFA become a certified union. However, it appears that those most interested in certification do not regularly attend MUFA meetings or are not interested in doing so, according to their survey responses. Last but not least, two members commented on MUFA dues, one appreciating that they are low and another complaining that they are too high. For information, MUFA’s mill (or membership) rate is 0.5% of salary. In practice, it is often closer to 0.46% because the Executive Committee approves dues “holidays” when there is an operating surplus, which occurs most years. Excluding McMaster, the Ontario average (for 10 universities) is 1.011%, and the average rate among Ontario U15 members is .855%.
Thanks again to those of you who took the time to answer this short survey, and please be in touch with MUFA staff (email@example.com or extension 24682/20297) or Executive Committee members if you have additional comments or questions.
Report prepared by: Michelle Dion, MUFA President (2015-16)