Open letters: Members demand accommodation for dependent care!

Dear Dr. Benarroch, President and Vice-Chancellor University of Manitoba, Dr. Brian Postl, Dean, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences & Vice-Provost (Health Sciences), Dr. Netha Dyck, Dean, College of Nursing, and other members of our University of Manitoba Community, 

Schools in Winnipeg have shut down as of Wednesday, May 12th, 2021 and their reopening will be re-evaluated on May 30th, 2021, per the provincial government directive announced Sunday, May 9th. Ironically, this announcement came on Mother's day of all days. It is no secret that mothers have been disproportionately affected by the initial school closure and added home-life responsibilities in March of 2020 – especially those in academia1. Women are producing less research and publications2, are interrupted more when working at home3, and take on more of the housework and childcare duties, including providing emotional support to their families4. High levels of mental and physical stress are being reported by most academics5. The College of Nursing is a predominantly female faculty. Many of our faculty have young children who are again learning remotely from home, requiring our attention and support, while our responsibilities to teaching, research, and service continue uninterrupted.   

It is therefore an insult that in light of this announcement, the University of Manitoba is suggesting that “If you need to reduce your work hours during this time, options to do so include vacation, overtime banks, voluntary days off without pay, and other leaves outlined in collective agreements and university policies. You are encouraged to work out an individual plan with your supervisor.”(email from VP Admin, May 13, 2021) 

We propose a paid leave and stoppage or reduction of teaching, service, research, and academic duties until schools are safely back in session. This is not sick leave and it is certainly not appropriate to classify it as a vacation.   

We, as parents and full-time instructors, researchers, and valued members of the College of Nursing Rady Faculty of Health Sciences did not think twice back in March of 2020 when schools and many daycares shut down. There was no question of how or when the work would get done, it just did. The academic year was finished, spring and summer term was started all the while children were cared for and educated while being kept at home. This scenario has played out in varying degrees again this past academic year. We demand that we be respected for the unwavering commitment to delivering quality education. 

Given that we have been in this pandemic for over a year and many predicted the third wave hitting Manitoba for weeks if not months, perhaps RFHS has considered this possibility and has a proposed solution; we are open to hearing one.  Taking vacation or unpaid leave is not the option. The purpose of this letter is to clarify that the ‘status quo’ of working double-duty indefinitely will not be tolerated henceforth.   

Respectfully for your consideration, 

Alia Lagace, Genevieve Thompson & Sufia Turner, UMFA Representatives, College of Nursing


1 Langin, K. (2021). Pandemic hit academic mothers hard, data show. Science (American Association for the Advancement of Science)371(6530), 660–660.  

2Flaherty, C. (2020, April 20). No room of one's own: Early journal submission data suggest COVID‐19 is tanking women's research productivity. Inside Higher Ed.‐journal‐submission‐data‐suggest‐covid‐19‐tanking‐womens‐research‐productivity 

3Crook, S. (2020). Parenting during the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020: academia, labour and care work. Women’s History Review, 29(7), 1226 - 1238.

4Guy, B., & Arthur, B. (2020). Academic motherhood during COVID‐19: Navigating our dual roles as educators and mothers. Gender, Work, and Organization27(5), 887–899.  

5VanLeeuwen, C., Veletsianos, G., Johnson, N., & Belikov, O. (2021). Never‐ending repetitiveness, sadness, loss, and “juggling with a blindfold on:” Lived experiences of Canadian college and university faculty members during the COVID‐19 pandemic. British Journal of Educational Technology.  


May 31, 2021                                                                                                                       Sent via Email


Dr. Michael Benarroch, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Manitoba
Dr. Brian Postl, Dean, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences and College of Medicine
Dr. Reg Urbanowski, Dean, College of Rehabilitation Sciences
Dr. Anastasia Kelekis-Cholakis, Dean, Dr. Gerald Niznick College of Dentistry
Dr. Lalitha Raman-Wilms, Dean, College of Pharmacy

Dear administrators,

As of May 12, 2021, all schools in Winnipeg were closed to help contain the latest surge of Covid-19. The school closure order is now in effect until June 7, and it is quite possible that the closure will extend beyond that, perhaps to the end of the school year later in June. This third wave of the pandemic is also causing the shutdown of increasing numbers of day programs and child daycares due to Covid-19 exposures.

This has put a tremendous strain on our faculty and staff members who are parents or guardians to young children whose immediate health and well-being solely depends on their caregiver. Caring for dependents as a result of the closing of schools and daycares is a 24/7 responsibility. These are children who are legally not able to be left alone, and who require considerable hands-on support to meet the new realities of remote learning. There are no breaks and there are currently no supports available for these parents/guardians. As a result, the ability of caregivers to perform functions related to their job with the University of Manitoba is severely stretched. They are essentially being asked to perform two full-time jobs simultaneously--for the second time during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The repercussions are felt throughout families, but women have taken the brunt of the impact to their careers. The added work of childcare has made already existing gender disparities in academic spaces larger.1 Research productivity since the beginning of the pandemic is lower in women than men,1 as women take on more of the load at home. Before the pandemic, women and men who were engaged in paid work at home were interrupted in their duties approximately with the same frequency. Now, with added childcare and housework, women are interrupted over 50% more often.2 Feelings of being overwhelmed, and of sadness and loss, were common in the early stages of the pandemic in academic faculty members.3 Imagine how people are feeling now, in month 15, and especially those with young children who are now at home.

The majority of faculty in the healthcare professions are women, and many are parents caring for young children. Those faculty with young children are often also early career faculty. Yet, even as home and family obligations expand because of the pandemic, teaching, research, and service responsibilities continue unchanged. There were and are no “extra” faculty or staff to whom work can be delegated. Moreover, all faculty and staff have been working beyond capacity throughout this pandemic, making it very difficult for parents/caregivers to feel they can ask colleagues to take on additional work.

It is with this context that we take issue with the recent insensitive message from Vice-President Administration Ms. Naomi Andrew, suggesting that “If you need to reduce your work hours during this time, options to do so include vacation, overtime banks, voluntary days off without pay, and other leaves outlined in collective agreements and university policies.” (email May 13, 2021) 

We support our nursing colleagues in proposing a paid leave and immediate stoppage or reduction of teaching, service, research, and academic duties until schools are safely back in session. The requirement to step away from work duties is not sick leave, and it is certainly not appropriate to classify it as a vacation.   

Over the past year, faculty and staff have stepped up, without hesitation, and worked twice as hard to ensure the quality of the programs we offer did not suffer, and our students received the very best experience we could provide. This included not only the first round of school closures in spring of 2020, but also the current 2021 school closures, when our professional programs were and are still in classes. At this point, with over a year of the pandemic behind us, we demand respect from University administration for the unprecedented work we have done to date, and acknowledgment of our unwavering commitment to the College, Faculty and University. Expressing thanks for our work is not enough.

The University has had 15 months to make plans and find solutions to the evolving challenges of the pandemic. Telling caregivers of dependent children to take vacation days or unpaid leave is not the solution. We stand with our colleagues in Nursing and state clearly that the ‘status quo’ of working double-duty for the foreseeable future is not acceptable.   

Respectfully for your consideration,

Joanne Parsons,
Katinka Stecina,
Kathy Yerex,
Alyson Mahar,
Benjamin Lindsey,
Sherif Eltonsy,
Sachin Katyal.

UMFA representatives on behalf of faculty from the following units:

College of Pharmacy
College of Rehabilitation Sciences
Department of Community Health Sciences
Department of Human Anatomy and Cell Science
Department of Oral Biology
Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics
Department of Physiology & Pathophysiology
School of Dental Hygiene

Dr. Sabine Hombach-Klonisch, Department Head, Human Anatomy and Cell Science
Dr. Sharon Bruce, Department Head, Community Health Sciences
Dr. Mark Garrett, Department Head, Physical Therapy
Dr. Leanne Leclair, Department Head, Occupational Therapy
Ms. Denise Mackey, Department Head, Respiratory Therapy
Dr. Paul Fernyhough, Department Head, Pharmacology & Therapeutics (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)
Mr. Michael Shaw, President, UMFA


1Langin, K. (2021). Pandemic hit academic mothers hard, data show. Science (American Association for the Advancement of Science), 371(6530), 660–660.  

2Abi Adams-Prassl, ‘The Gender Wage Gap on an Online Labour Market: The Cost of Interruptions’, cited in Alison Andrew et al. ‘The Gendered Division of Paid and Domestic Work under Lockdown’, IZA DP NO. 13500, July 2020,

3VanLeeuwen, C., Veletsianos, G., Johnson, N., & Belikov, O. (2021). Never‐ending repetitiveness, sadness, loss, and “juggling with a blindfold on:” Lived experiences of Canadian college and university faculty members during the COVID‐19 pandemic. British Journal of Educational Technology. 

June 7, 2021

Dear University of Manitoba and Faculty of Education Administration: 
This open letter supports and reiterates the concerns expressed by colleagues in Nursing, Pharmacy, Rehabilitation Sciences, Community Health Sciences, Human Anatomy and Cell Science, Oral Biology, Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Physiology & Pathophysiology, and Dental Hygiene. As institutional and unit-level administrators, your immediate action is required to appropriately support faculty and staff experiencing unprecedented and unsustainable workload increases while overseeing full-time dependent care due to COVID.

The prior encouragement to treat this period of intense competing priorities and excess workload as a vacation, or to take unpaid leaves to cope with innumerable pressures, is inadequate, unhelpful, and merely exacerbates stress in all domains: physical, psychological, emotional, and financial.  Administration’s THRIVE wellness event demonstrates a similar apathy and disrespect. The invitation to attend plant care workshops hardly compensates for untenable working conditions imposed while employees simultaneously maneuver full-time dependent care. Actual solutions are needed, and these must be determined with our input as collegial governance requires.

The research around burnout and the deleterious impacts of COVID on the work productivity of parents and caregivers (especially women) has been aptly referenced by colleagues in the other open letters sent to university administration, and in workload research underway by a team of UM colleagues.  In short, the workload creep [1] that was evident pre-pandemic has morphed into a workload torrent during COVID. The burden on employees with dependent care responsibilities and the justification for urgent and substantive intervention on administration’s part have only increased with the government announcement that schools will remain closed for the remainder of the K-12 academic year.

Over the course of the pandemic, faculty have consistently demonstrated our commitment to students, colleagues, and the university in shifting rapidly and predominantly to online work. We have enacted creative and labour-intensive means to continue supporting anxious students and conducting research and service to the greatest extent possible, often at the expense of our own well-being. Our efforts have persisted despite the fact that in some units such as Education we have effectively been prohibited from accessing campus, with numerous specific directives to refrain from using offices and restrooms, in the course of carrying out our work. We also have numerous and substantial obligations to our families that currently are not being duly acknowledged or supported.

It behooves administration to change its present course and reciprocate our efforts in meaningful ways by demonstrating a robust commitment to faculty and staff so we can remain healthy and contributing members of this community in the long-term. Please promptly offer workload reduction, paid leaves, and any other supports deemed appropriate, to be determined in consultation with employees with dependent care duties.  

Clea Schmidt, UMFA Representative for Curriculum, Teaching and Learning (CTL)
Lilian Pozzer, UMFA Representative for CTL
Joe Curnow, UMFA Representative for Educational Administration, Foundations, and Psychology (EAFP)
Cameron Hauseman, UMFA Representative for EAFP
Sandie Kouritzin, Professor, CTL, and Principal Investigator, SSHRC-funded Study: Workload Creep in the U15
Robert Mizzi, Canada Research Chair in Queer, Community, and Diversity Education
Joanna Black, Professor, CTL
Merli Tamtik, Associate Professor, EAFP
Peng Liu, Assistant Professor, EAFP
Ee-Seul Yoon, Associate Professor, EAFP
Charlotte Enns, Professor, EAFP

Sent via e-mail to:

Michael Bennaroch, UM President
Naomi Andrew, UM VP, Administration
Thomas Falkenberg, Acting Dean, Education
Karen Ragoonaden, Incoming Dean, Education
Frank Deer, Incoming Associate Dean, Education
Melanie Janzen, Incoming Associate Dean, Education
Martha Koch, Incoming Associate Dean, Education

[1] Kouritzin, S. (2019). Extent and consequences of faculty members’ workload creep in three Canadian faculties of education. Canadian Journal of Education, 42(4), 1092-1120.