Understanding the proposed Board – ULFA Memorandum of Understanding on the University of Lethbridge International College Calgary (UICC)

ULFA and Representatives of the Board of Governors of the University of Lethbridge have reached a tentative Memorandum of Understanding (see here) regarding the hiring of Academic Staff at the University’s proposed “Pathways” college, University of Lethbridge International College Calgary (UICC). 

ULFA has previously shared updates about the progress of these discussions via emails and blog posts (here, here, and here), town halls (announced here and held in March 2024), and at our spring Annual General Meeting on April 9, 2024. The agreement has been provisionally approved now by the Executive for recommendation to the Membership.

For this reason, a Special General Meeting of the ULFA Membership has been called by the Executive for July 4, 2024 (9am-11am) to ratify this agreement under Section 6.6.3 of the ULFA Bylaws. This meeting requires a quorum of 50 Members. Under our bylaws, quorum is required for a motion to ratify the MOU, which is then put to an e-ballot vote and for a second motion concerning the length of time the e-ballot will remain open.

Please register for the SGM via the Zoom link provided in the ULFA email.

How the agreement works:

The purpose of the MoU is to clarify the place of the new UICC within the existing structures, job categories, and procedures of the current Academic Staff Collective Agreement (ASCA). It does this, almost exclusively, by establishing explicit equivalencies between the two, e.g. 

  • Between the UICC college and a “Program” for the purposes of Article 34 (Termination of Appointment for Financial Emergency or Due to Program Redundancy, Not Applicable to Members Holding Term Appointments or Sessional Lecturer Appointments) (MoU Article 1). This means that Academic Staff within the UICC have the same protections as Academic Staff in any other unit at the University in the event that their program is declared redundant (e.g. through a cancellation of the partnership with Navitas). 
  • Between the Director of the UICC (or their delegate) and a Senior Academic Administrator under Article 25.05 (Role of Senior Academic Administrators on Personnel Committees) (MoU Articles 2 and 3). This means that the Director of the UICC can play the same type of non-voting advisory role in hiring and STP committees as a senior administrator serving on similar committees. We have used this mechanism before in the construction of unique programs, such as searches involving engineers.

In one case the MoU clarifies the application of an Article from the ASCA to UICC programming (for the purposes of Sessional reappointment under Article 38.02.3, courses in the UICC are not considered the same as or similar to courses in disciplinary departments) (MoU Article 5). This is due to the unique nature of the Pathways courses and the special requirements — such as a common LMS, training in the support of international students — these courses will be designed around; it means that sessional appointees with experience in the UICC will have preference over those without when it comes to appointments in the UICC. 

It also indicates that specific requirements of Instructor and Sessional Lecturer positions within the UICC (such as the use of a specific Learning Management System and number of required contact hours) will be made clear in both advertisements for the positions and in the letters of appointment (MoU Article 4). This is already required by ASCA for such appointments under Articles 38.02.2 and 37.02.3. It’s presence here is to ensure that the requirements of teaching in the UICC are made clear to potential Members of the Academic Staff and both provides a base-line and protection against changes to job descriptions for Academic Staff in the UICC.

What the agreement does not do is amend the ASCA itself. There are no changes to any provisions governing the hiring, promotion, employment, supervision, or discipline of any current or future ULFA Members. Academic employees in the UICC will be hired under existing job categories (Instructor, Professoriate, Sessional Lecturer, Professional Librarian), be subject to the same rules for supervision, discipline, and promotion, and benefit from the same salary and benefit provisions. The MoU describes how these rights and responsibilities map onto differently named structures and processes within the college, and does not create new processes, classes or terms of employment, or governing structures. 

Why is this agreement important?

The proposed MoU is important to ULFA Members for several reasons:

Most importantly, it ensures that people hired to perform academic work within the UICC are Members of the same Academic Staff of the University as all other ULFA Members, subject to the same Academic Staff Collective Agreement, and entitled as a result to exactly the same rights and benefits as other Members in equivalent job categories, including:

  • Academic Freedom;
  • Peer-led hiring and STP processes;
  • Access to grievance processes;
  • Supervision, discipline, and assignment of duties under the relevant sections of the Collective Agreement;
  • Right of first refusal for sessional appointments;
  • No special exemptions to existing limits on consecutive term appointments, the conditions under which term or sessional appointments can be made, or the requirement that permanent appointments be made whenever reasonably practical (Article 10.06.1);
  • The same pay and benefits as all other ULFA Members in the same job category.

The MoU is also important because the rights it gives Academic Staff in the UICC help address some of the concerns raised by Members during discussions about the decision to establish the college:

  • Academic Freedom rights help ensure UICC instructors have the same rights to enforce academic standards in their classrooms as all other members of the Academic Staff (instructors at other Pathways colleges where these protections are not in place have reported pressure to raise grades or pass unprepared students);
  • Hiring Members of the Academic Staff under existing job categories (Instructor, Professoriate, Professional Librarian) and rules addresses the concern that the UICC might be staffed exclusively or primarily with precariously employed, term-limited employees, since such appointments are now subject to the same restrictions as all other hires at the U of L (other faculty associations have reported problems created by Pathways instructors in distinct job categories). 
  • Ensuring that hiring and promotion for the UICC is carried out through disciplinary committees means that ULFA members remain in charge of ensuring the integrity of our academic programs.

Although there are many reasons to be concerned about the existence of Pathways colleges in the Canadian Post-Secondary Education environment, the proposed MoU addresses many if not all of those that stem from the precarity of instructors within such colleges. Under this MoU Academic Staff at the UICC will have the same ability to carry out their duties ethically and to appropriate standards as any other Member of the U of L’s Academic Staff. 

FInally, the proposed MoU is important because it establishes a national benchmark for the staffing of Pathways colleges going forward. There are five other Pathways colleges in Canada, and none of these have anything similar to the protections this MoU offers Academic Staff of the UICC. In most cases, faculty in these other colleges are not members of the university’s Faculty Association. In the one case where they are, they comprise a distinct employment category under the collective agreement with arguably fewer protections than other members of the same Association. The proposed MoU makes the Academic Staff of the UICC the only Pathways instructors who are regular members of the Academic Staff of their institution and enjoy the same protections extended to all other members. Our hope is that this agreement may function as a template nationally for future colleges, preventing the spread of sub-standard teaching conditions across the country.

What are we voting on?

The Special General Meeting is being held to allow Members of ULFA to discuss and vote on this proposed MoU. 

As explained above, the MoU is, in essence, a set of definitions that can be read alongside the current ASCA, explaining how existing language in the ASCA  applies to structures, positions, and procedures of the new college. The vote facing ULFA Members is where they want to establish these equivalencies in a formal and legalling binding fashion.

If the vote is positive, then current ULFA Members are agreeing with the Board that future academic employees of the UICC will be: 

  • Members of the Academic Staff of the University;
  • Members of ULFA;
  • Subject to and protected by the same Academic Staff Collective Agreement as all other ULFA Members;
  • Hired into existing job categories (Instructor, Professoriate, Sessional Lecturer, Professional Librarian);
  • Subject to the same peer-based hiring and STP processes as all other Members of the Academic Staff.

If the vote is negative, then ULFA Members are deciding that they do not want to reach an agreement with the Board about the specific terms and conditions under which academic employees of the UICC will be hired. The Board can still unilaterally designate UICC employees as Members of the Academic Staff (and hence subject to the provisions of the Collective Agreement); but it may also attempt to hire them under some other process or provision (because designation is an important labour and potentially constitutional issue, ULFA would still retain the right to challenge and attempt to hire UICC staff as anything other than Members of the Academic Staff).

Neither vote, however, is about the existence of the UICC itself. The Board’s agreement with Navitas to create what is now the UICC was approved by GFC and the Board under the provisions of the Post-Secondary Learning Act. As a result of that decision, the question before ULFA Members in this vote is whether they wish to agree to reach an agreement with the Board as to how employees of the UICC will be hired under the existing Academic Staff Collective Agreement.