This letter was sent by the Accessibility Consultants of Humber College to President Chris Whitaker.
Oct 30, 2017
Dear Dr. Whitaker,
We are full-time faculty members at Humber College. Our roles are specialized in that we work as Counsellors in Accessible Learning Services, supporting students with visible and invisible disabilities.
After 2 full weeks on the picket lines, we are dismayed at the lack of negotiation efforts coming from the College Employer Council despite pressure from the faculty union, the collective student body, other community groups and for the most part, concerned members of the public.
We felt the need to write to you today to bring some awareness to how the current state of operations at our college is impacting students with disabilities. At Humber, we in Accessible Learning Services support nearly 3000 students with disabilities each year. Statistically in Ontario, around 13% of all post-secondary students identify as having a disability of some kind, the majority of whom live with a learning disability or some type of mental illness such as anxiety and depression. It is not uncommon for each of us Counsellors to have a caseload of over 300 students, which can strain the type of just-in-time support these students require to be academically successful in their programs.
In the CEC’s recent letter from Oct 26th, it was stated that the union’s demands for 50:50 ratio of full-time to part-time (contract) faculty was not realistic and would cost the college sector upwards of $250 million dollars annually. On the one hand, we can appreciate the need for college administration to make fiscally logical decisions given how provincial government funding for post-secondary seems to decline each year. However, we seriously question this claim, given the millions of dollars in surplus that the colleges bring in every year.
Regardless, that is not the intention of our letter here. Instead, we would like to explain why the current arrangement of 80% part-time, contract professors is doing a disservice to our students with disabilities at Humber and across the college sector. In many cases, course material is not fully accessible to students with disabilities. As a result, professors frequently need to spend additional time in order to facilitate equal access for students with disabilities in their courses. Of course, for part-time professors, this time is unpaid. This may include but is not limited to: designing alternate tests or assignments; being available beyond class time by email or through face to face meetings to review course material with students, reassure students, or to work out additional time accommodations for tests. Moreover, professors are often required to spend an increased amount of time on email and phone correspondence with us Accessibility Counsellors when disability-related matters arise which can involve lengthy discussions to identify an appropriate solution.
When assessing the need to increase the ratio of full-time permanent professors, there is a college liability concern that needs to be considered. Often part-time professors are not provided with the necessary training and professional development needs in a timely manner around human rights and accessibility legislation. This is due to the limited hours they are paid for which then prevents attendance at training sessions. By not ensuring that all professors are paid to attend required training sessions, individual professors and thereby colleges are at risk of failing to appropriately accommodate students with disabilities. Overall, our part-time contract professors have limited access to resources to help them do their best work.
We regularly hear from our students that they cannot reach their professors, or that their needs are not being met or well understood by professors. In the end, it is students with disabilities, who are already marginalized, that suffer. It is entirely unfair to these students that part-time, contract faculty are not adequately prepared or compensated to provide the same quality of education enjoyed by their non-disabled peers.
We strongly urge for your intervention in getting the College Employer Council back to the bargaining table with the faculty union and take our well-founded requests more seriously, as we are the ones on the front lines who know our students best.
Thank you for your time.
Jeff Szmyr, Maureen Carnegie, Niall O’Connor, Joanne Settle, Kirston Arbour, Sue McCarthy, Kate Staig-Webber, Alessia Di Virgilio, Mitra Gorjipour, Ioanna Agelothanasis