Statement by Members of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Athabasca University, 2014

We, the undersigned members of the FHSS, regard the tutoring system as crucial to both student success and to the maintenance of high academic standards for our programs. Our ability to attract and retain students depends on our ensuring that students receive as much encouragement and assistance as possible in improving their critical thinking, writing, and reading skills as well as their knowledge of the materials in particular courses. In turn, our methods and standards of assessment need to be unimpeachable so that students are assured that the outside world recognizes grades awarded by Athabasca University as meaningful and reliable.

We are, as faculty and tutors, open to discussions about ways of altering and improving the tutor system, as we have demonstrated in past discussions on the issue. But we insist that pedagogical needs, not finances, must be paramount in any restructuring of tutoring in the FHSS. We have been assured that no changes will be imposed on our faculty, though that assurance sits uneasily with the call of the Acting Vice President Academic at his meeting with Athabasca University Faculty Association (AUFA) this past April for four million dollars to be removed from the tutor budget, an amount that he suggests could be achieved in large part by all faculties adopting the model of tutoring in use in the Faculty of Business, a model in which only the professors in one course within FHSS have so far been willing to participate. While that system may suit the needs of that faculty, we are not convinced that it offers a useful model for most courses offered in the FHSS. The manner in which cutbacks in university positions occurred this past spring has also created skepticism among teaching staff about the senior management’s interpretation of the concept of consultation on important matters.

We reject any effort to impose a particular tutor model across the board in our faculty, either directly or indirectly (via a withholding of funds), without the approval of our FHSS Council, our dean, and the General Faculty Council, as well as the representatives of students and tutors.  The importance of the tutor system to our academic credibility is of such a magnitude that changes should occur only when there is buy-in by all the groups involved, including FHSS faculty, FHSS tutors, Athabasca University Students Union, Canadian Union of Public Employees [note], and AUFA, as well as management. Any effort that attempts to circumvent the established practices for academic governance at AU is illegitimate, in our view, and we will not cooperate in any effort to implement it. Indeed we will make every effort to involve all faculty, tutors, and students in FHSS to block unilaterally imposed changes by management.

Collegial, accountable governance and the practice of open and rigorous academic deliberation are essential to consideration of ANY teaching model change.