SOUNDING OFF – AU students sound off on tutor vacations

Last week Peter Tretter’s guest editorial addressed the issue of tutor vacations. While recognizing that tutors have a right to time off, and that with open enrolment it’s impossible to ensure that tutor leaves do not coincide with course end dates, it was suggested that when a tutor is away for even a period as short as two weeks, a replacement tutor must be supplied. I asked students to respond to this issue, and what follows are the responses I’ve received so far. If I receive more responses over the coming week, I will run another edition of this column — feel free to comment on this issue in 250 words of less by sending an email to voice@ausu.org.

Peter Tretter recently wrote an article about the anger he had toward the University’s policy on tutor vacations. I feel his pain — to, if possible, a much larger degree. My situation is quite different. In the last 2 weeks of my course my tutor has gone on vacation, and Athabasca University has told me over the phone several times they DO NOT assign alternate tutors for 2 week periods as it “is not in their policy.”

I was not given a policy in the course package I received after paying nearly $1000 for this course. The credit this course would have produced was required by my home University as a pre-requisite for a course I will most probably not be able to take this fall, as Athabasca University doesn’t mark exams until tutors mark the final assignments, but my tutor will NOT mark my assignments unless I can somehow finish all of them and get them to him under a specific deadline. The University should most definitely create alternate arrangements for the absence of tutors, and furthermore should include somewhere in the course packages they send out that tutors will be on vacation for a PRE-DETERMINED period of time, instead of merely writing at the bottom of a letter, “Please note these changes and update your records accordingly.”

I am not sure what records they were referring to, unless they mean the credit records I will probably not be able to redeem as a result of this situation.

Matthew Wong-Fung

Mr. Tretter hit the nail on the head. While tutors should be allowed to take holidays and personal time, I agree that substitutes should be provided. When students are at critical points in their courses, having no tutor for two weeks can be significant. Since individualised means students progress at different paces by definition, any tutor leave can occur at a critical time for some of that tutor’s students.

Providing substitute tutors means more work for the university, but it will pay off for students. The AUSU forums contain numerous threads on this very issue. In at least one case, a tutor was unavailable for a month and the substitute also became unavailable, so a student had to write her midterm (booked three weeks in advance, remember) without the assignments upon which that midterm was based being marked and returned to her. She had submitted them before receiving the “Tutor Unavailable” letter.

A tutor in one of my current courses is unavailable for the first two weeks. I usually use this time to get a jumpstart on the course, and contact the tutor to take her measure and ask questions about course timelines, etc. I cannot do that with this, the most challenging course I’ve registered for so far. It’s worse when a tutor is unavailable for the last two weeks of a contract, when students may be studying for exams and have last-minute questions. AU has to take some responsibility for providing the services we pay for. I doubt that in their grouped study classes at bricks-and-mortar campuses, teaching staff are not replaced during brief hiatuses. Just my $.02.

Elizabeth Cousar

I agree that having course tutors away for two weeks with no named replacement is inconvenient and seems a waste of tuition. This has happened to me on two occasions this year. I have noticed, however, that tutor absence notices tend arrive in plenty of time for students to be organized. There are a number of options Mr. Tretter could pursue:

Look ahead at course work planned during the tutor’s absence and call the tutor to ask pressing questions.
Call AU’s call centre or tutor services to register a complaint. Call tutor services and the department or centre to ask who could answer a question during the tutor’s absence. Call the AU library to speak to a librarian or search the AU library catalogue. Consult AU’s online journal database for editorials and peer reviews of the author or subject. Conduct Internet research for articles, columns, critical reviews, or
works by the same or similar authors. Post a message to AUSU or AU’s forums asking for help.
Request an AUSU Study Buddy. Go to the local library and consult with the librarian.

Ultimately, I disagree with Mr. Tretter’s conclusion that the onus is only on the university to provide all the answers. As students, we must investigate and question throughout our coursework. It seems to me that an absent tutor provides the perfect opportunity to put organizational and research skills to the test.

Teresa Neuman
Ottawa, ON

I completely understand and respect the need for everyone to have vacation when they want, however, it is necessary for the university to provide students with an alternate during their tutor’s absence. In a recent personal case, both my tutor and the course coordinator were on vacation/leave and I was having some course issues. Luckily for me, I was able to get the help I needed from another student, (thanks, Jane!), but that is the exception, not the norm. That particular course is the only one I’m taking where I’m in contact with other students. It simply isn’t acceptable for the university to expect students to be able to foresee any problems they may run into – we need to be given someone else to turn to.

Thanks to Tamra and the rest of the AUSU staff for giving us this opportunity to speak out.

Emily King

Thank you for including the article “Tutor Unavailable”. I have recently had my tutor take leave for one whole month, with no replacement! AU did offer one month free extension for the course, however this is not acceptable to those of us who are on student loans, or who are starting other courses and need to finish by a certain date. I agree that at other universities, this would not be acceptable, so why does AU feel that it is okay to do this to their students? I am a full-time AU student with small children at home, and I take my education very seriously. I hope this article will open some eyes and prompt a change at AU. Keep the great articles coming!

Andrea Buck

If you would like to comment on this issue, there is still time. Send your thoughts — in 250 words or less — to voice@ausu.org.

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