The latest draft of the Athabasca University administration’s “Strategic Plan” for the future is now available to the internal AU community. It is entitled, “Imagine: Transforming Lives and Transforming Communities.” The plan can be found at http://president.athabascau.ca/strategic-plan/documents/AU-Strategic-Plan-draft-to-AU-community-(17.10.30).pdf. The draft is not long, only five pages. Page One is a graphic of the overall plan. Pages Two and Three discuss the four strategic themes. Page Four talks about “Core Values” and “What we are committed to”. Page Five sets out a year by year strategic road map, from 2018 to 2027. CUPE 3911 members should go to the URL and look at the plan for themselves.
After perusing the plan, I have to say I don’t see much in it that buoys my spirits. It is certainly framed in high-sounding language. All the right words and phrases are there: agility, fostering community, culture of inclusion, nimble, lifelong learners, transform lives, carbon neutral footprint, etc. Yes, it all sounds good. But what the plan is short on is the actual nuts and bolts of what policies are going to be implemented to achieve the high-sounding goals. In particular, what policies will be implemented in relation to us, the tutors and academic experts? Forgive me if I suggest that when such policies are implemented, the word “blindsided” might turn out to be an apt descriptor.
The call centre (aka student success centre) continues to be a major obstacle to AU moving forward. Students already feel somewhat isolated when they do distance learning; the call centre model only accentuates this by placing further obstacles between the students and their instructors. Another issue with the call centre is that having different academic models is confusing to students. A student can take one course in one model and then another course in another mode. It is also interesting to note that one of the goals of AU is to get students to take that “second course”. It is well-known that one key reason a student takes a course is because of a positive relationship with the instructor. If the instructor is turned into an anonymous entity how does that encourage a student to take another course from her?
One important topic that is very conspicuous by its absence from the plan can be summed up by a statement that CUPE 3911 members at AU make again and again: “Instructor working conditions are student learning conditions.” In fact, there is little concrete mention of us or our working conditions at all in the plan, which seems quite odd since there are about 300 of us and we do most of the teaching of the AU students that the plan focuses on. The point is, learning cannot be optimized unless those who are the main agents in bringing it about are properly looked after. It is a no-brainer to suggest that workers who are treated well and with respect are workers who will do a good job, while workers who are not treated well will simply put in their time and collect their pay.
It is no news to anyone that for the last few years, most administrative references to tutors and academic experts have been quite negative. It is said that we cost too much and that students complain about us. In fact, the previous president suggested that we and the other AU employees were the root cause of AU’s “unsustainability”, a claim we flatly disagree with. Because we are not a cost. On the contrary, it is the work of the tutors and academic experts, along with the full-time faculty and support staff, which produces all the added value at AU in the form of education and research. We educate students and they use their education to contribute to the betterment of society. How can educating students, which is doing the most important job in the society, be a cause of an educational institution’s unsustainability in any way, shape, or form?