Decisions of the Workload Resolution Arbitrator (WRA)
St. Lawrence College and OPSEU Local 417
September 2, 2020
Here are summaries of two recent decisions by an arbitrator from appeals of decisions of St. Lawrence College’s Workload Monitoring Group (WLG). The arbitrations took place on September 2, 2020. This was the first time in the current Local 417 Executive Committee’s (LEC) memory that the WMG could not reach agreement on appeals of Standard Workload Forms (SWF). When that happens, the next option for a professor is to refer their case to a Workload Resolution Arbitrator (WRA). That is what happened in these two cases.
The awards granted in the decisions by the arbitrator are summarized below. They will be of significance to many of us. We also encourage all members to read the two attached decisions in full.
Summary, WRA decision No.1
Takeaway for Full-time Faculty:
Where an evaluation/assessment requires a student to reflect on a matter and provide his or her thoughts on various issues related to the matter being considered, and the teacher has to assess the student’s thinking, then that type of evaluation does not fit in the “routine or assisted” category, but is an “essay type assignment.”
Many instructors include weekly “reflections” as one kind of course assessment. Where the assessment requires students to provide thought/analysis that goes beyond simply checking for a particular fact or facts, or only provide descriptions, the Union has long held that such assessments should be treated as “Essay or project evaluation”, fitting within the subcategory of “essay type assignments or tests”; see Article 11.01 E2.
By contrast, the College often considers such assessments to be “routine or assisted”. At this WRA, the College also argued that weekly reflections were essentially the same as weekly tests and that by contrast, an “essay” is a longer, formal report that includes a thesis statement and formal citations.
The difference in corresponding hours between “essay type assignments or tests” (with an evaluation factor of 0.03) and “routine or assisted” (with an evaluation factor of 0.015) on a SWF can be significant.
In this WRA, the arbitrator wrote:
“I conclude that this type of evaluation does not fit in the ‘routine or assisted’ category. The second part of that category is ‘other evaluative tools where mechanical marking assistance or marking assistants are provided.’ It clearly is not that. But is it the grading of short answer tests? This is not testing for the acquisition of knowledge where there is a correct answer. This evaluation requires a student to reflect on a matter and provide his or her thoughts on various issues related to the matter being considered. The teacher has to assess the students’ thinking. [Emphasis added.] While I agree with the Employer that this is not the type of essay which is common in higher education, the ‘essay or project’ category covers not simply ‘essays’ but also ‘essay type assignments or tests’. In my view the students are to write an ‘essay type assignment’.”
“I agree with [the Professor] on this issue and conclude that the reflection assignments fall under the ‘essay or project” category. I direct the Employer to adjust [the Professor’s] Standard Workload Form so that appropriate hours are attributed for evaluation and feedback.”
(When completing Learn Plans that include reflections as assignments, professors should consider specifying that “the evaluation requires a student to reflect on a matter and provide his or her thoughts on various issues related to the matter being considered” and that the instructor will “assess the students’ thinking” in their feedback. Given the WRA decision, and using this language in the LP to describe the assessment, it will help ensure the Professor is successful when in discussions with management and/or at a WMG.)
Summary, WRA decision No.2
Takeaway for Full-time Faculty:
If you teach two sections of a course that start or end at the same time, but the sections are on different cycles (i.e, one is over 14 weeks, and the other is over 7 weeks), then BOTH sections are “Established B” and each must be assigned a factor of 0.6 (and NOT 0.6 for one section and 0.35 for the other.)
The Professor was assigned three sections of the same course on his Fall 2020 SWF. One section of the course was scheduled to run for 14 weeks; the other sections were scheduled to run over a 7+1 week cycle, with one occurring in September/October and the other in November/December.
The 14 week section was given “Established B” with an attribution of 0.6, while the other two sections were given “Repeat B”, an attribution of 0.35.
In the College’s view, the attribution of 0.35 for each 7 week section was correct, because each 7 week course was to run at the same time, i.e., “concurrent” with the 14 week course. The Professor’s complaint was based on his position that two sections being taught over 7 weeks could not be considered a repeat of a section taught over 14 weeks, were therefore not “concurrent”, and as such all three sections should have an attribution of 0.6.
A key task for the arbitrator was to interpret the meaning of “concurrent” within the Collective Agreement.
In this WRA, the arbitrator wrote:
“Will the courses be taught concurrently? Concurrently is commonly used to describe things which are happening in unison, or together, or side by side. As one section runs for 14 weeks and the other two for seven weeks it is difficult to describe these sections as being taught concurrently.”
“Teachers often teach multiple sections of the same course. Looking at this issue in terms of the purpose, if a teacher can prepare to teach certain material on Monday and then teach the same material a second time to another section soon thereafter, there is generally thought to be a saving in preparation time for that teacher. If a teacher is teaching two sections concurrently the amount of preparation time is reduced for the second section.”
“While two of [the Professor’s] sections may well start in the fall with the same material, it would soon be the case that the course taught over only seven weeks would be well ahead of the 14 week section. At the beginning of the third course taught during weeks 8 through 14 of the 14 week course, the opposite would be the case. The savings in terms of preparation for [the Professor] are so limited that I do not believe the parties intended that three sections taught over such different periods of time would be said to be taught concurrently. I find that no section is a “Repeat” of any of [the Professor’s] other sections.”
“I find that all three of [the Professor’s] MATH 35 sections are Established B for purposes of the attribution of preparation hours. I direct the Employer to adjust Mr. White’s Standard Workload Form so that appropriate hours are attributed for preparation for all three sections.”
(In the Union’s view, this means that where a professor is teaching more than two sections of a course (taught within the previous three years) during a semester and those sections run on different schedules (i.e., one on 14 weeks and the other over 7 weeks) then those sections are NOT “concurrent” within the meaning of Article 11.01 D3(vi) and each section should be given the same attribution (i.e., 0.6.))