Notes from Council: questions about academic restructuring and online proctoring’s racism and ableism

University of Alberta president Bill Flanagan and provost and vice-president (academic) Steven Dew fielded questions about how restructuring might change in light of the upcoming provincial budget.

“Notes from Council” is The Gateway’s ongoing series of recaps of noteworthy items from Students’ Council meetings.

Council poses questions about academic restructuring 

Council saw a presentation from University of Alberta president Bill Flanagan and provost and vice-president (academic) Steven Dew about the three faculty restructuring options proposed by the university. 

Additionally, Rob Munro, the executive lead of service excellence transformation (SET), gave a brief presentation on administrative restructuring which outlined changes like a transaction processing hub with access to all student services including transcripts, student financial aid, mental health support, and academic advising. 

Munro also introduced a potential student survey to check in with students as changes are made to the administrative structure.

“We do know that when other organizations that go through transformations like ours, there tends to be a dip in the services during the transformation,” said Munro. “It’s our job to manage that dip and this pulse survey will help us do that.”

Several members of council had questions about how restructuring might be affected by additional provincial cuts. 

Vice-president (external) Rowan Ley asked how the academic restructuring might change “in the context of a very uncertain upcoming provincial budget.”

“How far can the savings from restructuring be stretched before you would have to engage in more vertical cuts, and what are the limits to the approach of restructuring and the amount of savings it could generate if we had a worse budget than expected?” he asked.

Dew said his first hope is that the provincial government will recognize the university has “already been significantly impacted” and seek to balance the budget somewhere else, though he noted this may be overly optimistic. 

“My second hope is that if they are looking at us, it would be with a hope of accelerating the total cuts, not deepening them,” he said. “If that’s the case I think our current plan will allow us to float through, because we are planning to respond to the full $216 million that’s been telegraphed to us.”

Arts councillor Talia Dixon asked what steps the university is taking in order to try and prevent cuts, instead of reacting to cuts after they have been made.

“It seems like that’s the most tangible solution; instead of being reactive, being proactive,” she said. 

Flanagan answered he is making the case to the government that the university is a driver of economic growth and creativity for Alberta. 

“My hope is that the government of Alberta — and I think there’s some evidence to suggest this is the case — is viewing us as responsible and responsive to the cuts,” he said.

Critiques of online proctoring 

Vice-president (academic) David Draper spoke about the racism and ableism inherent in online exam proctoring in his executive update.  

“It sucks, everybody hates it,” he said. “Smart Exam Monitor (SEM) is bad. ExamLock is also bad. It disproportionately flags people of colour claiming that they’re in rooms that aren’t bright enough just because of the colour of their skin.”

He also shared that the proctoring software is incompatible with certain assistive technologies. According to Draper, if a student uses a screen reader to read out their exams to them, the exam proctoring prevents that, making it impossible for these students to write their exams.

“You cannot use the two, so you have to negotiate on a case by case basis with every one of your professors, and that and it sucks,” he said.

He mentioned that there are better options for online exam writing listed on the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) website. Draper encouraged students who are frustrated with online proctoring to look at these guidelines and send them to their professors.

“[Online exam proctoring is] not effective and the university’s CTL is even telling people it’s not effective too,” he said. “It’s not beneficial to students, it’s not equitable, it’s not accessible, it’s just all around bad.”

One question asked whether Draper believed online proctoring violates student rights, specifically the right to online privacy and the right to equitable education. 

While Draper said he isn’t able to draw any legal conclusions, he personally believes exam proctoring is unfair and inequitable. 

“Having things like this that disproportionately flag and punish people of colour for accessing post secondary education or people who use assistive technologies, it’s basically telling those people they don’t belong, which is fundamentally wrong,” he said. 

“We should be doing better to ensure that as an institution — and as a society — things like this don’t happen, because they are fundamentally unacceptable.”

Rachel Narvey

Rachel is the Gateway's 2020-21 Staff Reporter. This summer, she will complete her MA program in English and Film studies before returning to the U of A in the fall as an Education student. In her spare time she writes poetry and watches Jeopardy. You can often find her sitting alone, eating a burrito.

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