Response to comments by Physics Prof Jenny Hoffman

Admittedly distracted by the second longest federal election cycle in Canadian history, I only today ran across a Ubyssey article, now two weeks old, containing a truly disappointing piece of bizarre commentary that decries the very existence of CUPE 2278, the UBC teaching assistant’s union.

Why would I care? Well, after seven years of graduate work, I finally received my PhD in Mathematics this past May from the University of British Columbia. As a graduate student, especially in the Department of Mathematics, teaching was an integral part of my work life. I worked as a teaching assistant for all seven years in the department, and for several years before that as I attended graduate school and completed my undergraduate degree at other universities. I have also served for three years in varying capacities on the executive of CUPE 2278. Today, I am a sessional lecturer in the Department of Statistics at UBC, and a member of the Faculty Association, who works closely on a regular basis with UBC teaching assistants.

The salvo in question comes from the mouth of someone who should most certainly know better: Jenny Hoffman, former Harvard faculty, a new UBC faculty member in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and an exceptional scientist. She is profiled in this Ubyssey article from October 6th, discussing her passions inside and outside of the workplace. But oddly, Dr. Hoffman also seizes the opportunity to attack the UBC teaching assistants’ union. Per the Ubyssey’s article:

Hoffman emphasizes that she is grateful to be here. But the scientist chafes at UBC’s teaching assistants’ union, a point she raised early in the interview.

“TA-ing should be considered a course not a job. There should be no union to try and reduce their hours,” Hoffman said. She added that she saw the attitude of CUPE 2278, the TA’s union on campus, as a cultural difference. “I’m coming from a place where people love their jobs,” she said.

Ironically, I borrow from the great physicist Wolfgang Pauli when I categorize Dr. Hoffman’s statement as so off-base, it’s not even wrong. Is she seriously suggesting that TA work is not a job? Conducting lectures and tutorials; marking papers, exams, and lab reports; meeting with students; assigning grades; teaching. According to her glowing Ubyssey profile, she “sees her primary commitment as being toward students,” and I am confident in inferring that she considers that commitment part of her job. Or is it only a job once you have a PhD?

When declaring that no TA union should exist “to try and reduce their hours”, Dr. Hoffman seems completely oblivious to the fact that she is a member of the UBC Faculty Association, “a voluntarily recognized union” with a collective agreement that outlines all manner of relevant issues, including the dynamics between remuneration and hours worked. Is this union somehow different in its claim to legitimacy than the TA union in Dr. Hoffman’s eyes? To her, it seems, I was but a lowly TA last academic year, but now I have been granted legitimacy by the initials “Ph.D.” after my name, and lo, when I step into the classroom tomorrow I will be justified, a real teacher, not merely a scholar in training.

I can’t help but settle on the conclusion that Dr. Hoffman seems to be insinuating that work is only real work once you’ve been granted the proper credentials. And only real workers deserve a voice; any graduate and undergraduate TAs who think otherwise are just people who dislike their jobs apparently. This kind of crass elitism is why some people harbour the perception that academics are out-of-touch, and are so singularly minded that they can’t be bothered with reality outside the confines of their own laboratory. Claiming that the collegiate culture at UBC is so different from Harvard, “a place where people love their jobs,” just feeds this narrative of clueless elitism

What Dr. Hoffman misses here is that teaching assistants do love their jobs, and that’s why they want to protect them. Groups of workers with like interests do not form a union because they dislike their jobs; they do so because they want to be able to support themselves in those jobs. They want to be remunerated appropriately, they want to be respected for their labour, they want to rest assured that their jobs will not vanish tomorrow on the whim of a superior. They want to support themselves doing work that they love. That’s why UBC’s excellent Faculty Association has secured things like minimum salaries, transparent promotion and tenure procedures, and pension benefits for its members. CUPE 2278 has every much a right to secure for its members minimum wages, terms of appointments and reappointments, and maximums on hours worked.

Or if Dr. Hoffman really thinks I’m wrong, maybe she is prepared to follow through with her volley and question the legitimacy of the Faculty Association to which we both belong? Surely though, if she takes a minute to think it over with PhD in hand, she will recognize that this proposition too must be classified as not even wrong.


Edward Kroc

Sessional Lecturer

Department of Statistics, UBC

AGM recap

1.Roll call of officers and members

2.Summary of previous meeting minutes

  • At the previous meeting of local 2278 held in February, 2015, the budget was approved, the CGEU constitution was ratified, the bargaining plan was approved and the contract committee was elected.

3.EXECUTIVE REPORT CUPE 2278 Oct 2015 (click to download PDF)

4.New business

  • The Federal Election and you
    • Please go vote! Advance voting is on now and election day is October 19! see for more info
  • Opening of CUPE 2278 Executive Nomination Period
    • If you are interested in running for a Comp I Executive seat, please send your name, a short bio and the position you are interested in: President, Secretary-Treasurer, Recording Secretary, Health and Safety Officer, One year trustee, Member at Large (10 positions available)

5.Good of the Union

Committees needing people are listed below. Please contact if you are interested.

  • Presidential Search Committee
    • interested in finding UBC’s next president?
  • Hardship Fund Committee seeks members
    • interested in helping us plan how to administer our new hardship fund?
  • Job Reclassification Committee seeks members
    • interested in helping us reimagine what TA positions look like?

AGM is today!

We look forward to seeing folks at our AGM today in DMP 310. For those who cannot make it, we will post the Exeutive Report and meeting minutes here when they are available.


1.Roll call of officers

2.Summary of previous meeting minutes

  • At the previous meeting of local 2278 held in February, 2015, the budget was approved, the CGEU constitution was ratified, the bargaining plan was approved and the contract committee was elected.

3.Executive Committee Report

4.New business

  • The Federal Election and you

5.Good of the Union

  • Presidential Search Committee
  • Hardship Fund Committee
  • Job Reclassification Committee

Apologies for the delay! The AGM will be hosted in Dempster Pavilion room 310 tomorrow (Thurs Oct 8) at 5 PM. If you missed your department’s union orientation, we will be hosting a catchup orientation at 4:30 in the same room.

Agenda includes the President’s annual report, an overview of how to vote in the Federal election on Oct 19, and opening nominations for the CUPE 2278 executive.

October 8, 2015 AGM

ANNUAL GENERAL MEMBERSHIP MEETING! We will be holding our Fall AGM on October 8th beginning at 5 pm. For anyone who missed their departmental orientation we will also be holding a general orientation session just before the AGM at 4:30 pm.

Location still TBA, but will be announced when we hear back from campus room bookings.

CUPE 116, 2278 and 2950 issue joint letter to UBC BoG Chair John Montalbano

The Presidents of the three CUPE Locals at UBC issued a joint letter to the UBC Board of Governors Chair, John Montalbano, demanding greater transparency surrounding the situation that led to the Board’s recent announcement about the resignation of UBC’s President Arvind Gupta.  We believe that as a publicly funded entity, the public has a right to know why the President of UBC resigned 13 months into a 5 year contract. The search process (estimated to have cost about $430,000 according to internal sources), contractual payouts, interim presidential salary and the hiring of PR firm Kirk and Co to handle the media fallout from this situation (and related issue of alleged violations of Academic Freedom- see below) are hugely expensive in a period of supposed austerity. As tax payers and tuition payers, we feel we are owed a more substantial explanation from the Board and an end to the rampant speculation that is both embarrassing and demoralizing for those who live and work at UBC.

Read our full letter here: CUPE @ UBC letter

On the Academic Freedom piece of this controversy (see links below), we believe it is vitally important that UBC be a place where students and faculty can research freely without fear of punitive action by the administration or government hushing critical opinions. As such we look forward to the University’s transparent and thorough inquiry into this situation. In the mean time, here are some important readings on the subject that help frame our understanding of the situation.

Jennifer Berdahl, UBC Profesor in the Sauder School of Business

Jennifer Berdahl’s 1st blog post “Did Arvind Gupta Lose the Masculinity Contest”

Jennifer Berdahl’s 2nd blog post alleging Board Chair violates academic freedom

Reactions from the UBC Faculty Association and UBC BoG

August 19: UBC Faculty Association Executive calls for Mr. Montalbano’s resignation

August 18: Montalbano speaks in his own defense

August 18: UBCFA Correspondence to Angela Redish, Acting President and Vice-Chancellor, Provost & Vice-President Academic pro tem

August 18: Media Statement from the Chair of UBC, John Montalbano

August 17: Link to UBCFA Notice from the Executive to the Membership, August 17, 2015

August 14: Read the response to the UBCFA’s concerns from UBC’s Board of Governors here.

August 10: In reaction to President Arvind Gupta’s sudden resignation, UBCFA President Mark Mac Lean sent a letter to all of our members on August 10th. View the UBCFA’s correspondence by following this link.

Updates from Local 2278

Bargaining Dates!

The biggest news we have is that we will be heading to the bargaining table with our employer in the next two weeks! Component II will go to the table on Tuesday March 24 and Component I will go the next week on March 30 and April 1. We’re getting all of our proposals and language prepped and are looking forward to getting to work on the next Collective Agreement!

U of T and York TA Unions on strike

We have been following the strikes out at U of T and York closely and have been in touch with both executives to offer our support and best wishes. If you want to send them some greetising in solidarity or find out the latest info, visit CUPE 3902 Bargaining and CUPE 3903.

Transit Plebiscite

Ballots for the transit plebiscite are being mailed out over the next few weeks. We encourage all members who are eligible to make sure that they are heard in this incredibly important vote! Ballots must be received by Elections BC on Friday May 29th before 8pm!

Q. Am I eligible and how do I register to vote in the plebiscite?

A. You can vote in the plebiscite if you are:

  • A Canadian citizen
  • 18 years of age or older on or before May 29, 2015
  • a resident of B.C. for a least six months on or before May 29, 2015
  • registered to vote in B.C.
  • living in Metro Vancouver

You can register to vote or update your voter registration by calling Elections BC at 1-800-661-8683 (toll-free) or online at or in-person at a Plebiscite Service Office (open April 13, visit ‘Where’ for locations). You need your Social Insurance Number or your BC driver’s licence number to register or update by phone or online.


Q. What is the voting period for the plebiscite?

A. The voting period is from Monday, March 16 to 8 p.m. on Friday, May 29, 2015.

Q. Is there a cut-off date to ask for a voting package?

A. Yes. Voters have until midnight on Friday, May 15, 2015 to ask for a plebiscite voting package.

Q. Is there a time restriction for how long you have lived in Metro Vancouver to be eligible to vote in the plebiscite?

A. No. You must live in Metro Vancouver.

Q. Is there some way to vote in the plebiscite other than by mail?

A. No. The 2015 Metro Vancouver Transportation and Transit Plebiscite is a Vote-by-Mail plebiscite.

A voting package will be mailed to registered voters in Metro Vancouver between March 16 and March 27. If you are eligible to vote and do not get a voting package in the mail, call Elections BC at 1-800-661-8683 to register or to update your voter registration and ask for a voting package to be mailed to you. You have until midnight on Friday, May 15, 2015 to ask for a voting package.

Elections BC is opening nine Plebiscite Service Offices throughout Metro Vancouver on Monday, April 13. At a Plebiscite Service Office you can register to vote, ask for a voting package and drop off your completed ballot package.

Q. I am a registered voter living in Metro Vancouver, but will be away during the voting period. How can I vote in the plebiscite?

A. Call Elections BC at 1-800-661-8683 (toll-free in North America) or 250-387-5305 and ask for a voting package to be mailed to you at the address you will be at during the voting period.

Your completed ballot package must be received by Elections BC before 8 p.m. on Friday, May 29, 2015. The yellow return envelope is pre-paid postage if mailed within Canada. If you are mailing the package from outside of Canada, you will be required to include appropriate postage.

Q. I live in temporary housing in Metro Vancouver while working or going to school. How can I vote in the plebiscite?

A. You can vote in the plebiscite if you are:

  • a Canadian citizen
  • 18 years of age or older on or before May 29, 2015
  • a resident of B.C. for a least six months on or before May 29, 2015
  • registered to vote in B.C.
  • living in Metro Vancouver

You must register to vote or update your voter registration with your Metro Vancouver residential address.

Q. English is my second language. Does the voting package come in other languages?

A. Your voting package is printed in English. Translations of the voting package are available in the following 17 languages: Arabic, Chinese-simplified, Chinese-traditional, Dutch, Farsi, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese.

Q. Does my completed ballot need to be post-marked by May 29 in order to be counted?

A. Your completed ballot package must be received by Elections BC, either through the mail or at a Plebisicte Service Office by 8 p.m. on Friday, May 29, 2015. Any ballot package received after this time, even if post-marked, will not be counted. If you are submitting your ballot package close to the May 29 deadline, please ensure you allow sufficient mailing time, or to be certain, drop your completed ballot package off at a Plebiscite Service Office.

The yellow return envelope is pre-paid if mailed within Canada. If you are mailing the package from outside of Canada, you are responsible for including the approporiate postage.

Feb 2015 CUPE 2278 Membership Meeting Executive Report

Since being elected in October 2014, the current Executive has been working on several key projects in the following areas: day to day business, contract negotiation preparation, bylaws and executive policy manual development, and fostering stronger internal and external relations.

Day to day business

  1. In order to move forward with our new Executive, some training and education took place to acquaint new executive members with the day to day operation of the local within the UBC community, the CUPE community and the broader labour movement.
  2. The following committees or positions were staffed with members of the Executive and component committees
    1. Bylaw review- Trish E, Ed, Soheil, Barb, Trish F
    2. Bargaining Preparation Committee- Trish E, Ed, Adrienne, Carter,
    3. Social Media and Webmaster- Adrian and Trish E.
    4. Health and Safety- Adrienne and Ben
    5. Grievance Committee- meets on an ad hoc basis
    6. Staff Contract renegotiation- Trish E, Ed, Barb and Trish F.
    7. Privacy Officer- Ben
    8. VDLC Point Person- Adrienne
  3. A 5 year contract between CUPE local 2278 and our staff members Peter Lane and Bridget Donald (UNIFOR 467) has been negotiated and completed. The contract anticipates matching modest wage improvements in line with what we achieve at our own bargaining table in the coming months.
  4. Component I grievances continue to be handled by our Business Agent, Peter Lane.

Contract negotiation preparation,

  1. Ed Kroc has taken the reins of bargaining preparation and in consultation with other executive members and Business Manager Peter Lane, has developed a list of areas for potential improvement in our contract. Dates are not yet set with the employer to meet for contract negotiations, however once the contract committee is elected, preparation will begin in earnest with the intention of meeting with the Employer in the next few weeks.

Bylaws and executive policy manual development,

  1. this committee has worked extensively to bring our bylaws in line with the CUPE national constitution and currently awaits approval from the National office.

Fostering stronger internal and external relations.

  1. Meetings with the other CUPE local presidents at UBC have been fairly regular and a very positive relationship is developing between CUPE 116, 2278 and 2950. Moving toward bargaining, this reinforced solidarity will be an important part of resisting concessions at the bargaining table.
  2. President Trish Everett has regularly attended meetings of the CUPE Universities Committee, CUPE Joint Universities and Colleges Committee, the CUPE University Coordinated Bargaining Committee, the CUPE Young Workers Task Force and casual meetings with executive members from SFU’s TA union, the TSSU.
  3. Adrienne and Ben have actively participated on the University Health and Safety Committee and made reports to the executive about the university-wide initiatives discussed there and opportunities for cooperation.
  4. Several executive members have been actively in touch and participated in the #IAmAStudent movement fighting increased international tuition and housing fees.
  5. Trish Everett has met with AMS President Tanner Bokor and GSS President Collum Connoly about issues concerning our local members as well as areas in which CUPE 2278 can cooperate better with the AMS/GSS.
  6. Ed Kroc has recently completed a contract with CUPE National to investigate precarious labour in the University sector in BC. His report and recommendations will be used by CUPE to help combat the rising number of temporary, short term and contract labour in BC universities.
  7. Soheil Kianzad completed an introductory video explaining the work that CUPE 2278 does on campus to advocate for our membership. It is posted at and elsewhere.


Respectfully Submitted on behalf of the Executive of CUPE 2278,



Trish Everett