Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Scheduling Memo – 2016 Reboot

By Bryan Tolson, FAUW Vice President

By now, you should have heard about – and hopefully read – the memo regarding the Fall 2016 changes to the scheduling system. With these substantial changes now officially announced, it seems an appropriate time for another blog post about scheduling.

The point of this post is to give you my thoughts, as FAUW’s representative on PACT (the Provost’s Advisory Committee on Timetabling), on the scheduling system and in particular the most recent memo from PACT addressing the system of constraints. I will close with some essential facts and recommendations about how you can get what you need under the revised system.

If you have not read the memo, I suggest you do so before continuing below (read the memo here). FAUW has posted scheduling system-related blog posts in the past few years. For a refresher on the ongoing debate around scheduling, you can find them using the following links:

http://www.fauwaterloo.blogspot.ca/2014/01/new-scheduling-system-what-you-need-to.html
http://www.fauwaterloo.blogspot.ca/2015/03/scheduling-systems-same-old-tune.html

It is both my and the Board’s basic premise that the new scheduling system is here to stay and that our goal is to work with it and the Administration to get the best for FAUW members. That said, we must also realize that it is a centralized scheduling system in which every unit and every faculty member must share finite space and, thus, lecture times. Equity and fairness are a big concern for all on PACT (including me), as well as for FAUW. Any accommodation made for one faculty member will impact another, so these cannot be made lightly.

Let me provide a concrete example. If you attempt to “game” the system so that you avoid teaching Friday afternoons, you are effectively sentencing a colleague to teach in that time slot. (So please keep your colleagues in mind as you attempt to define a teaching schedule that works for you.) Negotiating this balancing act is not a simple exercise and this newest memo is another attempt to strike that balance.

What I like in the memo

There is much to like about this latest iteration of PACT’s attempt to identify acceptable constraints on timetabling. First of all, many people are working very hard to try and make real improvements to the scheduling system. The changes in the memo are a “net positive” in terms of achieving equity and fairness across the campus.

Second, like it or not, it appears that future provincial funding for new teaching space on campus will require a clear demonstration that we are utilizing our current teaching space at something approaching full capacity. Hence, setting targets for the ratio of 3x1-hr courses to 2x1.5-hr courses to maximize room use efficiency is sensible from this perspective.

Third, the idea of giving every faculty member on campus – our childless, parentless, or partnerless colleagues included – the opportunity to specify a seven-hour teaching block in which all their teaching will occur is also a good one. Lastly, the changes to the system introduce more predictability for instructors, something many of us appreciate.

What I do not like in the memo

The devil is really in the details with this system. The details are what matter to all of us and I am concerned about certain aspects of the new definition of constraints, concerns I have raised on the faculty members’ behalf at least once, sometimes multiple times, at PACT meetings or in PACT discussions, with little impact. Chief among those are that:
  • regular research commitments such as remote field-work or off-campus meetings with research partners (these can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to reschedule) are not explicitly listed as a Level 2 constraint. To be clear, they potentially are allowable Level 2 constraints, but only at the discretion of the Chair. So ask for these if they are needed. 
  • all faculty who teach a 1x3-hr lecture to more than 80 students are now forced to either teach in the 2:30-5:30 p.m. time slot or in the evening (there are no other options). This is not fair. Unless the campus is ready to decide that no class should be delivered in one 3-hour block during the daytime, our colleagues who, for pedagogical reasons, choose to teach this way deserve more flexibility in potential teaching times during the day. (If you teach a course like this and share my concern, please email me: btolson@uwaterloo.ca.) 
  • in this first iteration of the “teaching window” model, Chairs are being asked to ensure that their unit has “spread their teaching window requests evenly over the three start times (8:30am, 9:30am and 10:30am).” I firmly believe that the natural distribution of requested start times across the available options will be such that the resulting schedule’s integrity will not be compromised. 
  • there are scheduling software defaults that are not yet known to all instructors. It is unclear in the current documentation, for example, how early a faculty member can be scheduled to teach the day after delivering a night class that ends at 10:00 pm. 
The memo is a living document and so I believe the above concerns can be easily dealt with in the next revision or even earlier, when supporting documentation eventually goes online at the brand new scheduling website. I have other concerns, but they will be made clear in the following list of “what you need to know.”

What you need to know when submitting teaching availability constraints

The list below highlights things you need to know that are not clear from the scheduling memo, or things I think need to be emphasized. The memo contains many other things you also need to know so please do also read the memo if you haven’t yet!
  • You cannot be required to teach after 5:30pm. You may do so if you wish to, and you are free to negotiate this arrangement with your Chair. However, you cannot be required to do so. 
  • Chairs have been instructed in the memo to ensure that instructors have spread their teaching window requests evenly over the three start times. While some of us may be able to be flexible, others may not. My recommendation is that those who, for personal or professional reasons, cannot change their teaching window should simply refuse to do so. 
  • Due to time constraints, PACT was unable to completely standardize the way that instructor availability constraints are collected from instructors. As far as I can tell, your department will collect these in one of the following ways:
  1. A slick web-based collection form. I have seen the test website for this form but if you wish to learn more, you will have to ask for details from your Faculty-level PACT Representative. Make sure your scheduling representative is aware of this option. 
  2. A more clunky MS-Word-based option using the template file provided by the RO to scheduling reps (see form here). 
  3. Some sort of variation to what your department has done in past terms to collect instructor constraints.
For anyone in category #3, you should check that your departmental approach is essentially consistent with the instructions you see in the link in #2 above. If you have concerns about inconsistencies which may lead to inequities, please share them with your scheduling rep, your Faculty PACT Representative and me (btolson@uwaterloo.ca).
  • You are not limited to submitting only two teaching availability constraints even though collection methods #1 and #2 in the above bullet imply this. If you have valid constraint requests, you are allowed to submit more. Simply add the additional required constraints in your submission to your scheduling representative (include them in an email if necessary). However, please do not attempt to craft a complex and numerous set of constraints that precisely defines your perfect/ideal lecture schedule. This will be counter-productive. 
  • You are not required to submit ANY documentation to either your Chair or to your departmental scheduling representative to support medical- or human rights-related constraints (these are Level 1 constraints). For a constraint based on medical reasons, you should communicate directly with the university’s Occupational Health Nurse, Linda Brogden (lbrogden@uwaterloo.ca). For a constraint based on human rights issues, contact directly Mahejabeen Ebrahim, Director of the Equity Office (mahejabeen.ebrahim@uwaterloo.ca). If they approve the constraint requested, Linda or Mahejabeen will provide confirmation to that effect to your Chair without releasing details as to the grounds for the constraint.
  • The memo makes clear that, if it is necessary for a department to reduce the number of 2x1.5-hr course offerings, achieving the required reduction is the responsibility of the Chair and instructors within the department. It is also clear from the memo that PACT recognizes that all the necessary reductions of 2x1.5-hr course offerings will be gradual and will certainly not be completely achieved in Fall 2016. My hope is that departmental members will be able to work together collegially to determine how best to meet the target ratios specified in the memo (e.g., 9 classes of 3x1-hr MWF : 6 classes of 2x1.5-hr TR). Thus, it is important to realize that you should not be forced to switch multiple courses in one term from one meet time pattern to another, or switch all your courses in the 2016 academic year, to a completely new meet time pattern (e.g., from all 1.5-hr meets to all 1-hr meets). 
  • Your Chair has been instructed to inform you in a timely manner of any teaching availability selection or constraint that s/he has chosen not to approve. 
  • Several early-March “Question and Answer” sessions have already been arranged with chairs/directors and their scheduling representatives to discuss how to set department/school goals. You should pass questions/concerns through these channels initially. 
Please feel free to bring concerns to me through your department’s representative on the FAUW Council of Representatives, as scheduling is a topic of discussion at the March 23rd Council meeting this term. Of course you can also email me directly at btolson@uwaterloo.ca.

The Scheduling Office has a new website with news and resources.

5 comments :

  1. Thank you so much for this, Brian. Your remarks here are extremely helpful.

    My beef (not with your remarks): I don't really want to choose a meet pattern. Here's the thing --- I prefer 1.5 hours X 2, but I don't want to express a preference for the very meet pattern that most colleagues prefer. I don't want to be "that guy.* I want to be helpful guy. But I don't want my wish to be helpful to consign me to a career of 1 hour X 3 meets. I wish there were a way to select "all of the above" or "no preference" rather than plumping for a particular meet pattern. Then, I wouldn't feel like I have to choose between screwing my colleagues and screwing myself. You know?

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    1. Nice observation. My understanding is that for now this will get worked out at your department level - you could tell your scheduling rep to choose for you. That is, you have no preference. Then, if after 2 years of 3 by 1hr meets you get tired of this, you can choose to express your preference for 2 by 1.5hr meets.

      That being said, I am hoping (expect actually) in future iterations of this system your scheduling rep will be able to leave the meet pattern preference blank and let the software do what it is supposed to be able to do (!) and slot you into a pattern that works with all other classes on campus.

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  2. My expectation, as a Continuing Lecturer who has always taught 2X1.5 hour classes, is that I will now be assigned some 3X1 hour classes AND 2X1.5 hour classes giving me a 5-day per week teaching schedule.

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  3. I do hope you get to participate in the conversation about what teaching patterns are assigned to you. That is the intent.

    Further, I believe you have a good amount of control in terms of avoiding 5-day per week teaching. The link above to the example Instructor Availability form has a check box for you that reads:

    [] "I am available to teach every day (default is that you require one non‐teaching day per week)"

    I imagine you may wish to NOT check it ...

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  4. I have just received my Teaching Constraints/Preferences form. The check box you refer to
    ] "I am available to teach every day (default is that you require one non‐teaching day per week)"
    does not appear on my form.

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