02 Apr Union Advocacy in the Wake of COVID-19
- While we all have been busy preparing to work remotely, UICUF has been advocating for faculty, staff, and our students as work conditions change.
- We’ve already achieved some goals, like deferring tenure deadlines, reaffirming faculty discretion on course delivery, and ensuring the library won’t reopen under unsafe conditions.
- We are also working on other issues our members have raised, such as commitments to reappoint NTT faculty, protections against skewed student evals, and the carry-over and/or timely payout of PD funds.
- Additionally, our parent union, AFT, has announced availability of trauma counseling for any member diagnosed with COVID19 or experiencing other traumatic life events.
As you all know, UIC has undertaken rapid and sweeping changes over the last few weeks in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While everyone has been preparing to work under these new conditions, UIC United Faculty has been advocating to make sure that each policy change is implemented fairly, and that impacts to our members’ lives and livelihoods are not overlooked.
What We’ve Achieved So Far
Since UIC announced the move to remote work and learning, we’ve successfully advocated for:
- Closure of the library: Union library workers were instrumental in having all campus libraries, inherently high risk environments for workers and students, closed indefinitely to protect the health of our community. This is a reversal of proclamations by top administrators that the library would remain open, heedless of any health risks.
- Extending the Tenure Clock: After input from UICUF, Provost Poser announced that faculty can apply to extend their tenure clocks for up to a year, even if they are in the final year before review. While definitely a positive development, we will continue advocating for more time to be given if needed.
- Reaffirming Faculty Rights: In response to onerous and contract violating release forms being imposed on faculty as a condition to work remotely, UICUF was able to have the administration reaffirm, in writing, faculty’s rights in a remote work environment. This includes exclusive intellectual property rights to your course materials, and their rights to autonomy in presenting courses, including using asynchronous methods.
- Reasserting Shared Governance on Grading Decisions: The administration, after pressure from UICUF, reaffirmed their contractual commitment to consult with the faculty senate on any changes to grading policy.
- Roll-Out of Online Tools (Zoom): Zoom, a global standard for online collaboration was not fully supported until we brought it to the attention of the administration. Now, all faculty have full professional access to use zoom for meetings and remote classes.
Things We’re Still Advocating For
Of course, our work is far from over. We continue to advocate for the following considerations and protections:
- Health and Safety: We continue to advocate that workspaces be appropriately equipped for the health and safety of workers and students. This includes not only proper cleaning and access to sanitizer for those who do have to work on-site, but also increased physical security while the campus remains largely depopulated.
- Reappointment Protections for NTT: We are advocating for a robust commitment by the administration to reappoint all NTT faculty for the next academic year. We’ve also pushed for visiting faculty applying for permanent positions to be given a one-year extension to their appointments if search processes are disrupted by the pandemic.
- Timely Payout and Rollover of PD Funds: We’ve demanded that the administration dispel uncertainty on professional development funds, left in limbo from UIC’s travel ban and conference cancellations/postponements, by rolling over funds through to the end of our contract period in 2022. We’ve also asked that guidance be disseminated to ensure any outstanding reimbursements are honored regardless of conference status.
- Protections Against Skewed Evaluations: Student evaluations are a flawed measure of performance in the best of times. With the rapid shift to online learning and the pursuant impact this will have on course quality and accessibility, we are asking that all faculty be held harmless for negative evaluations this semester.
Resources for Faculty and Students
We have access to a number of resources to help faculty, staff, and students affected directly by COVID-19. You can visit UIC’s Flames Fund for details on funds for students and healthcare workers. We also now have access to a special benefit from AFT, offering up to 21 hours of trauma counseling for those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, or who have experienced other personal traumas. You will need your membership ID number to sign up, so if you do not know it, feel free to use this form to request it, or you are welcome to email us confidentially at UICUnitedFaculty@gmail.com for assistance.
We issue regular updates via email, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and on our website. We encourage everyone to like and follow us on social media. If you want to contribute your story, pictures, video, or other content related to the activities of the union, email us at UICUnitedFaculty@gmail.com. With your support, we are making UIC an even better place to work and learn!