The NAIT Academic Staff Association (NASA) is taking issue with some of the changes being proposed in a broad based academic restructuring underway at NAIT.
The NAIT Academic Staff Association (NASA) believes some of those changes will shortchange instructors and students and that they are being pushed through without enough time or consideration for staff.
The association has filed a policy level grievance with Dr. Glenn Feltham, NAIT’s President and CEO, claiming that without proper consultation these changes violate the collective agreement between the institution and the academic staff.
Collective agreement cited
“According to our collective agreement, consultation means the process of clearly communicating a tentative idea allowing sufficient time for a response given the situation and considering the response before a final decision is made,” said NASA President Arlana Moskalyk.
Moskalyk further described the need for consultation on other “organizational changes” such as staffing levels, classifications or delivery elements.
The restructuring of the academic portfolio currently being considered changes the way NAIT educates students for work in industry. This includes adjusting how student advising operates on campus, school structure and the responsibilities of managerial and support staff at the program level, including the creation of a department head position.
Most details on the restructuring were distributed on Sept. 10, according to NASA, typically one of the busiest times of the year for staff as classes begin for the academic term.
There are discussions underway to codify a proper definition of when and how early consultations should be held. NASA argues that the extent of input NAIT was seeking on the plan was a stamp of approval rather than any actual input from faculty.
Others, including the NAIT Students’ Association, disagree and say consultation is still occurring across campus on these proposed changes.
“I personally believe that over the last couple of months, Dr. Fassina (NAIT Provost and VP Academic) has done a great deal of consultation with the staff and NAITSA executives as well, regarding some of the issues that were going on and a lot of this was done through town hall meetings,” said NAITSA President Justin Nand.
“In the coming months, the details of the academic restructure will be discussed through a series of engagement panels in order to make sure everybody is positively affected by the [proposed] changes,” Nand said.
The main items causing concern focus on staffing. At issue for NASA is the creation of department head positions in yet to be designed program clusters, which will take over certain responsibilities currently performed by other existing positions.
NASA believes this will take decision-making out of the program area for such big ticket items like scheduling courses and create a disconnect from the program, as well as from the needs of students.
“The issue is, someone removed from the program, distanced from the program and the students, will be scheduling the classes themselves,” said Moskalyk.
“So, the timing of them may not be the best for staff and students involved.”
NASA believes this will also lead to staffing reductions for teaching staff.
“They [administration] have indicated that associate chair positions are being phased out and the chair positions will do more teaching but they have always stayed true that the restructuring is about job change and not about job loss,” said Moskalyk.
“They have not guaranteed that there will not be a loss of positions.”
However, the idea of moving non-academic duties away from academic staff could offer more opportunities for the academic leadership to focus on the quality and delivery of programs.
“The ideal environment is one in which you have an individual or individuals [such as department heads] that can work collaboratively with individual programs and across programs to best deploy the physical infrastructure, the technological infrastructure, the seat capacity, and the human capital, in terms of our instructional base, in a way that best meets the students’ needs,” said Fassina.
Roles yet to be defined
Many role responsibilities are yet to be outlined or reallocated.
“A department head has to work with facilities and the scheduling office, as well as the school, the deans, the vice-provost, etc., to formulate a line of best fit,” Fassina said.
Despite NASA’s concerns that the collective agreement should apply to the creation of department heads, certain roles are considered by NAIT administration to be outside of the collective agreement, generally roles with a managerial and operational role, rather than an academic one.
“This position was described from the outset as being a managerial, operational out-of-scope role,” said Fassina.
Nand believes that students will not be significantly affected, saying “the changes are improving the student experience outside the classroom and making sure students have the support they need in a timely manner.”
– With files from Nicolas Brown