College Denies that Accommodating Special Needs Students Requires Additional SWF Time

| 18/06/2017

College Denies that Accommodating Special Needs Students Requires Additional SWF Time

Recent Ontario legislation and guidelines from the Ontario Human Rights Commission underscore the legal importance of accommodating students with special needs.

For this reason, it was shocking and disturbing to hear the College formally deny that students with special needs had, in fact, special needs that may require special attention from faculty, and that faculty may require additional SWFed time to accommodate.

When a professor sought recognition on his SWF of the work that he felt was required to accommodate students with special needs, the College – at a January 31 Workload Resolution Arbitration hearing with Seneca’s then-Director of Labour Relations, Karen Tobin, present for the College – argued that while faculty have do a duty to accommodate students, they do not have the right to have the time associated with that workload represented on their SWF.

What does the Collective Agreement say?

The Collective Agreement between OPSEU and the Ontario Colleges clearly permits Full-Time faculty to be credited with sufficient time to perform all of the work that they are assigned.  This is found in at least three parts of Article 11 of the CA: i) The point that a FT professor’s workload shall not exceed 44 hours without voluntary overtime; ii) The point that “additional hours shall be attributed” on the SWF where atypical circumstances render the workload “not adequately reflected” by the assigned SWF formulas; and iii) The point that the bipartisan Workload Monitoring Group, when evaluating the workloads of FT faculty may consider many “variables affecting assignments”, including (but not at all limited to) the number of students in class, the sophistication of the subjects being taught, and, explicitly, students with special needs.

Seneca Management’s Disregard for Accommodation Workload

The College’s position was that faculty deserve no additional time on their SWF for students with special needs, regardless of how many hours accommodating those students require.  In short, the College argued that faculty have a responsibility to accommodate, but no right to be credited with the time that such accommodation would require.

Seneca College management’s profound disregard for the special needs of accommodated students become more explicit in that hearing, when the College’s lawyer – again, accompanied by Karen Tobin, then-Director of Labour Relations at Seneca – claimed that the needs of accommodated students are no different than the needs of all other students.  He stated, “All students have needs” and argued that faculty do exactly the same work for students with special needs as for any other students, namely, “…preparing classes, evaluating students, and meeting with students out of class”.

The one condition that, according to Seneca College management, might entitle faculty to additional time to deal with students with special needs would be if they could demonstrate that they have many more such students than their colleagues.  Needless to say, College managers know that no professor could ever make such a claim, since it would require access to confidential information.  As well, the implication of the College’s argument is that if every student required accommodation, no professor would be entitled to additional time to accommodate them.

Raindrops Can Create a Huge River”

In her judgment, the Workload Resolution Arbitrator disagreed with the College’s arguments that faculty have no right to additional time on their SWF; she noted that additional time may be needed to accommodate students with special needs, when those accommodations can be shown to significantly increase faculty workload. 

Her award recognized the considerable workload that even mundane accommodations can produce, when they are multiplied by a large number of accommodated students.  It states, “There is no doubt that raindrops can create a huge river.  Tasks which may not involve a lot of work can be onerous if they have to be completed in large volumes.”  She did, however, reinforce that a successful faculty workload complaint must persuasively demonstrate that accommodating students requires “significant additional work over the course of the term”.

Your Responsibility to Your Students and Yourself

Our need to accommodate students is well-recognized.  And now, an arbitrator has upheld the College’s  obligation to provide additional time on a SWF where the faculty can persuasively demonstrate the student accommodations create significant workload not demonstrated on the SWF.

For this reason, Local 560 encourages faculty to keep careful track of the time required for accommodating students, much like faculty should keep careful track of the actual time that they spend on all other aspects of their workload.  In addition, where a faculty member is informed of student accommodations that are likely to require a considerable amount of work, the faculty should contact their manager and the Workload Monitoring Group immediately, in order to ensure that the SWF is modified appropriately. 

It is our collective position that the College’s legal obligation to accommodate students confers a legal obligation to ensure that faculty have sufficient time to accommodate students.

Category: Colleges, Equity, Faculty, Grievances, Workload

Comments are closed.