What I Did on my Summer Vacation (2017 Edition)

Every year when I write these summer vacation posts, I try to come up with a theme. Last year was easy; I even had two themes. It’s usually a struggle, though. Part of it is that my summers are pretty routine. I teach a Spring term course. Then I spend the summer working on my courses and take a few vacation days with my family. Am I getting boring and predictable? Probably. Anyway, on to my summer vacation!

After teaching PSYCO 367: Perception in Spring term (which was a lot of fun, as I hadn’t taught it in two years), we planned a moderately sized vacation this year: Penticton, BC. Not a huge, elaborate thing (just eight days) but nonetheless a big trip for us, with two kids. Penticton is over 1,000 km away. Our neighbours own a condo in Penticton and go every year; they drive there in one day. Yikes. Knowing my family, that would be a recipe for disaster. Instead, we took a much more leisurely approach, stopping overnight in Banff, Vernon, and Kelowna.

Did you know that, in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday, you could get a Parks Canada pass for free? That’s what we did--along with several million other people, apparently. I’ve never seen it so busy in Banff. Traffic was very heavy on all the highways through Banff National Park. Naturally, we had to go through six construction zones. Yes, there are only two seasons in Canada: winter and construction.

Stopping in Vernon was a good idea, because we had time to visit the Planet Bee Honey Farm. It’s worth a stop. If you’re a science nerd (we all are), pay a bit extra for the PowerPoint presentation (squee!) about bees. Informative! Plus, you get some free honey. Not only do they sell dozens of kinds of honey in the gift shop, they also make their own mead (honey wine) and give out free samples. Don’t mind if I do! (We bought two bottles.)

Now for an interlude. When we started out on our trip, I had no idea that it would end up being the worst trip I’ve ever taken. A few days before we were due to leave, I started feeling…not so good. Not wanting this illness to affect our long-awaited vacation, I went to see my doctor. He prescribed me a round of (very) strong antibiotics, and warned me that I would experience “some stomach upset.” Well, that was right on the money. Initially, I had no problems, giving me the impression that I have superhuman powers to deal with strong medicines. However, over time my stomach felt worse and worse. Five days into our vacation, I could only tolerate one tiny meal per day, and couldn’t be away from a bathroom for more than an hour or so. (I have to point out that through all of this, my original illness did not improve. At all. It took another round of antibiotics after coming home to finally fix that situation. Thankfully, this antibiotic did not upset my stomach at all. What was my original ailment? I’m not going to tell you. I hardly know you. Maybe after we’ve gone on a few more dates. Suffice it to say, it had something to do with not being able to sit without a great deal of pain. And this started right before the longest car trip I’ve made in over 20 years.) But hey, I didn’t want to disappoint my family, so what to do but grit my teeth and man up.

In Kelowna, we met up with my wife’s old friend/colleague, and visited one of the area’s many (many!) wineries: CedarCreek Estate Winery. We got a (brief) tour of the vineyard and aging barrels--cut short because of the all the loud, dusty onsite construction. We were in the warehouse for literally seconds. Included in the tour at the end is, of course, a wine tasting. My wife sure enjoyed it--she got to drink my samples, as all I could tolerate was the same sparkling apple juice that my kids got (in fancy wine glasses, though; they felt really fancy!). Sigh.

Sadly, Lake Okanagan experienced flooding earlier this year, which was evident in the erosion of the beach at Okanagan Lake Beach in Penticton. (There were sandbags still scattered around many lakefront properties.) And, as you know, this year has been the worst ever for wildfires in BC. The smoke was thick almost every day, and got worse the farther south we traveled. Check out our lovely (?) day at Skaha Lake Beach: the picture looks like it was taken at sundown, but that was the middle of the afternoon. You could hardly see across the lake to the mountains on the other side. At times, the smoke was choking; my heart goes out to all those people affected by the wildfires this year.

My wife had fond memories of going to the beach in Penticton as a kid, but between the erosion and the smoke, it was a big letdown. At least we could still go cherry picking, as she had also done with her family. Why pick cherries yourself? It’s cheaper, my wife explained, and they taste better. The price at the U-pick in Penticton: $2.99. The price for Okanagan cherries at Walmart after we returned home to Edmonton: $1.97. Sigh. Did I mention that, the day after we returned home, the winds blew BC smoke into Edmonton? Yeah, that happened.

I’ve spent a lot of time describing one brief trip (Worst. Trip. Ever.), and still haven’t come up with a theme for this post. Was there one thread that ran through my whole summer? Come to think of it, there was. All summer, I waited in eager anticipation for Sunday night, when a new episode of Twin Peaks: The Return would air. I don’t watch much TV, but this was a show I couldn’t miss. Back in the day, I was a huge fan of the original Twin Peaks. (How huge? I joined the official fan club, and rewatched seasons 1 and 2 with friends complete with coffee and cherry pie). I watched The Return as suggested by co-creator and director David Lynch: in the dark, with headphones. Then I’d spend the rest of the week listening to hours of podcasts that would recap, theorize, and try to explain what happened--and I’d wait impatiently for Sunday.

Now the show’s over, and summer is over, too--and I’ve got mixed emotions about both. I won’t give out any spoilers, but I will strongly recommend Twin Peaks: The Return; it’s a rare piece of entertainment that can also be considered art. It made me feel all of the feels: happy, angry, sad, disgusted, surprised, and frightened. I guess summer did, too.

Why aren’t you studying?

The Contract

I spend every summer on pins and needles, waiting for the Faculty of Science to renew my contract. I’ve been on a two-year rolling contract ever since I became a Faculty Lecturer in 2000. Two-year rolling works like this: the contract is for two years (originally from 2000 to 2002), but after the first year, it rolls over for another year (that is, in 2001 it was extended to 2003). This rollover happens in the summer after I submit my Annual Report, which is a summary of everything I’ve done over the past academic year. This report is reviewed by the Chair of the Department, who sends it to the Vice Dean of Science, who decides whether or not to renew my contract.

So typically by the end of the summer, I get a letter from the Faculty of Science, letting me know that, yes, I will actually be teaching this year, and the year after. When the letter comes in, I take my family out for a nice dinner to celebrate. (There is also a clause in the Contract Academic Staff: Teaching (CAS:T) contract that allows the university to terminate my contract with two weeks’ notice. But I try not to think about that.) This year, though, things were different. A lot different.

Starting July 1, 2017, there is no more “Contract Academic Staff: Teaching.” This contract has been replaced by a completely new one; even the name is different: Academic Teaching Staff. (I kinda liked the old name. We referred to ourselves as “CAS:T members,” which made it sound like we were either part of a theatrical troupe or worked for Disney.) Among the many changes in the contract is the creation of a new kind of appointment: Career. There’s no increase in pay or benefits (the ATS contract is not about that), but instead of having a rolling contract that’s extended every year (as in Science) or that is renewed every five years (as in Arts), the contract assumes that you will be rehired the next year.

The Career appointment in the ATS contract meets Objective 2 in UAlberta’s Institutional Strategic Plan For the Public Good (“Stabilize long-term investments in contract academic staff by offering career paths that include the possibility of continuing appointments based on demonstrated excellence in teaching.”). However, although President Turpin has talked about having tenured teaching positions, the Career appointment is not a tenured teaching position--it’s a continuing position.

What’s the difference? Wikipedia says that a tenured appointment is defined as, “an indefinite appointment that can be terminated only for cause or under extraordinary circumstances such as financial exigency or program discontinuation.” It’s a common misconception that tenure means, “a job for life.” You can have tenure and still be fired. Becoming a Professor and achieving tenure means that you have consistently made substantial contributions to teaching, research (or other creative works), and service (the academic term for volunteer work). In my case, my job will continue from year to year--as long as I do a good enough job. That’s a pretty low bar; all through my career I’ve tried to do way more than “a good enough job.”

The second issue is that, although this new appointment category has been created, no Faculty is obligated to actually put anyone in these categories. They could continue to appoint “sessional” teaching staff as Term, which could mean that they are hired in September and let go at the end of April--a reality for many contract academics on campus. So far, it appears that the Faculties of Arts and Science are moving Faculty Lecturers to the Career appointment. Many other ATS members will see no improvement to their working lives, unfortunately.

Although I am happy with this new appointment, UAlberta still has a ways to go to catch up with other institutions in Canada that actually have a tenured teaching track, like UBC and UToronto. I don’t need to have the title “Professor.” I don’t need a yuge increase in salary (I will never be on the “Sunshine List”, but I do okay). It would be nice, though, to have the kind of job stability my tenured colleagues have.

Anyway, upon getting the news from the Vice Dean of Science that I will no longer have to wait for my contract letter to come every summer, I took my family out for a really nice dinner to celebrate. I guess now I won’t have to take them out every year!

(I would like to acknowledge and thank the incredibly persistent and dedicated members of the CAS:T (now ATS) committee that put literally years of effort into this landmark accomplishment. There was talk about renegotiating our contract way back when I was a member of the CAS:T committee--before my youngest daughter was born. That’s a long time ago. Thanks for all your hard work and time!)

Why aren’t you studying?

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