Update on NASA's role in the 'U of A for Tomorrow' process

I want to update you on our efforts related to the U of A for Tomorrow restructuring plan, and NASA’s role in its development and implementation. Like you, all of us at NASA have significant concerns about the scale, pace, and approach of the restructuring.

Three weeks ago, I and AASUA President Ricardo Acuña sent a joint letter to President Flanagan and Vice President Gitta Kulczycki outlining a number of concerns about the process to date, and specifically about the lack of formal involvement of the two campus unions, which we feel impedes our roles as the legally recognized representatives of staff on campus. 

In that letter, we specifically asked that NASA and AASUA be the conduit for staff participation on the recently announced Staff Advisory Team. We also reiterated our insistence that a representative from each association be added to the Service Excellence Transformation (SET) Steering Committee and the Academic Restructuring Working Group (ARWG). NASA members overwhelmingly supported this demand in our recent member survey, with 91% of respondents agreeing that NASA must be given a seat on these committees in order to represent the perspectives and interests of support staff.

After follow-up requests for a formal response to our letter, we finally received a reply on Tuesday, August 18. Unfortunately, the university leadership has rejected our request for a role on both the SET and ARWG, and also ignored our call to be involved in the selection of individuals to sit on the staff advisory body. We are extremely frustrated with this response and feel that it calls into question the university leadership’s stated desire to meaningfully involve staff in the development of the final restructuring plan. Along with AASUA, we are exploring options—including legal avenues—to ensure we are able to meaningfully represent our members in this process.

In regard to the formation of the Staff Advisory Team (SAT), while NASA has advocated from the beginning for greater staff involvement in the restructuring plan, and supports any initiative that allows for staff to provide input, we feel that this initiative falls far short of providing a meaningful way for staff to engage in the restructuring, and we have significant concerns about the process for selecting members for the SAT. 

As mentioned, the process continues to ignore both NASA and AASUA as the legally recognized representatives of university staff, and has entirely excluded both unions from the process. We’re concerned that the individuals selected to represent staff will be chosen by university leadership, rather than by the staff itself. Those who submit expressions of interest to sit on the SAT will be vetted first by the leadership of their respective faculty or support unit, and leadership will then select three applicants to submit to the SET executive lead for the final selection of the group. This process raises obvious concerns about the independence of the 40-person advisory body and the ability of those selected to raise issues freely. We have also heard from numerous members that they are concerned about their ability to identify concerns about the plan without fear of potential repercussions.

Given that the university’s own timelines indicate that the “new operating model” is to be “shared, refined and approved” no later than October and the “new administrative organizational structure developed and approved for implementation” no later than December, we question how much meaningful influence this new body—which will only meet for 1.5 hours on a monthly basis—can possibly have on the final plan.

Despite these concerns, we encourage interested NASA members to apply to be a member of the advisory body, and we will provide support and advice to any members who are selected to participate. The deadline to submit your online expression of interest is 11:59 pm on August 23, and the application is a short online form that will only take a couple of minutes to complete. The time commitment is estimated to be 1.5 hours on a monthly basis for one year, and you can read the terms of reference and SAT overview for more information.

Finally, like you, we are deeply concerned about the number of job losses happening at the university. As you likely know, the funding cuts implemented by the provincial government have already resulted in 400 job losses last fiscal year, with the university budget estimating an additional 635 this year. In our letter, we asked for clarification about any additional job losses being contemplated as a result of the restructuring plan. In their response, university leadership was “uncertain” about the job impacts of the restructuring, but “anticipate this will become clearer through the fall.” 

We will, of course, continue to stress the critical role played by support staff in the student experience and research at the university, will advocate for the exploration of alternatives to keep job losses to an absolute minimum, and ensure any unavoidable reductions are implemented in accordance with the terms of the collective agreement.

I know that this is a deeply unsettling time for many of you. We are seeing the impacts of provincial budget cuts the speed and magnitude of which are unprecedented anywhere in the world. This has led to a rushed and widespread restructuring plan which, combined with the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, is creating an acutely stressful situation for our members. Please know that we are doing all we can for our members in the face of these challenges, and we are here to answer your questions and concerns at any time.

In solidarity,

Elizabeth Johannson
NASA President