On December 19, 2017, CUPE 3911 received a letter from a self-identified “former AE/marker with the AU Faculty of Business”. The writer, who shall be called “LW” (letter writer), says he was “tired of CUPE and some tutors continuing to dump on the Support Centre (note: call centre) model that has been adopted in the Faculty of Business and other faculties.” LW also referred to Dr. Karla Panchyk’s article, “On Leaving the Circus”, reprinted in the last newsletter, as “one-sided”, and accused CUPE 3911 of not representing all its members”.
LW’s letter is a litany of complaints about tutors which could be summed up as the very insulting claim that tutors get paid for “doing nothing”. He first asserts that, “CUPE and Tutors don’t like the Support Centre model because it eliminates block-pay where tutors get paid regardless of whether or not students contact them during their scheduled “work” hours. The AE model supports getting paid for work actually done.” LW says nothing about whether any other salaried employees of AU get paid to do nothing; he limits his attack to tutors. Further, if LW really thinks tutors get paid for doing nothing it is his duty to immediately inform the AU administration.
LW’s letter then gives examples provided by two family members to support his claims about tutors not doing their jobs. Now, any university researcher knows that an N of 2 doesn’t carry much weight. Further, no course information, quotations, dates, or times are given to support these claims. LW’s “research methodology” is akin to someone reading two negative “Rate My Prof” reports about LW’s own teaching and concluding that he is incompetent.
LW repeatedly insults tutors: “In effect, some tutors are getting paid for doing nothing (note: emphasis added), and for not during (sic) their work to grade exams and assignments and provide feedback to students within a reasonable time. I have colleagues who have complained that their family members who are taking AU courses covered by the Tutor Model also face absentee tutors during posted tutor hours. The Student Support Centre Model can document response times that meet and exceed AU standards (thanks to the professionalism and conscientiousness of the AEs and SSC!); the Tutor Model is unable to provide any verifiable evidence of response times and hides behind fabricated claims of excellence.” LW obviously does not consider, for example, tutor dated entries of marks into Newton to be “verifiable evidence”.
Note that LW does not consider that the real problem of so-called absentee tutors may simply be the “posted tutor hours”. In bricks and mortar universities, scheduled office hours have gone the way of the dodo, except as place-holders. Appointments are negotiated (or held) by email. In an online environment, why could not a student email her tutor and set up a time convenient to both, rather than both trying to fit into a small window of time which may now be inconvenient due to changed life and work circumstances.
LW claims that not only do tutors cheat the system, they also lie about it. “I appreciate (?) how CUPE and Tutors talk out of one side of their mouths about how important it is for us to be there to support our students, only to find Tutors are not there when our students need them most. Many Tutors have taken unfair and inappropriate advantage of the block pay system.” Again, the latter is a nebulous and unsupported statement which carries no real weight.
LW continues with his main theme of “tutors get paid for doing nothing”, using more anecdotes. At one point he says, “I have even been privy to conversations where Tutors have actually stated that they love being a Tutor because they get paid for doing nothing. As an AE, I find that situation unfair, but at least I can take pride in knowing I got paid for work I did and didn’t cheat the system.” Again, LW’s claims about tutors getting paid for doing nothing (and bragging about it) are what are known in courtrooms as “hearsay”. Hearsay is not considered evidence.
LW then sings a paean of praise to the call centre which could well have been composed by the former president of AU: “The Support Centre model is not perfect (no system is) but it is still very effective and improvements continue to be made on an incremental basis. The Support Centre model has built-in mechanisms to track exactly how many students initiate contact. We have hard data, not opinions, to support how many student requests are administrative in nature (note: not really—what is administrative and what is academic has never been clarified) and how quickly we respond to students. Without fail AEs and the Student Support model consistently meet standards of responding to students within two business days. Assignments and exams are to be graded within 5 business days and we have mechanisms to track all of it to ensure we are doing what we say we will for our students.” LW does not reveal his source for all this detailed internal information about the amazing efficiency of the call centre so for now we must take his comments with a grain of salt.
As LW repeats his insults of tutors, the other aspect of his perspective on tutors and AEs. We know that he thinks tutors get paid for doing nothing. But, in addition, he also thinks that academic experts do their work because they are under constant surveillance by the AU system! So not only does he insult tutors he also insults AE’s. According to LW, AEs (and tutors) will only work when the AU system forces them to; that’s why the call centre is needed. But this of course is nonsense. CUPE members, whether tutors or AEs, do their jobs, not because they are under surveillance, but because they are dedicated teachers who want their students to learn.
LW also makes the wild claim that an AE can input time spent with a student on a timesheet in “all of 1 second”. Really?! He then claims that all other timesheet entries take “barely 10 minutes every two weeks.” It is doubtful he could find many AE’s to agree with him that recording “work minutes” is such a minor task. Many AE’s have shown enthusiasm for CUPE workshops directed at helping them with their timesheets. CUPE has also proposed ways that AU could improve and streamline the timesheet process.
LW concludes by asking CUPE to provide “concrete data” about how what he calls the “antiquated and unevolved tutor model…supports our students better than the Support Centre model at AU.” CUPE has already done that. When the AU Students Union produced their excellent study that included actual concrete data favouring the tutor model, CUPE sent it to all of our members. Did LW not receive this document or has he conveniently forgotten it exists?
In any case, it is clear that no evidence would convince LW to move a millimeter from his position that the call centre is the greatest thing since sliced bread and that tutors are getting paid for doing nothing so sending him more “concrete data” that contradicts his mindset would no doubt be a massive waste of valuable time. Meanwhile, tutors and AEs will continue to do their jobs to the best of their abilities under the current working conditions and also try to improve those working conditions so that they can in future do their jobs even better.