Sept 7, 2020

Dear OCADFA members,

Happy Labour Day!  Our holiday that celebrates the workers’ movement for better working conditions and better pay was earned by the organizing and determined fightback of workers who’ve come before us.  A struggle that connect labour rights to human rights and social justice.  Specifically, the holiday commemorates the campaign for the eight-hour work day that came out of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. In 1817 the slogan was:  “Eight hours’ labour, Eight hours’ recreation, Eight hours’ rest.” It took 100 years for a government to legislate the eight-hour work day nationally.  I find it sobering to sit back and think about the fact that as an academic worker in the neo-liberal economy, my workday is longer than that of a factory worker’s in the 1900’s. 

In 2020 unions are more critical than ever.  The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives notes that Canada’s Labour Force Survey reveals deep inequities in who is impacted hardest by COVID-19.

Because so many workers are falling behind due to COVID-19’s impact on the economy—especially racialized, Indigenous, women, people with disabilities, and young Canadians—there is a pressing need for an invigorated, strong labour movement. 

The need for workers to be able to assert their rights in the workplace has literally become a matter of life and death.

Perhaps more than any other sector, ours is being irrevocably shaped in the moment. University Administrators are using the cover of the pandemic to advance a neo-liberal agenda.   Honor Brabazon’s article ‘The academy’s neoliberal response to COVID-19: Why faculty should be wary and how we can push back’  is worth a re-read now as we enter the fall term.

In the remote delivery environment CAUT has issued 5 key principles which OCADFA supports and is advocating for:

1.   Academic decisions should be made through normal collegial processes. Academic staff, through their institution’s governance bodies, must make all academic decisions, including those involving changes to the mode of delivery of courses.

2.   Method of delivery is a pedagogical decision and an academic freedom right. Academic staff, subject to collegially developed policies and provisions of the collective agreement, should determine the method of delivery for courses. In the current context, such decisions may be constrained by public health directives and safety considerations. However, academic staff should determine how best a course or program might be delivered remotely. 

3.   Copyright should remain with the course creator. Academic staff should maintain copyright over the course materials they produce. In the absence of any explicit contractual terms to the contrary, copyright belongs to the creator(s).

4.   Remote teaching arrangements should protect against contracting out and outsourcing. Academic staff associations should be vigilant in protecting the work of the bargaining unit from outsourcing. 
5.   Staff should be compensated or credited for increased workloads.
 Extra time required for the preparation and delivery of remote courses should be recognized and compensated. 

Last week faculty at OCAD U were informed that because of higher than anticipated student demand, there is, what some are calling ‘a crisis in Fall enrolment’.  There are long waitlists for sections and students are frustrated with their inability to get into courses.  This is particularly the case for first year students.  Administration is concerned about a 4-year spin off effect in lost tuition revenues if this isn’t addressed.

OCAD U Admin’s response is to add 10 new sections and increase section sizes for 25 courses in which there are high waitlists. You can find the full list here. You will likely have been informed already if you are teaching one of these classes.

And it’s not just the listed courses that are being affected. In one capstone course, faculty that had accepted 17 students per faculty member are now being asked to accept 20.4 students per faculty.  A decade ago, the ratio was 10 students per faculty and about 5 years ago they raised it to 12 then 14 students per faculty more recently. This year we were asked to accept 17 students and, wanting to support the University in hard times, the faculty agreed. And now the section size has been pushed to 20. The request to raise the cap size came in four days prior to the start of the term.

Additionally, tenured faculty are being asked to take on overload teaching. OCADFA does not encourage permanent faculty to accept this.  Overload teaching was introduced in 2004 as an option for faculty to consider in rare circumstances, as a way to keep consistency in course delivery intact for courses that have multiple sections.  When tenured faculty accept overload teaching they are taking jobs away from sessionals and being paid at a sessional rate.  OCADFA worked very hard to secure a reduction in our course load. Let’s protect that and each other.

Increasing class sizes is exactly the opposite of what Admin should be doing in this situation. Online teaching warrants smaller classes & increased TA support, not less. If Admin is concerned about student attrition, they need to pay attention to the student experience – larger sections will make students feel even more alienated and disconnected.  Student contact hours will be diminished as will student engagement. OCADFA is opposed to the class expansion without appropriate compensation and support. We know the intense workload that online teaching entails.  These last minute changes are also adding additional pressures to an overburdened workload and faculty are now forced to rapidly adjust their assignments or curriculum to accommodate increased class sizes.

Everybody recognizes the need to work together to make the Fall term a success. But Administration’s response cannot be to continually demand that faculty take on the lion’s share of the work without any accommodations. 

The Spring/Summer courses were also overloaded. Again, Administration told us that this was necessary because of student demand. My studio/seminar class that usually has 23 students was overloaded to 35 students.  The majority of faculty who teach in these terms are sessional. For Administration to expect sessional faculty, amongst the least paid contract faculty in the country, to support the University through without any increased compensation was outrageous.  OCADFA filed a grievance and was successful in securing $650 in compensation for sessionals teaching online. The compensation was tied to attending FCDC workshops on remoter delivery.  However, one part of the grievance remains unresolved: compensation for permanent faculty.  We were unable to reach an agreement with Admin and are now heading to arbitration on this issue. 

With this sudden announcement of cap expansions for the Fall 2020 term OCADFA recognizes that OCAD U Administration is establishing a troubling pattern with managing student enrolment.  The solution appears to simply be: increase class sizes and expect faculty to carry the burden.

Given the current situation our expectations are:

  • Open new sections, even if this means keeping classes smaller than max cap limit allows
  • Compensate permanent faculty through course reductions & service reductions
  • Increased TA support and change the formula that is currently used to calculate TA support to recognize the increased workload of online delivery

If you have been affected by the newly announced class cap expansions please let the Academic leaders in your faculty know that this is unacceptable and we expect better.  One faculty member has contacted me and is already drafting a public letter of protest that will be circulated in the next few days.

I’ll wrap up this dispatch by re-iterating the need for us to work together as OCADFA members but also with Administration as members of the OCAD U community.  As Administration develops their plans for 2020-2021 academic year and beyond, let’s remind them that OCAD University needs to be a decent place to work, for all.

We actually are all in this together, but with different stakes, capacities and supports. Our university will thrive if we can be flexible, humane and creative in managing all the remaining crisis curveballs 2020 has in store for us. And we must be unconditional in using principles of social justice to inform our decisions. This applies to academic, administrative and financial.

The statement by the Coalition for Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) on what a just labour response looks like is relevant:

A labour vision for a post-pandemic recovery must confront structural racial inequalities and advocate for the inclusion of BIPOC communities — economically, politically and socially.

In solidarity,

Min Sook Lee

OCADFA President


OCADFA is one of the lead organizers behind #ScholarStrikeCanada.  Over one thousand scholars have signed the statement in support of this week’s labour action for Black & Indigenous Lives. The program of events for Scholar Strike Canada can be found here.   To add your name to support the statement please fill in the form here.  For those who cannot strike, there are many ways to participate.  

Thanks to OCAD University President Ana Serrano for her uncompromising support, which no doubt influenced statements from Ryerson, York and other University institutions that acknowledged the importance of this moment.

We have received push back from right wing supremacists and are taking steps to protect our Presenters.  The Zoom webinars will be livestreamed on the Scholar Strike Canada YouTube Channel.To access the public digital teach-ins please direct all students to this link. Due to racist disruptions that have targeted similar initiatives, the comment section will be closed.