COVID-19 Updates and News

If any of you are in self-isolation, or do not have family, or need any other kind of help—related or not to work—let us know. We all have to support each other during this moment.
Emails for your respective VPs are here:
https://3912.cupe.ca/about/officers/

We are all coping with different circumstances, so feel free to reach out to any of the executive regardless of which university you are most affiliated with. Carlos Pessoa, the SMU VP, has kindly volunteered to be a point person for this kind of assistance. His email address is vp.smu.cupe3912@gmail.com.

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April 28

The Centre for Learning and Teaching at Dalhousie is offering a suite of online panels, webinars and workshops. Monitor the CLT website or Today@Dal for more information about upcoming events.

From our VP for TAs at Studley campus: Many of our student members have been concerned about CERB eligibility. The government just announced that they will be rolling out a Canada Emergency Student Benefit(CESB) for students and recent graduates who are not eligible for CERB or EI. More information on the CESB and other additional supports for students can be found here.

Karen Harper is part of a newly formed group of representatives from all types of unions at all universities across Nova Scotia. This includes academic staff and also students, post-docs, lab technicians and more. This group has written an open letter to university administration and government representatives, which in part asks for additional funding for post-secondary education during this time. We sent it to government representatives and the media today. Here is the letter:

Download (PDF, 107KB)

April 16

Summer course cancellations: At SMU, the Mount and some faculties at Dal this should be YOUR decision. At Dal the dean does have authority over things like course cancellations but I have been told that you may reach out to your dean if your course has been cancelled even though you think you can teach it remotely. If that still doesn’t work, please contact me or your CUPE VP. Decisions regarding summer course cancellations at Dal must be made by the end of this month.

Extra compensation for time spent converting your course online: This does apply for summer courses at SMU. They will begin to consider this at the Mount. At Dal it is faculty dependent but it sounds like it is happening for some courses. If you think you should be compensated for extra time but you are not, I recommend contacting your dean and also keep track of your hours.

Home office use: This is an issue I have been exploring and realizing it is complex. We may or may not be able to get the employer to cover extra expenses. For now I would suggest that you keep track of any extra expenses including receipts. If you feel that you had to have substantial extra expenses (e.g., purchase an internet stick because you live in a rural community without high-speed internet), it might be worthwhile contacting your dean.

April 9

Here is a link to a Statistics Canada survey on the impacts of COVID-19 on those living in Canada. We would like to capture as many of our members’ experiences as possible. It takes about 5 minutes to complete and closes on April 16.

CAUT is launching an online town hall series titled, COVID-19 and the Academic Job, to support academic staff in this constantly changing and uncertain time. Hosted by CAUT, you will hear from experts on a range of topics and discuss issues, your questions and share strategies and solutions.

  • The first French town hall will take place on Thursday, April 16 at 1pm (EDT) in partnership with the Fédération québécoise des professeures et professeurs d’université (FQPPU). The first English town hall will take place on Thursday, April 16 at 2pm (EDT). These town halls will look at current and possible future impacts of the pandemic on academic work.
  • Future town hall topics will include:
    • Moving online: intellectual property and privacy issues
    • A conversation with SSHRC, NSERC and CIHR
    • Academic governance
    • Addressing the unique impact on Contract Academic Staff
  • For more information and to register for CAUT’s Town Hall Series: COVID-19 and the Academic Job:

The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) and the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) are calling on the federal government to extend the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) to post-secondary students and contract academic staff.

  • “Students and contract academic staff are seeing their job offers vanish and will have limited or no income over the coming months because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says CAUT Executive Director David Robinson. “We’re urging the government to ensure that students and our most vulnerable workers are not left behind.”
  • Many students and contract academic staff rely on income from spring and summer jobs to help make ends meet, but there are significantly fewer summer employment opportunities today than in a normal year.
  • With colleges and universities cancelling spring and summer courses, some contract academic staff may see their incomes reduced to below the $2,000 per month provided through the CERB.

CAUT distributed some information about remote teaching:

  • In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, universities and colleges in Canada have transitioned to remote instruction through various online platforms and software. Academic staff should be aware that these tools raise important privacy and intellectual property rights issues.
  • Surveillance: Some software systems may allow administrators to conduct surveillance of online teaching activities. Such surveillance is unacceptable, as the institution has no more right to do so during the pandemic than it does under ordinary circumstances. No institution should be recording or transcribing online classes without the consent of the instructor and students.
  • Remote Teaching Platforms: CAUT is aware that many video-conferencing platforms, such as Zoom, that are freely available online raise significant security and privacy concerns. Your institution should provide members with a licenced version of any software system. Video conferencing software should be encrypted and users should be able to restrict access to authorized participants only. Sessions should not be recorded or transcribed without the permission of the instructor. Academic staff should avoid setting up video conferencing accounts with their personal email address. Students should also be advised to use their institutional email addresses. Using common email domains (e.g. Outlook, Gmail, or Yahoo) may allow anyone with an email hosted by the same domain to access video sessions, since some platforms treat these emails as being within the same organization. Just as with on-campus teaching, it remains the institution’s responsibility to ensure that remote teaching takes place in a secure and useable manner.
  • Privacy: Provincial and federal privacy laws apply with remote teaching. This means that personal information about academic staff and students should not be disseminated publicly or online. Personal information can include email addresses, phone numbers, residential information, images, and videos. During remote instruction, academic staff and students should expect they have the same level of privacy as they would during an on-campus lecture or seminar. Academic staff may wish to include a privacy statement at the start of each session, or distribute to students in advance. The statement should include a reminder that privacy laws and expectations continue, and that students must not record any audio or video of any online classes for any purpose other than personal study or accommodation.
  • Intellectual Property and Copyright: Since the collective agreement still applies, the content of remote teaching sessions remains the intellectual property of the academic staff member. Students should be warned that although it may be easier to record or transcribe lectures and discussions through online platforms, it remains their responsibility to refrain from distributing those recordings or transcriptions. Posting material online would violate the privacy and copyright interests of the instructor and fellow students. Academic staff who share teaching materials with colleagues or the institution should include messages that by sharing, they do not relinquish their copyright and ownership in the materials. Misuse or further distribution without express permission should be prohibited.

April 3
• There has been some miscommunication about TAs continuing to get paid until the end of term. Apparently this was only the case if TAs could find other work to do such as grading. But the messaging has been department or faculty-specific.
• Karen Harper was part of a group of union presidents or representatives at Dalhousie University that has now expanded to include other universities. Yesterday we put out a press release about an all-union statement calling on universities to ensure open communnication, accountability and transparency.
• CAUT sent an update email that included some good information about CERB for part-time instructors and caution about using Zoom:

  • Security flaws in Zoom lead to disruptions in classes
    Many academic staff have been using Zoom for meetings and remote teaching. However, many are now raising security and privacy concerns with the program. Some Zoom-held classes have been disrupted by internet trolls and privacy issues are plaguing the program.
    If you continue to use Zoom:

    • Be aware that when you share your Zoom meeting link on social media or other public forums, anyone can click the link to join your meeting.
    • Avoid using your Personal Meeting ID (PMI) to host public events. Learn about meeting IDs and how to generate a random meeting ID in this video tutorial.
    • Familiarize yourself with Zoom’s privacy settings and features so you understand how to protect your virtual space.

April 1
• At SMU, we helped the administration to develop a strategy for summer courses that includes extra compensation and leaves the decision as to whether it can be converted to an online course up to the instructor. This strategy has been distributed to department chairs, whom you can consult for further details.
• At Dal, we will now have weekly meetings with the director of academic staff relations
• At Dal, again please let Karen Harper know about any cancelled courses – course name and number, the entire program or just the course, when was it cancelled and by whom.
• Here is a link to information put out by CUPE about the emergency benefit and other economic support.
 This article might also be useful for questions about financial support.
• This email from the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour contains some interesting and useful information.

March 20
• Research activities have been suspended at Dal and SMU.
• The Mount gave us some guidance about student evaluations earlier this week- essentially they are optional.
• Our president has open lines of communication with the VP Academic at the Mount and SMU, and I am trying to establish the same at Dal. She is hoping this will allow me to help address your concerns more easily, particularly regarding summer courses.
• Here is the link to provincial government information and updates on COVID-19: https://novascotia.ca/coronavirus/

March 19
• Our bargaining teams have decided to postpone the information sessions scheduled for next week and the vote on the bargaining proposals the week after to give you more time to adjust to our new reality both in terms of your work and family. When the time is right, we will continue with our agenda to Make It Fair in Halifax and Truro. I will let you know.
• Although it appears that the transfer of courses to online delivery is going well this semester (with some exceptions), there have been more concerns over what is happening with spring and summer courses. We are looking into issues regarding this. If you have any concerns or aware of any work-related issues with summer courses, please contact your VP or our president.
• The administration at SMU contacted Karen Harper to clarify some confusion about course evaluations. They state, ‘The Employer agrees to waive requirements under Article 15.04 for this term.’ They further say that PT faculty can use evaluations for formative purposes if they so choose (ie they are optional). Please contact Karen Harper if you wish to see the faculty notice about this.

March 18
• At Dalhousie, the Faculty of Arts and Social Science sent an email with the following message: ‘TAs and Markers should be communicating with instructors to clarify their responsibilities during this difficult transition and should be providing assistance (if required) with end-of-term planning (e.g., moving exams online; compiling final grades; etc.). TA contracts will be honoured financially regardless of whether or not assignments or exams have been cancelled.’ We expect and hope that the last sentence is true for all Dalhousie TAs and Markers.
• HR at SMU encourage us to monitor https://smu.ca/covid19/ for updates as they become available. And they note that we can use the services of The Studio for Teaching and Learning should we require support with our courses.
• Our VP at Dalhousie has been in contact with admin. The message to instructors there is to consider only the barest needs for your class and to deliver only what’s absolutely necessary. They are working on a plan for the exams period and semester end, and give some advice about final exams and alternatives.