Oct 022018

During the busy summer season, the USFA published an e-Letter about the Ryerson Arbitration on teaching evaluations, where the arbitrator ordered that student-based evaluations of teaching not be used to measure teaching effectiveness in tenure and promotion cases, effective immediately. The decision stated that the evaluations “are imperfect at best and downright biased and unreliable at worst”.  The arbitration decision is the result of the decade-long, dedicated efforts of the Ryerson Faculty Association and has engendered widespread discussion amongst academics across the country.

As an Ontario arbitration decision, the case does not set precedent in Saskatchewan. Teaching is a category for which standards must be met for tenure and promotion at the U of S, and standards here still require student evaluations of teaching. Do not forego student evaluations of your teaching in light of this arbitration decision.

In our e-Letter, we asked you to read the decision and send us comments. Respondents provided many salient comments. It is clear that faculty are not opposed to careful and thorough reviews of teaching and relevant materials, including student comments. However, the present processes do not meet this standard. The following is some of what we heard.


This nature of teaching requires professors or educators in general, not only to deliver knowledge to students but also discipline them so that they are able to learn and meet the standards they will have to meet after graduation. Student satisfaction can be biased by many things such as easiness grading on exams and assignments or lowering standards of course work, or even being ingratiating in the student-professor relationship.


 Teaching evaluations are not an exact science. The SEEQ evaluations currently used by many on this campus are extremely poor methods of assessment. The response rates are often low (20% or so). The only responses are from the two extremes of the class and are not representative. In some instances, positive responses are correlated with high grades.


Electronic evaluations give students the opportunity to discuss responses and form group opinions. Along with social media, the evaluations can be used to “gang up” on unpopular teachers and provide very misleading evaluations.


Student-based evaluations of teaching hurt professors from other cultural backgrounds even more badly. Most of these professors came to Canada (or US) as adults to obtain their final degrees. Their values concerning what constitutes being a good teacher makes them unwilling, or perhaps, their deficiency in “cultural” English makes them unable, to satisfy and entertain students with their teaching. Other cultural misunderstandings, especially in facial expressions and gestures, makes students believe they are bad teachers, and most of the time, they receive poorer evaluations from students than faculty familiar with the local culture.


Some years ago, a colleague asked for some help appealing a negative promotion decision on grounds of negative teaching evaluations. Close analysis of the evaluations supported the hypothesis that a cohort of students consistently offered scathing evaluations as they worked their way through the program – that is, particularly caustic remarks appeared in successive years.


Student-based teaching evaluation corrupts university education when the results affect a professor’s promotion, tenure, and salary review. There are many tricks used to elicit “good” evaluations from students. The most common one is to give easy midterm examinations and harder finals.


 Proper assessment of teaching is very time consuming. The SEEQ evaluations used here are not time consuming. In many cases, no class time is dedicated to them, and consequently the information is flawed in many instances. In some units, evaluations are simply not a priority and the product is poor.


 The variance of units across campus in their approach to teaching assessment is huge. In some cases, a peer, or several peers, sometimes external, is asked to review all the materials associated with a course, including lectures, assignments, and exams. In other units, decisions are based on a peer review of a single lecture and the SEEQ assessments.


Sep 212018

Recently, questions have arisen about CV formats for collegial processes. Should the 29 point version (current) or the 24 point version (revised) be used?

The website for the Vice-Provost Faculty Relations includes the statement:

The university is transitioning to a new Standardized CV format. It is anticipated that the transition of received CVs to UnivRS will be completed by summer 2017. This is an estimated time frame and is based on a number of variables; we will continue to provide updates on the progress. Faculty are not expected to use the new revised U of S Standardized CV format and revised Forms 1 and 2 until the transition is complete and suggested improvements are implemented.”

CV formats were discussed at the June meeting of the Joint Committee for Management of the Agreement. The USFA noted members experienced problems with transition to UnivRS. The Employer acknowledged transition problems and stated that either format is acceptable.

Aug 212018

We invite you to a Free Pancake Breakfast: Thursday, September 6 7:30 – 10:00 a.m. (or until food runs out) in The Bowl   Everyone welcome! Gluten free pancakes will be available.   Sponsored by: USFA ASPA CUPE 1975 CUPE 3287 St. Thomas More Faculty Union PSAC Local 40004

Aug 212018

USFA members are invited to submit an application to the Executive Committee for reimbursement of attendance at a conference/workshop/meeting related to the USFA including, but not limited to, labour relations, academic freedom, employment equity, and workplace health and safety. The USFA Conference/Workshop/Meeting Attendance Policy was instituted as a way to ensure that there is an […]

Aug 012018

The recent arbitration award at Ryerson University directed that Faculty Course Survey results are not to be used to “measure teaching effectiveness for promotion or tenure.” After USFA reported on this, members requested further details. The reports of expert witnesses R.L. Freishtat and P.B. Stark have been published by The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty […]

Jul 232018

Following the publication of a recent CBC News article that described the working atmosphere at GIFS (the Global Institute for Food Security) with strong language – “horror story”, “bizarre”, “complete disintegration”, “toxic environment” – several members wrote to USFA relating similar experiences in their own units. USFA cannot comment on the specifics of this or […]

Jul 192018

The following USFA table officers were elected at a meeting held June 22, 2018. Chair: Douglas Chivers, Department of Biology Vice-Chair: Susan Fowler-Kerry, College of Nursing Secretary/Treasurer: Mark Meyers, Department of History Senior Grievance Officer: Patricia Farnese, College of Law The terms of these officers began July 1, 2018, along with those of newly-elected members […]

Jul 112018

There will be a reduction applied to the cost of premiums for Sun Life Optional Life Insurance for the month of July only.  The University is making the adjustment to refund to members the provincial sales tax (PST) paid on the  premiums.  The Saskatchewan Government retroactively abolished the PST on life insurance premiums necessitating the […]

Jul 112018

An arbitrator’s decision at Ryerson University released July 6, 2018 has ordered that student-based evaluations of teaching not  be used in tenure and promotion cases, effective immediately. The decision stated that the evaluations “are imperfect at best and downright biased and unreliable at worst”. With respect to the evidence provided Student Evaluations of Teaching (SET) […]

May 282018

It has been a challenging two years for many Canadian faculty at the bargaining table. You may be interested in the following outcomes. Most recently, Carleton faculty have reached an agreement after hundreds of hours and one year of collective bargaining, with the assistance of a mediator. Details will be reported soon. Earlier this month, […]

May 082018

Several faculty members were surprised to receive letters at their homes from Connection Point advising them of benefit packages that will expire as they approach “normal retirement age”. The first round of letters contained references to a normal retirement age of 65; the subsequent letters changed this number to 67. The language of “normal retirement […]

May 042018

Two recent events in Eastern Canada suggest that University Employers are taking a cynical attitude towards collective bargaining. At Carleton University, the faculty association negotiating team found out just a day ahead of their May 3 regular bargaining session that the Employer had unilaterally filed for conciliation, then advised faculty how mutually beneficial this would […]

May 032018

Recently, members of CUPE 1975 set up information tables across campus on the theme “PAWS off our Pensions”. CUPE’s Employer, the University of Saskatchewan, went to arbitration to determine whether it had the power to unilaterally change the terms of the CUPE pension plan. The arbitrator ruled in favour of the Employer. Though it is […]

Apr 232018

The Collective Agreement offers significant protection for collegial governance, and resolutions to recent grievances help to illustrate these various protections. The Collective Agreement is clear that the collegial committees established pursuant to the Collective Agreement (renewal and tenure committees, promotion committees for example) are required to determine their own operating procedures provided they are consistent […]

Apr 172018

Online applications for the USFA Scholarship will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. Friday, June 1, 2018. The USFA Scholarship Program is open to students who are immediate family members of USFA members.  Immediate family includes spouse/partner, sons, daughters or children whom USFA members have served as legal guardians. The application form for the 2017-18 USFA […]

Apr 092018

Please be advised that the upcoming USFA Academic Freedom event has been cancelled because the CAUT representative is no longer able to participate. The position of the USFA Executive is that CAUT participation was essential to provide an informed understanding of the complexities of defending Academic Freedom on Canadian campuses.    

Mar 272018

A recent Globe and Mail article cites Harvey Weingarten, CEO of HEQCO (a research agency funded by the Ontario government), as saying “As the professoriate ages, it has … a constraining influence on … renewal.” In contrast, the Human Rights Office at Queen’s, a U-15 University, publishes on its website examples of what age harassment […]

Mar 142018

USFA has heard from faculty members who have found (to their surprise) that they have been designated by the Employer as “non-active researchers” – something you may wish to explore among colleagues within your academic unit. Where did this designation come from? Certainly not from any negotiation or collegial process. Its origin seems to lie […]

Mar 132018

Claims for reimbursement for any expenses from any of the benefit plans must be submitted to Sun Life within 90 days of the end of the calendar year in which the expense is incurred.   This deadline applies to 2017 claims made under the Dental Plan, Health Plan or Flexible Spending Program (Health Spending Account […]

Mar 122018

The Executive of USFA met recently with representatives of the University to exchange views on the Living Our Values document, about which we informed you recently. The discussion was lively, but also productive, and we appreciated the opportunity to share thoughts on this matter. The document is a work in progress, but you may wish […]