Challenges with Chair and Coordinator Roles at KPU

By Panteli Tritchew, Member-at-Large and Gillian Dearle, VP Negotiations

Work-Life Balance?

On Wednesday, October 21, the Kwantlen Faculty Association hosted a lunch meeting with 15 or so faculty chairs and coordinators to hear about new (or old!) issues faced by our colleagues in these challenging departmental positions. Not surprisingly, the key issues that were raised have been raised before and seem to be recurring themes.

 

Increasing Expectations Leads To Insufficient Release Time

For many Chairs, allocated release time is insufficient given increasing employer expectations, institutional complexity, and budget constraints. In addition to standard committee work and responsibilities, degree and program promotion is taking up more and more of their time and it seems to be increasingly difficult to get the necessary PR support from KPU Marketing.

Program chairs and coordinators feel obliged to take up this additional promotional work because they don’t want to see their programs suffer from lack of public awareness.

 

Insufficient Release Time Leads to Burnout

With increasing expectations and obligations, burnout and work-life imbalance came up as another (recurring) issue. Not only are there increasing obligations, expectations, and special projects (such as Program Review) throughout the teaching semester, but many chair/coordinator duties get amped up after classes end.

Events and activities such as departmental planning sessions, student recruitment sessions, textbook and curricular review projects, program review meetings, student intake and portfolio review and numerous other special projects are typically scheduled after the exam period. For many chairs, this means using up their designated PD (or Vacation) time to perform operational functions of their department or their Faculty.

 

Ex Officio Creep

While at some level it makes perfect sense to have departmental chairs or coordinators serve as ex officio members of certain committees, such as Faculty Council or Search Committees, these expectations translate into additional time burdens.

 

Training and Transition

For new, incoming chairs, we heard that for the most part, there was no real training or transition period. Once elected, they need to hit the ground running, then keep running. Not surprisingly, it appears that in some cases outgoing chairs are too burnt out to prepare a thorough transition process.

Also, some standard chair responsibilities such as budgeting, education planning and program promotions require non-standard skill sets, and the sink or swim approach to transition, training and support is problematic.

 

How The Collective Agreement Can Help

The Collective Agreement (CA) has several provisions that can ameliorate some of these challenges.

Firstly, the list of possible duties and responsibilities of chairs and coordinators are agreed to and listed in the Chair/Coordinator Guidelines. This list is meant to be illustrative only and provides a list of possible duties and responsibilities that chairs and coordinators may be involved in. The list is maintained by a joint committee of the KFA and KPU (Labour Management Relations Committee) and was never meant to be a prescription of duties. Rather, it is intended as a starting point for discussion between the department chair and the dean.

The collective agreement is clear that enhanced responsibilities are mean to be jointly agreed: “Additional duties and responsibilities applying to a specific discipline/program will be mutually agreed upon by the Chair/Coordinator and their Dean after consultation with the discipline/program” (Article 4.05,d, CA). It’s important that chairs and coordinators meet regularly with their deans to discuss priorities and set clear boundaries that balance departmental priorities with what is achievable within the limits of their time-release.

Additionally, chairs and coordinators, as faculty members, are entitled to the same vacation and professional development as all faculty. Full time regular faculty are entitled to 42 days of vacation (Article 12.12a, CA) and 21 days of professional development (Article 12.01 d, CA).

In the event that departmental coverage by faculty has not been arranged or is not possible while a chair or coordinator is on professional development or vacation, the dean’s office is responsible for coverage (Article 4.05,h, CA).

If there are any questions or concerns regarding the duties, responsibilities or rights of chairs and coordinators, please don’t hesitate to contact Panteli.Tritchew@kpu.ca or Gillian.Dearle@kpu.ca. You can also reach us through the KFA office at 604-599-2200.

We are here to support you!

In solidarity, Panteli and Gillian