URFA committee holds open forum for students

Bring on the conversation. Courtesy of URFA

Union opens dialogue with students

On Thursday, Jan. 16, the University of Regina Faculty Association’s (URFA) Member Mobilization Committee held an open faculty and student social from 4-6 p.m. titled Here to Hear. The idea was to create an environment where students could meet with professors and other academic staff outside of the classroom to share concerns or ask questions.

“The Member Mobilization Committee consists of Michael Shires (Chair, Library), Marc Spooner (Education), Andi Céline Martin (KHS), James Daschuck (KHS), William Arnal (Religious Studies), Darlene Juschka (WGS) and Robert Thomas (Library). Also in attendance were Andrew Stevens (Business), Cindy Hanson (Education), Ed Doolittle (FNUC) and Claire Polster (Arts). At its height, around 40 members of the campus community attended the event, which was a win – given the frigid temperatures – for Marc Spooner who teaches in the Faculty of Education.

“I was pleasantly surprised that there was that many students who came out and that they were willing to really engage and talk about their concerns and things that had happened throughout their program that they weren’t pleased with or that they wanted to know more about.”

Topics of conversation ranged from sessionals, the U of R’s poor value for money, to how professors spend their summer (are these months considered time off?) and the intricacies of tenure.

Spooner enjoys being able to talk about his job and what it constitutes.

“One of the conversations we had towards the end that I liked was just explaining how our jobs work. Students often see us in one course, in one context, but don’t see the full breadth of what our job is.”

Teaching is often just one important but marginal aspect of a professor’s career. On top of teaching, faculty members are also expected to conduct research and publish meaningful contributions to their field of study as well as carry out committee work, such as that of the Member Mobilization Committee.

Last year, URFA members organized to reach students as misinformation spread across campus while the University and the Faculty Association struggled to negotiate a fair collective agreement that didn’t compromise on issues of job security for sessionals and adequate salaries for academic staff.

Spooner reflected on this contentious period, noting that URFA and several of its committees were able to engage with students in a stronger capacity, spreading awareness about what the Faculty Association is and how it serves its members as well as U of R students. “[The Member Mobilization Committee] felt very strongly that consultation should be an ongoing thing that happens throughout the year and especially between bargaining years,” says Spooner.

Spooner sees additional opportunities to increase healthy discussion and collaboration on campus through partnering with various groups, such as URSU, the Carillon, UR Pride, and RPIRG, all groups that advocate for students.

Tuition was also at the forefront of discussion. It was noted by a student that under Vianne Timmons’ leadership over the last 11 years, tuition has doubled, making the U of R the fourth-most expensive university in Canada. Other concerned attendees noted the university’s business over education model, with students taking on the role of the customer.

“One of the international students that was there was really asking ‘why don’t students mobilize more when tuition is going to get raised or when things aren’t going as well as they could be. I thought that was really astute and interesting,” recalled Spooner.

It’s a great question, especially in an extremely competitive job market post-graduation. According to Maclean’s, the University of Regina ranks number 14 in the category of comprehensive schools, trailing behind the likes of Simon Fraser, Carleton, and Memorial.

Another concern that particularly interested Professor Spooner was around professors who may be experts in their field, but lack strong teaching skills.

“It was good for me to be able to explain that, sure, that’s the responsibility of the prof to become as good a teacher as they can, but they have to be given professional development opportunities to get there. In most jobs, if you want to grow in your professional capacity, there’s courses you can take or places you can go.”

“The university used to have a very vibrant centre for teaching and learning where professors could go get professional development and become better teachers. That was closed down by the administration a few years ago and it’s only beginning to [be] opened up again. There was a period of a couple of years where, even if you wanted to put in the time and effort to become a better teacher, there wasn’t really a place to go to get that professional development.”

Spooner notes that, though the centre has reopened and is operating under exciting new leadership, it lacks attention and could use more support from central administration.

Looking back on Here to Hear, Spooner celebrates this first iteration of an open forum and expands on the possibility he and the committee see for future events.

“The number one takeaway is that students are talking with us and having open dialogue about the experience of coming to the University of Regina. When you get 40 students out to anything when it’s -40 out, I think that’s pretty remarkable. And so I think that, on a nicer day, with more advertising as people get used to these forums, it could grow into something really interesting and beneficial for everybody.”

“In the future, I would love to see events [with] the Faculty Association, the administration and the student union—I would like to see all three of us doing joint events together. I don’t like the ‘us and them.’ We’re all here with the common goal to provide the best experience for students to reach their maximum potential. That’s why we’re here. Research is also very important to society, but to me, we’re all on the same team and it’s unfortunate that bargaining went down in such a way where we were forced to fight with each other, because it’s such a better environment for everyone if we’re working collectively together to provide the best education people can get.”

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