JACFA Update on COVID-19 Response – March 16, 2020

Dear Colleagues,

Today, the JACFA Executive met with the College to discuss the College’s current closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the College’s current orientation toward moving classes toward an online model. At that meeting, the JACFA Executive reiterated a number of concerns about the possibility of taking our courses online while the education system in Quebec remains closed, including:

  • the near impossibility of parents continuing to work (whether on-site or online) while daycares and primary schools remain closed,
  • the non-universal access to the internet, and to sufficient internet bandwidth, for both faculty and students,
  • the time required for departments to consult their members and to come up with appropriate strategies for teaching online which are reasonably equitable and still allow for students to meet as many objectives and competencies as possible, and
  • the time required for individual teachers to adapt their own courses once they have received direction from their departments.

With these concerns in mind, the JACFA Executive urged the College to adhere to the ministerial directives (found here) and to allow teachers and departments to use the next two weeks to try to find solutions to as many of these concerns as possible, while waiting for clearer direction from the Government on others. These directives, translated into English by JACFA, are below:

“Regarding the post-secondary education (enseignement supérieur) network, CEGEPs, colleges and universities are closed from now up to March 27th inclusively. As such, for the next two weeks, all non-essential or unnecessary teaching and research activities are suspended in universities, CEGEPs and colleges.

Regarding other activities, most notably those that relate to the delivery of essential services, it is up to administrations to make decisions about limiting physical presence in buildings and on campus. Telecommuting (working from home) should be encouraged. Activities for which space is rented on campus or in a building, such as sports and cultural activities, should also be cancelled/closed.

Insofar as it is possible, post-secondary education institutions are invited to devise, over the course of the next two weeks, ways in which their services could be offered from a distance, in the event that this initial two-week closure should be extended. Telecommuting is one measure that should be considered.

Additionally, distance learning activities that do not require the physical presence of staff and that were already being offered in post-secondary education institutions can continue to be offered.

Given that this situation is evolving day by day, other measures could be taken. In that case, you will be informed.”

The College listened to our concerns, admitted that they don’t have ways to address many of them yet, and acknowledged that any transition to online learning will be far from ideal, but is still leaning toward attempting to take as many of our courses online as possible starting next Monday, March 23, citing ambiguity in the ministerial directives. We disagree on this point; the ministerial directives seem clear to us: that all classes (lectures, labs and stages) should be cancelled for at least the next two weeks.

The College is waiting for feedback on this from the Ministry, as well as from the All Chairs assembly, who will be meeting Wednesday via Microsoft Teams, and may yet decide to push this date back. If your department has concerns about its ability to move its courses online, either at all or within this timeframe (even in altered forms), it should be communicating to the College via your Dean and the All Chairs assembly as soon as possible.

We would like to reaffirm the importance of the purview of academic departments to determine teaching methods and means of evaluation within their courses; it is in times of stress and uncertainty that collaboration and mutual support are most crucial. For now, we encourage each department to immediately begin investigating whether or not it is possible to use alternative methods for consultation and decision-making. If such methods can be established, we further encourage departments to explore ways to adapt as much of as many of their courses as possible to an online setting, following the College’s forthcoming guidelines. The College and/or Ministry may push unilaterally toward this outcome, and while we may agree or disagree with the implementation, the classic labour relations principle of “Obey now, grieve later.” will apply. In this vein, our union confederation, the CSN has prepared a labour relations FAQ for its member unions (found here). A summary of this document, translated into English by JACFA, may be found here.

A few other notes:

  1. The College has confirmed that all faculty (including those teaching in Continuing Education) will continue to be paid as normal while the College is closed.
  2. The College has also confirmed that no sick days will be deducted for faculty who are unable to work during the isolation period, or who need to stay home to take care of their children while daycares and other schools are closed.

Finally, we want to acknowledge that our administration is working extremely hard to make the best of a bad situation. While we may disagree on the particulars of the best ways to navigate this crisis, we would also like to encourage you to be kind and understanding to our administrators. They are working around the clock to try to find solutions that balance the needs of students, staff and faculty as much as possible, and we commend and appreciate their efforts.

In solidarity,