Ten things Ontario College students should know about their professors’ current bargaining with the Colleges

1. The faculty union represents over 15,000 professors, instructors, counsellors and librarians at the 24 Ontario public Colleges.

2. Because College management refuses to present an offer that addresses faculty’s main concerns in this round of bargaining, faculty will begin “work to rule” in January. That means that faculty will do their jobs exactly as outlined in their contracts and work assignments. For example, they may stop volunteering extra time or working outside of regular hours.

3. The amount of time that faculty are given to prepare classes and evaluate students hasn’t changed since 1985.

4. Right now, this workload formula gives faculty a maximum of 5.4 minutes per week to grade the work that you submit. Faculty are asking for that maximum to be increased to 7.2 minutes.

5. Faculty are asking for more time to grade students, but the College Presidents are saying that faculty are asking for a reduction in workload. (We don’t understand it either. We wish they would stop lying to you.)

6. A professor typically receives less than two hours to prepare a three-hour class each week, even if it’s online.

7. Bargaining doesn’t need to keep going: The faculty union has already offered to have an arbitrator decide all issues on which the two sides can’t agree

8. Over 70% of all professors and instructors in the Ontario College system are on 14-week contracts. Some have been doing their job for decades, but their Colleges will only hire them for 14 weeks at a time. These faculty members have fewer rights than full-timers.

9. Professors are given as little as four hours each week to help students out of class – that includes both office hours and e-mails.

10. If you would like management to resolve bargaining without labour disruption, please let your college President know, at: https://www.collegefaculty.org/write-your-college-president/

A GTA Prof Recollects Our Last Two Years…

In a recent provincewide meeting, a question came in about why workload had become a major issue in this round of bargaining, when it wasn’t as prominent in, say, 2017.

Now, at some level that’s a simple question — it was the membership that determined that workload was the #1 priority. They did this via pre-bargaining surveys, 24 Local demand-setting meetings, and the provincewide final demand-setting meeting (that delegates of each Local attended). So the simplest answer to why workload was the new top priority in this round of bargaining is “democracy”.

The question of why faculty determined that workload was the top priority is a bit more nuanced, and a Zoom chat boxes wasn’t necessarily the best place to provide thoughtful analysis, but I speculated that the issue was set up for crisis by the increasing tendency of supervisors to max out the SWFs of full-time faculty to the 44-hour limit, coupled with the (obviously related) increase of class sizes, and that the switch to emergency pandemic learning tipped workload into a crisis situation, generally.

I received an e-mail yesterday that supported that interpretation (and that highlights the little-discussed concern regarding academic integrity during emergency remote teaching). I’m happy to share it below — I’ve edited it for length and clarity, and to remove potentially-identifying information.

Hi One College Prof,

Your recent post resonated with me and I thought I’d share my experience over the last 2 years of online education.

As the pandemic opened, none of us expected to still be in this situation, including administration. Mistakes made in the early days of this can easily be forgiven. As March became April, and the Winter semester became the Summer semester it became more and more obvious that this was not going to be a quick pivot back to the classroom. At this point, I turned to my department leadership for advice on things like delivering assessments that we could have some confidence in. There was a stunning lack of support for doing any sort of proctoring or attempting to enforce integrity standards. It is indeed a thorny issue, but that’s why leadership was needed, so that we didn’t have ad-hoc solutions being deployed. The advice I received was, “Don’t proctor, it’s not worth it”.

I suppose in a short term crisis we can accept this, and support the notion that we want to reach the students we can, and those that choose not to engage honestly will bear consequences when we return to face to face or when they reach industry. Smacks of kicking a problem down the road, but again, short term crisis measures can be forgiven.

In those early days there were many requests to overload the number of students beyond the typical 40 per section. Without physical limitations of the classroom, and with potential layoffs being discussed, many felt they needed to do their part to help out. The budget savings were found by not renewing part time contracts and by minimizing factors such as total contact hours on the SWF by increasing class sizes instead of opening and staffing new sections. Once more, crisis measures can be forgiven for their aggressiveness, and we certainly felt the pressure to make this work. One side effect of this increase in students was an increase in email support for panicked and disconnected students. That was volunteer work. We stepped up to be professional and support our students as much as possible because we do indeed care.

Enough history, however–let’s get back to the present day! These conditions still exist. Some students who have never faced a proctored assessment are nearing graduation and lack the skills their diplomas claim they have. Contract cheating is running rampant in many classes. There is still no solution for delivering assessments online being promoted by “leadership”, indeed permission must be given to proctor, and then only for the largest assessments. While some students have done well in their studies and have learned a great deal, these are often the self-motivated students we know would do well regardless of the format. My experience doesn’t suggest these are the majority of students. These students are worried that when they graduate, their diploma will be looked at with skepticism. They are worried that their cheating classmates who have obtained higher grades may edge them out of jobs. They are discouraged and frustrated with the institution of higher learning’s abdication of its responsibility to assess learning …. and they are justified in their feelings.

As always, the faculty are bearing the brunt of this, and what do we do about it? We counsel, we listen, we suggest things like out of class projects that they can put in a portfolio to set themselves apart, or practicing their interviewing skills so that employers will be able to perceive the validity of their education from their answers. We certainly don’t shrug our shoulders and walk away.

[. . .]

What about those in the middle? Many are floundering. Many are getting the fully reasonable consequences of not being diligent students. Yet with whatever compassion we have left in our bag of tricks we are working with them, trying to support them, trying to keep them away from further depression and anxiety, trying to cram those essential bits of learning outcomes into their heads so they can try to pick up the pieces of their semester. It’s that time of year where the emails are normally a deluge, and with increased class sizes, it’s become a tsunami.

In the midst of all this, Doug Ford says we don’t have the right to bargain for a wage increase above 1% as inflation soars around us. (Probably not going to buy the teacher’s vote anyway, better to find a few bucks in the budget on the backs of the public service to pander to “the base”.)  The CEC says, “Everything’s fine, here’s our offer–take it or leave it”, but lacks the backbone to force a vote on it … they know full well that the system is running on volunteer labour.

[. . .]

It seems once more that there’s an attack on the people who actually do the work that the institutions provide – be they nurses or professors. Organized labour has always been the enemy of management that wishes to take advantage of workers because employers have always wielded a disproportionate amount of leverage on individuals. As management asks us to be compassionate towards our students, and towards their challenges at maintaining their budgets, it’s about time they turned their gaze back to the front lines and recognize that we are tired and we are fed up with demands from both students and from administration to make this online environment work with the modicum of support that’s been given. Stop trying to figure out how we’re going to go hybrid in the fall, or offer half the classes online through Continuing Education until you figure out how to restore the quality, in collaboration with faculty. Come down out of the Ivory Tower and strike a fair deal that recognizes the value of the work that is being done to support your lifestyle.

I encourage everyone to endorse the strike vote and send a clear message that we’re tired of “figuring it out” month after month without support.  Send the message that we’re tired of being asked to demonstrate compassion without some acknowledgement of the cost of that compassion. Send the message that it’s not ok to keep trying to find ways to use non-union workers to do our work by contracting out and skirting the rules

As sure as god made little green apples, if they impose a contract, it will lack article 2 that protects the creation of full time, meaningful positions.

Give the union [members] the power to say, “When we’ve hit our limit on administrative hours, we’re forwarding the emails to management to deal with”.  Give them the power to find many, many creative job actions other than a picket line to make the point that we are worth every cent [the colleges] spend on us.

A very tired [. . .] College faculty member.

One Meeting Attendee Responds

The following was sent as a comment to the previous video by a meeting attendee who teaches at a college in the GTA:

It was a good meeting. Over the last two weeks I’ve had the chance to gather more information on the issues. We have been starved for details. The position I had two weeks ago that I was going to vote “no”. I cast my “yes” vote today. I hope a majority do the same.

JP’s Closing Remarks…

At the start of the strike vote (lasting until Saturday at 3:00 pm), I’m posting JP Hornick’s closing address from Tuesday night’s provincewide meeting on partial-load issues.

Before I do, let me remind any contract faculty who may be working at more than one college that they should only vote once, even if they receive two distinct PINs at each workplace. (Because hey, contract faculty are disenfranchised enough, not least of all through the active efforts of the College Employer Council to prevent their unionization ballots from being counted.)

Just a reminder that this vote is very simply a vote on whether you wish to tell the Employer to do one thing that they have yet to find the motivation to do so far: Meaningfully negotiate the demands that were selected by faculty at 24 Local demand-setting meetings, and that were ratified at a provincewide demand-setting meeting at which delegates from all 24 Locals participated. The strike authorization vote means that faculty demands are not simply requests–that we are collectively serious enough about them to back them up with our labour. Giving the Bargaining Team a strike mandate is, simply, how we “walk the talk” about our needs and our students’ needs in our workplaces.

Overheard at a General Membership Meeting…

The CAAT-A faculty bargaining team has attended membership meetings at 17 Locals over the past two weeks. The following was one member’s contribution to the Zoom chat. I am printing it with their permission:

I’m all for students, but I can’t volunteer anymore. It turns into hours and hours of extra grading and contact, with ballooning class sizes. I love my students and my job, but my students also deserve someone who is mentally healthy and recognized for the work [they’re] doing. I think our students–many of whom are precariously employed and dealing with the same issues–understand more than we often give them credit for.

As a reminder, Ontario college faculty can register for one of the two CAAT-A Provincewide bargaining update meetings (in advance of the strike authorization vote) here:

Upcoming Dates

Just a note that the following dates (relevant to the bargaining process) are now confirmed:

  • December 7th (6:30-8:00 p.m.): Provincewide information session hosted by the CAAT-A Divisional Executive, featuring the faculty Bargaining Team. This session specific to partial-load faculty.
  • December 8th (6:30-8:00 p.m.):  Provincewide information session hosted by the CAAT-A Divisional Executive, featuring the faculty Bargaining Team. This session open to all faculty, including partial-load.
  • December 9th @ 9:00 a.m. – December 11th @ 3:00 p.m.: Online strike authorization vote, conducted by the Ontario Labour Relations Board
    • This vote is needed to authorize the faculty bargaining team to organize any work action, which may or may not include a strike
  • December 13th: The first day that either party may take labour action:
    • The first day that management may lock out CAAT-A faculty members
    • The first day that management may unilaterally impose Terms & Conditions of employment, affecting such areas as workload, pay, benefits, labour rights
    • The first day that unionized faculty members may, with a successful strike vote, organize labour action

As a reminder, the faculty bargaining team has proposed referring all issues that remain unresolved (following negotiations) to voluntary binding interest arbitration, as a means of resolving bargaining without disruption to our work or our students’ academic year.

A Seasoned GTA Prof Writes

One of the things that I found as soon as I got involved in academic labour issues is that my sense of time changed, and I started looking at change in terms of different time frames. For example, the degree to which our class sizes are impacted by a decision that someone made in 1985, or the fact that both teams are already writing potential recommendations for the next round of bargaining into this round’s Collective Agreement (in a nutshell, the faculty team’s proposal provides for mechanisms that would guarantee such recommendations; the CEC team’s proposal would let the Employer prevent recommendations from being put forwards).

So you start to think of it as something like a chess game, only there’s a gap of years between each move. (The metaphor breaks down when you consider that arbitrator’s rulings can redefine the meaning of negotiated language, in between rounds of bargaining.)

And in the last round of bargaining, I think that I e-mailed the bargaining team’s chair and vice-chair, when I thought that the Employer was proposing a reasonably innocuous bit of language that could end up having problematic effects about a decade later, if specific other things were to happen in the meantime.

All of which is to say that you start to value institutional memory. Right now, for example, in the face of the Employer’s ability to unilaterally Impose Terms & Conditions of Employment (16 days from now), many of our members experienced the Imposition of 2009; many did not.

So it’s in that spirit that I welcomed the following letter from a professor who leads with their experience. I have redacted any identifying information:

I started work as a full time faculty [in the late eighties]. I’ve been through the 2006 strike, the 2009 imposed terms & conditions, and the 2017 strike. After 32 years  as a faculty member, I am more than frustrated with the College Employer Council – their actions, their communication mistruths, and their callous disregard for both students and faculty. 
Given the CEC behaviour in the past, I am not surprised – but I am frustrated for everyone who has poured their heart and soul into doing their best for students during the pandemic. Doing their best for students has often been at the expense of faculty well-being and more so since March 2020. Working in a [Centre for Teaching & Learning], I’ve noted how tired faculty have become but the past 18 months, it’s been beyond tired. It’s an exhaustion that goes bone-deep. What an unfortunate time for our employer to take this adversarial stance.
It strikes me as absurd – working in a [CTL] and talking to faculty about learner-centred education, UDL [Universal Design for Learning], pedagogies of care, humanizing learning – and, especially authentic assessment – knowing full well that implementing any of these things is often beyond the scope of what SWFs allow–if, in fact, the people I’m working with are lucky enough to have a SWF. 
New faculty don’t know what they don’t know. They’re afraid–as are many faculty–of where we are heading if there is a strike. After 32 years, I’m afraid of what will happen if we don’t take a strong stance. What will happen to those new faculty? What will happen to future faculty? Will Apprenticeship and Academic Upgrading faculty be treated differently? 
In closing, let me say how much I appreciate your insightful emails and your podcast. Thank you.

In return, thank you for the kind words and also for the questions at the end, which will hopefully give me material for an upcoming post. As ever, readers are welcome to reach me at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com — all letters will be kept strictly anonymous.

Our Current Offer of Settlement

So, I’ve been inviting faculty to offer their thoughts and opinions (on either what I write here or discuss on The Ontario College Podcast) at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com. I’m grateful to two individuals who reached out to me last week, to discuss the current Offer of Settlement. I’m hoping to feature their letters this week (and I invite you to share your own), but I wanted preface those discussions by presenting the faculty’s current Offer of Settlement (dated November 18) and offering some quick thoughts about each of the 18 major proposals in it.

I’m pasting the complete offer below, in .pdf form. To explain the formatting a bit, the words that are in bold and underlined are new Collective Agreement language that is being introduced in the proposal; the words that are struckthrough are being removed from the CA (according to the proposal). The words that are in yellow highlighting represent changes from the Faculty team’s last Offer of Settlement (on Nov. 8). Many of those highlighted sections feature new language that has been incorporated from the College Employer Council’s (CEC’s) previous Offer of Settlement (of November 10).

So, let me try to walk you through the proposals, briefly. This won’t be a deep dive, but it will hopefully provide a bit of an overview so that I can discuss some of them in greater detail later. Let me start by noting that I’ll be looking at these proposals in a thematic order, so the numbering below will be…messed up.

To start, let’s draw attention to the three committee structures that are proposed: one on workload; one on Equity, Diversity & Inclusion; and one on Indigenization, Decolonization, and Truth & Reconciliation. In the hopes of arriving at a deal at the table, these structures were proposed as a compromise from earlier proposals that made extensive changes to the CA to address these issues. They are in response to arguments that these issues are broad and may require research, analysis and/or consultation. In other words the faculty team has agreed (as a compromise position) to refer some large matters to committees throughout the life of the Collective Agreement, but only on the condition that the processes result in concrete recommendations or changes at the end of that time.

Faculty Proposal #6: Workload Committee (Letter of Understanding)

  • The faculty proposal provides for a professional researcher and a substantial period of time to analyze broad aspects of faculty workload, including that of Counsellors, Librarians, and the measurement and compensation of Partial-Load workload
  • It also has “Teeth”: If the parties can’t agree, a dispute resolution mechanism incorporates a third-party arbitrator’s workload recommendations into the 2023 Collective Agreement, and the committee would review workload every three years
  • Management’s comparable proposal might lead to zero change; it also targets areas for two-tiered workload protections

Faculty Proposals #7 + #8: Defining different modes of in-class and online teaching, and providing additional attributed hours for courses with an online teaching component, following discussion with supervisor

  • This creates the opportunity for immediate necessary relief for professors and instructors
  • Permits faculty and managers to come to agreement on additional attributed hours, and permits faculty to refer disputes to the Workload Monitoring Group for resolution
  • Unlike CEC’s proposal, this would provide faculty with needed time immediately, rather than years from now, if ever

Faculty Proposal #9: Increasing “Essay/Project” evaluation factor from 0.03 hours (per student per Teaching Hour) to 0.04 hours

  • Currently, faculty who teach a 3-hour class where students are evaluated only on the basis of written work or projects receive a maximum of 5.4 minutes per student per week for evaluation and feedback
  • This proposal would increase that number to 7.2 minutes per student per week
  • Unlike CEC’s proposal, this would provide faculty with needed time immediately, rather than years from now, if ever

Faculty Proposal #17: No bargaining unit member will suffer layoff, lose hours or lose wages as a result of the Employer’s contracting out work normally done by faculty in the bargaining unit

Faculty Proposal #18: The College shall not use, share, sell, or transfer course materials produced by faculty members without their consent

  • This proposal is necessary to protect faculty jobs and bargaining unit work
  • This proposal is comparable to Intellectual Property language in Canadian postsecondary institutions. Faculty in the B.C. college system, for example, own the copyright for all work produced in the course of their normal assigned duties
  • The CEC has offered no satisfactory explanation why faculty consent would be an unreasonable condition of the sale of faculty-produced materials

Faculty Proposal #10: Addition of language that coordinator duties must be “reasonable and reduced to writing” before the coordinator role is accepted

  • This proposal makes sure that coordinator assignments are clear and reasonable
  • This proposal serves to discourage potential management efforts to assign bargaining unit work outside the bargaining unit by creating workloads that would reasonably be refused by bargaining unit members
  • CEC’s proposal omits the words “reasonable and”

Faculty Proposal #1: Committee on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (Letter of Understanding)

  • Local subcommittees of the existing Union/College Committee at each College would seek to implement employment systems, policies, and practices that are non-discriminatory and equitable in nature and effect
  • Provincially, a subcommittee of the Employer-Employee Relations Committee (EERC) would make recommendations for the next round of CA bargaining
  • Unlike the CEC’s proposal, this committee “has teeth”: Where the provincial committee can’t agree, an arbitrator will decide upon recommendations for the next round of bargaining

Faculty Proposal #2: Round Tables on Indigenization, Decolonization, and Truth & Reconciliation (Letter of Understanding)

  • Provides a clear scope and framework for Indigenous-led and jointly-Chaired Local Round Tables to review each College’s policies and practices
  • Provincially, the chairs of each College’s Round Table would participate in a subcommittee of the EERC, to make recommendations for the next round of CA bargaining
  • Unlike the CEC’s proposal, this provincial subcommittee has a dispute resolution mechanism: Where the provincial committee can’t agree, an Indigenous arbitrator will determine recommendations for the next round of bargaining

Faculty Proposals #3 + #4: Access (for faculty who identify as Indigenous) to an Indigenous Elder / Traditional Knowledge Keeper as a personal support in Workload Monitoring Group meetings and Grievance Meetings

  • This faculty proposal is currently in both sides’ Offers of Settlement
  • Would improve equity of current dispute resolution mechanisms in the CA

Faculty Proposal #5: Addition of two Indigenous arbitrators to the existing list of arbitrators in the CA

  • This faculty proposal is currently in both sides’ Offers of Settlement
  • Would improve equity of current dispute resolution mechanisms in the CA
  • Part of the faculty team’s proposed dispute resolution mechanism for the provincial Round Table on Indigenizaiton, Decolonization, and Truth & Reconciliation

Faculty Proposal #11: Amendment of Class Definition of Counsellor

  • Language in faculty proposal has already been included in current CEC offer of settlement
  • CEC proposal also includes “poison pill” language that could take work away from counsellors and assign it outside of the bargaining unit, as well as undermine the autonomy of Counsellors to do their work

Faculty Proposal #12: Partial-Load faculty can bridge benefits during non-teaching periods with mere written offer of future employment

  • Currently, Partial-Load faculty need contracts for future teaching, to bridge benefits between employment periods
  • This proposal would enable PL members to bridge benefits upon receipt of an offer of future teaching
  • This item has no cost to the Colleges — members pay 100% of benefits during bridged periods

Faculty Proposal #13: Partial-Load faculty shall get credit for holidays when calculating service

  • This proposal is featured in both teams’ current Offers of Settlement
  • It is a very minor improvement that would in limited cases permit PL faculty to get a new salary step a month sooner than they would otherwise

Faculty Proposal #14: Partial-Load faculty shall be eligible for seniority hiring for courses that they have taught in any Partial-Load capacity (not just as part of a PL contract)

  • This proposal would broaden the seniority hiring entitlements for qualified PL faculty on the PL registry

Faculty Proposal #15:

a) Partial-Load faculty shall be eligible for PL Registry (and seniority hiring) if they are currently teaching Partial-Load or have done so in the past

  • Would maximize contract faculty members’ eligibility for seniority provisions of the PL Registry, at no cost to the colleges
  • The current Collective Agreement excludes Partial-Load faculty from the PL Registry if they are not currently employed as PL or lack 8 or more months of service as PL.

b) Partial-Load faculty shall keep seniority right to teach classes, even if the course code or name changes

  • Prevents college managers from undermining PL seniority rights by making superficial changes to courses

Proposal #16: Partial-Load faculty shall be eligible to the maximum number of assignable courses (up to 12 teaching hours) for which they have seniority per the PL Registry

  • Maximizes opportunity for PL faculty with seniority to have contracts that provide a living wage
  • This proposal has negligible cost (if any) to the Colleges

Monetary Proposal:

  • Bound by the limits set out by Bill 124, both parties have agreed to annual salary increases of 1% across the board
  • This would likely represent a loss in real wages (after inflation) of approximately 10%, over the three-year life of the Collective Agreement that the CEC proposes
  • Both parties have agreed to language that would see wage negotiations reopened if Bill 124 is overturned by the courts or replaced

Benefits: In addition to covering medically-prescribed cannabis, the balance of the 1% increase in benefits (permissible under Bill 124) should be used to subsidize the cost of dental implants.

Podcast Episode #4 Published!

Okay! Lots to report obviously, but let me start by offering a plug for my new-ish podcast, “The Ontario College Podcast”. The fourth episode (recorded on Tuesday Nov. 16, prior to the start of Conciliation) was published today. It’s the first new episode in an unreasonably long time, and I’ve flattered myself that the podcast was singlehandedly responsible for the College Employer Council’s touching recent obsession with communication blackouts.

https://anchor.fm/theontariocollegepodcast/episodes/Facts–Fiction–Conciliation-e1afpqi
Episode 4: Facts, Fiction & Conciliation

In this episode, I analyze some of the CEC’s messenging (and I note that the CEC’s messages today do nothing to contradict my theory). I also offer a preview of the Conciliation process — one that, alas, has already been surpassed by events, specifically the CEC’s request (on the first day of Conciliation!) for a “no board” report, whose only function that I can think of is to serve as a legal precondition for labour disruption.

Lastly, I talk about some of the principles that have guided the faculty bargaining team’s efforts to balance short-term and long-term thinking in arriving at the specific language and proposals in our recent Offers of Settlement. Although I refer specifically to the faculty team’s November 8th Offer of Settlement, the general and specific points that I make still seem to apply to the new Offer that the faculty team submitted today.


Anyway, let me see if I can string together a few posts on the current state of bargaining over the next few days. You’d do me a big favour towards that end by e-mailing me at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com and offering any of your own thoughts on what you’ve been hearing from both sides right now, or questions about the bargaining process — particularly a question that might not have been addressed at the November 11th Provincewide bargaining update, which had attendance of over 1,500! Or maybe you’d like to share some of your current experiences teaching — including teaching as Partial-Load — to help remind us all what we’re bargaining for in the first place.

Of course, the College Employer Council doesn’t need any reminder of what it’s like in the classroom right now, since — as they remind us — 79% of College administrators in the Ontario public College system have teaching experience.

Perhaps in a future #MythBusterMonday, the CEC would be willing to share some details as to whether that teaching experience was, say, at the postsecondary level, or in the Ontario public College system, or frankly whether it was even in any kind of formal education system whatsoever. And boy would it be gratifying to know how many administrators have postsecondary experience in the specific kinds of teaching modes (like asynchronous online or hybrid or hy-flex) for which they’re providing faculty with only 108 minutes to prepare a 3 hour class (per the “Established B” factor, which hasn’t changed since 1985).

Or hey, maybe they’ll just go back to talking about communications blackouts.

The Emergency Remote Learning Experience

So, I’m thinking about the emergency remote learning experience, from the student’s perspective. Probably most people reading this already have some fairly strong opinions about the Emergency Remote Teaching experience — I’d be happy to devote some time to opinions that anybody chooses to e-mail to ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com (anonymity will be preserved), but I right now, my thoughts are on my students.

Which brings me to an article in yesterday’s Washington Post, entitled “For college freshmen, pandemic results in a first-year experience unlike any other”. Much of it concerns the somewhat predictable (and not unreasonable) dismay of the cohort that was denied the experience of Senior prom and high school graduation, and is now being denied the freshman experience that most of us likely did experience and enjoy.

But one quoted student captured my attention:

“The degree is more than just a piece of paper,” Abatemarco said. “It’s about the relationships that you make there in person. All of that has really been taken away. All of that is really nonexistent at this point.”

The degree is about the relationships, because education is about relationships — the relationship between teacher and student. That’s it — that’s at the core. And the less that relationship can develop, the less education can occur.

Another student quoted in the article reinforces this:

So he is plugging away at online courses: marketing, microeconomics, theology, sociology, a first-year seminar, Excel. He was grateful that professors held casual Zoom meetings outside class. One of them had an informal “dinner” with him and other students over a video link. His main human contact, outside of the family, is meeting with a few friends from Long Island. “We have a joint bond in recognizing how brutal the last three months of school have been,” he said.

An informal dinner with students? Sounds like a great idea. Sounds like something that I wish I could have done. Sounds utterly bloody impossible, given the workload demands of Emergency Remote Teaching, and Ontario Colleges’ general failure to acknowledge those demands.

Informal dinner, or meaningful individualized feedback on their actual work? Or perhaps neither?

One interesting test of the quality of the student learning experience — the quality of the educational experiences provided by Ontario Colleges through Emergency Remote Teaching — will be seeing what percentage of the current cohort of students end up providing alumni donations to their respective colleges.

Because what is the motivation behind alumni donations? Memories. Of educational experiences. Of relationships. Of the faculty who knew and impacted you personally. Of the students that you worked and socialized with. Of the groups and clubs that you were able to participate in.

All of which is not simply to say that education isn’t best when it’s in the context of an experience; it’s to say that it doesn’t exist except as an experience, and the quality of education is directly related to the quality of the experience.

Which reminds me of a slogan that I painted on a picket sign once upon a time:

How can I know my students’ needs when I don’t know their names?