Continuing and Distance Studies (CDS)

It seems an increasing number of QUFA Members are teaching courses through CDS. A number of you have contacted me with very legitimate questions and concerns, and so I thought it high time everyone were brought into the discussion, beginning with some facts about CDS.

CDS as a name is misleading: courses are available for degree credit and are not continuing education in the classic sense; approximately 80% of students are on campus and not distant.

CDS is not an academic unit, but operates as if it were: departments do not necessarily know if a course in their discipline is being delivered through CDS; CDS does not consider departmental curriculum review to be necessary if the CDS course is assigned the number of an existing course; transcripts do not denote whether a course was delivered in class or on-line (you can see how this might be important if on-line science courses meant no lab work).

As these facts deal primarily with the academic quality of Queen’s programmes and University governance, any concerns about them must be addressed by faculty members via departmental bodies, faculty boards, and Senate.

There are also many CA-related issues, including intellectual property, academic freedom, student evaluation, surveillance, course assignment, workload, regular teaching assignment versus overload, and compensation.

QUFA Members own their intellectual property (IP) and have academic freedom. The CDS standard contract severely compromises both. You can try to modify the contract to retain ownership and academic control, you have every right to do so, but right now CDS does not have to agree with your modifications and may decide to offer the course to someone else who will accept its terms and conditions. If you face pressure from your head or colleagues to teach the course and take the contract as is or insufficiently modified, you will end up compromising your rights (remember, you do not have to agree to teach on-line courses if you do not wish to do so). In our experience, CDS tends to trample your IP rights after it has the materials you have developed, even if you have asserted IP rights in the contract.

The USAT instrument is not suitable for the on-line format, but no other student evaluation is recognized for official assessment (e.g., Annual Report, RTP committees). CDS has proposed an alternative developed by Art Bangert. QUFA (through the JCAA) has pointed out its numerous flaws and not accepted it so far, agreeing only to allow CDS to test it. Someone at CDS also checks to see how often the instructor gets in touch with students, what that contact looks like (tone, etc.), and feels free to judge, in part, the quality of the instruction in this way.

How CDS courses are assigned is mysterious. Sometimes department heads are consulted, sometimes not. Sometimes these courses are advertised, sometimes not. Sometimes courses are delivered without the relevant department ever being involved in the hiring. Sometimes these courses are offered as part of regular teaching assignment, sometimes as overload, sometimes taught by Term Adjuncts.

The University seems to assume that on-line courses require less work than in-class, something belied by both research and the experience of on-line academic institutions. Because the work is broken down into parts like preparation and delivery and marking, compensation requires its own appendix in the CA (Appendix S). NB: The JCAA is reviewing payment issues.

The mind boggles. At least, mine does when people contact me for advice. That is a lot of power and discretion for a business unit that is not an academic unit but is heavily involved in academic and employment decisions. I urge you to continue this discussion with QUFA staff and amongst yourselves.

Ramneek Pooni can be reached at

This Grievance Corner was taken from the February, 2014 edition of QUFA Voices.