Nov 10 2012

2013 OCUFA Conference Addresses the Austerity Agenda

Category: Conferences,University FinanceBob Hanke @ 6:34 pm

Academia in The Age of Austerity

Governments in Canada and elsewhere have embraced “austerity” as a necessary public policy to eliminate budgetary deficits and ensure future prosperity.  How has this “austerity agenda” affected faculty, students, administrators and institutions in Ontario, in Canada, and globally?  Is “austerity” inevitable, or are there alternatives?   And what might universities do now, and in the future, in response to the “austerity agenda” or possible alternatives?

The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Association’s 2013 Conference –   “Academia in the Age of Austerity” – will seek to answer these questions and more. Join us for two days of insightful presentations and engaging discussion with speakers and participants from universities, research institutes, government, and the private sector in Canada, the United States, and Europe.  The conference will critically explore the idea of “austerity” by unpacking the meaning of the term, its implications and impact on higher education, as well as consider other possible policy directions.  Like previous OCUFA conferences, a diversity of views will be sought in each of the keynote and panel sessions.

The conference will take place on January 10-11, 2013 at the Pantages Hotel in Toronto.

For more information about this conference, follow this link.

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May 10 2010

CUPE National Report: Have U, Have Not U

Category: Online Publication,Research,University FinanceBob Hanke @ 4:39 pm

Have U, Have Not U
(excerpted from CUPE National, May 6, 2010)

In September 2009, five Canadian universities proposed to change the way our Post Secondary Education system is organized and funded in Canada. The University of British Columbia, University of Alberta, University of Toronto, McGill University and the Université de Montréal, now known as the “BIG 5”, proposed the division of our current public system where universities would become either a research intensive or a teaching institution and would specialize in either graduate or undergraduate education. Federal funds would be differentially allocated according to the financial needs of the few universities who “specialize” in research and graduate teaching, and all others who specialize in teaching and undergraduate education. They claim this proposal to be in the interest of “world class” research, innovation and global competitiveness.

The BIG 5 proposal is a response to this funding crisis that signals to us that our academic institutions are beginning to engage in a battle amongst themselves for scarce resources and proper funding.

To read the complete report, click here.

For companion reading, see The Rise of  Network Universities: Higher Education in the Knowledge Economy by John Pruett and Nick Schwellenbach.

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Jan 04 2010

What is to be Done in 2010?

Category: News,University FinanceBob Hanke @ 1:08 am

The President’s “Report to the Community 2009” mentions the 2008-09 CUPE strike once but neglects to consider how the “economic downturn” (aka recession) is giving impetus to the growth of contract faculty (aka adjunct or contingent faculty).  Hidden contract faculty at York, both unionized and nonunionized, look forward to the new year and the President’s Task Force on Faculty Life, Learning and Convergence, and its  recommendations for transforming precarious into sustainable academic livelihoods.  For starters, the Task Force could study and report on an Affirmative Action Convergence Program that would unite YUFA full-time tenure track and tenured faculty and librarians with contract faculty. For qualified contract faculty, the Task Force could recommend that Academic Employee Relations start to define seven years of intensive ”part-time’ teaching as probationary towards tenure. Finally, how about implementing a quota that would limit the percentage of  ‘part time’ hires, starting with the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (FLA&PS), in order to address the casualization of academic labour and the disappearance of tenure track employment?

While we wait for this Task Force to be struck and redefine the possible, the good news is that there is no shortage of money at York. According to Shoukri’s report, “Despite challenging economic times, the campaign has raised more than $190 million towards its $200 million goal.”

While CUPE Unit 2 members may look forward to initiatives that address the sustainable livelihoods issue, we can read the news that is fit to print in the Education Life section of the The New York Times:

The Case of the Vanishing Full-Time Professor
By Samantha Stainburn (excerpted from The New York Times, December 30, 2009)

If you’ve written a few five-figure tuition checks or taken on 10 years’ of debt, you probably think you’re paying to be taught by full-time professors. But it’s entirely possible that most of your teachers are freelancers.

In 1960, 75 percent of college instructors were full-time tenured or tenure-track professors; today only 27 percent are. The rest are graduate students or adjunct and contingent faculty — instructors employed on a per-course or yearly contract basis, usually without benefits and earning a third or less of what their tenured colleagues make. The recession means their numbers are growing.

“When a tenure-track position is empty,” says Gwendolyn Bradley, director of communications at the American Association of University Professors, “institutions are choosing to hire three part-timers to save money.”

While many adjuncts are talented teachers with the same degrees as tenured professors, they’re treated as second-class citizens on most campuses, and that affects students.

It’s sometimes harder to track down adjuncts outside of class, because they rarely have offices or even their own departmental mailboxes.

Many patch together jobs at different colleges to make ends meet, and with commuting, there’s less time to confer with students or prepare for class. It’s not unusual for adjuncts to be hired at the last minute to teach courses they’ve never taught. And with no job security, they may consider it advantageous to tailor classes for student approval.

Colleges tend to play down the increasingly central role of adjuncts. This fall, the American Federation of Teachers complained that some top-ranked universities exaggerated the percentage of full-time faculty to U.S. News & World Report for its rankings. U.S. News declined to investigate.

Another source is the “Compare Higher Education Institutions” search tool at A.F.T.’s Higher Education Data Center. These are the stats that colleges report to the federal government.

Ask admissions officers point-blank: what percentage of classes and discussion sections are taught by part-timers and graduate assistants, and are they required to hold office hours?

For entry-level classes — the ones tenured faculty famously don’t want to teach — the squeaky wheel often gets a full-time professor, says Harlan Cohen, author of “The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College.” “If you’re not thrilled with your adjunct professor,” he says, “go to the head of the department and see what options are available. They may put you in a different section.”

If you take a strict anti-adjunct stance, you may miss out on some star instructors — Barack Obama taught a seminar on racism and the law at the University of Chicago Law School as an adjunct. Professoring part-time is a hobby for overachieving architects, graphic designers, lawyers and entrepreneurs, all of whom can share insights from real-world experiences that full-time academics haven’t had.

“Before making assumptions that an adjunct is bad, Google them,” Mr. Cohen says. “You may find that real estate teacher is one step removed from Donald Trump, and these are the types of people you want to meet.”

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Dec 03 2009

Students Shouldn’t Pay for Crisis

Category: Book Reviews,University FinanceBob Hanke @ 3:13 pm

Underfunding shortchanges students
by Mark Langer, President of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations

(excerpted from the Toronto Star, Wednesday, December 2, 2009)

In the recently published book, Academic Transformation: The Forces Shaping Higher Education in Ontario, co-authored by Ian D. Clark, Greg Moran, Michael L. Skolnik and David Trick, the authors argue that the current model of university education in Ontario is “unsustainable.”

They conclude that our university system can only be sustained if we create a new model, with new universities that offer just undergraduate degrees and employ faculty who spend the majority of their time teaching, performing little or no original research. The book is thoughtful and well-written. But the conclusion it reaches, simply put, is wrong.

It’s not our university model that’s the problem in Ontario. It’s the funding, or more accurately, the lack of funding. For more than a century-and-a-half, Ontario has been a world leader in providing affordable public education to all, but it is abandoning that commitment.

The Ontario government’s per-student funding to universities has fallen since the 1970s from $6,500 to $4,200 (in current, inflation adjusted dollars), a full 35 per cent, more than a third. California, by way of comparison, invests twice as much as Ontario per student: $9,500.

The results are stark. Skyrocketing tuition, enormous classes, fewer courses, impoverished libraries, outdated labs and equipment, shabby facilities – and most troubling of all – the underpaying, undervaluing and sheer exploitation of a generation of new faculty who work on short-term contracts for poverty wages, with no benefits and no job security.

Faculty share the authors’ concerns about the state of higher education in Ontario and have been warning about its deteriorating quality for years. But the authors’ proposal is not about offering a better education, or even the same quality of education. They want us to offer a cheaper education by way of lower-paid, teaching-only faculty.

The authors assert that university teaching is not enriched by university professors conducting original research in addition to teaching. But their assertion is belied by another publication from the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, the same body that commissioned Academic Transformation. This publication points to a number of empirical studies demonstrating that university teaching and university research are related. It also points out that there are a number of studies which demonstrate that students support this view.

University research and university teaching depend on one another. Mutually supportive, together they enrich the students’ classroom experience while enlivening faculty research. So, contrary to the authors’ assertions, their model is not going to offer our students a better quality education. It will not even provide the same quality of education. It will give students only a lower-cost education, a degree on the cheap.

We can’t do university education on the cheap and do it properly.

Where will the necessary funding come from? There are really only two sources of base funding for Ontario universities: tax dollars from the province or student fees. Consequently, there are only so many policy options available to the government.

It can continue to underfund universities and force students to make up university budget shortfalls. (Today’s students are paying 43 per cent of university operating budgets, up from 15 per cent in the 1980s.) Or it can provide lower-quality education by creating universities whose lower-paid faculty are not robustly engaged in original, teaching-enhancing, research.

Or it can increase public investment in our university system.

Ontario’s gross provincial product grew at almost twice the rate of inflation between 1983 and 2008, meaning our wealth almost doubled. But we have not invested in our public services. Quite the opposite: the Mike Harris government’s tax cuts – mostly favouring the well-off – are costing Ontario’s fiscal capacity $11 billion a year.

Ontario needs to offer our students – not to mention our families, our society, our communities and our economy – a high-quality, world-class, university education. We don’t need to make our university system “sustainable” by sacrificing the next generation of students and the next generation of faculty. We just need to invest in higher education in a way that recognizes its importance to our future. We can afford it.

In fact, given the uncertain times we live in and the challenges ahead, we can ill afford not to.

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Nov 15 2009

Selling Out the Public University

Category: Research,University FinanceBob Hanke @ 12:21 pm

Corporatized universities devalue education

by Howard Woodhouse (excerpted from the Toronto Star, November 15, 2009, p. A21)

Governments, corporations and most university administrators regard Canadian universities as “engines of economic growth.” Their function is no longer the search for truth, but to increase global competitiveness.

Critical questions about this new orthodoxy are rarely raised. The goal of education, after all, is the advancement and dissemination of shared knowledge, whereas the goal of the corporate market is the maximization of stockholder value. Unless these opposing value systems are recognized, the distinctive features of education are subjugated to the demands of the market.

Some university presidents have expressed skepticism toward the market model of education. Several years ago, Colin Starnes, then president and vice-chancellor of University of King’s College, argued that underfunding by the federal government over a 20-year period (amounting to 30 per cent on a per student basis) combined with increasing student enrollment (more than 60 per cent) had resulted in “a rising tide” engulfing universities.

Two related currents in this tide particularly concerned Starnes: The pressures and benefits of a vastly increased research agenda had, in turn, created a new environment in which undergraduate education was being “privatized” in the form of a dramatic increase in tuition fees. The distinctive features of openness, accessibility and quality were under threat. The net result was that the Canadian university system was becoming much more like that in the United States.

The pace of privatization has since increased, including further increases in tuition fees. The federal government would now have to invest an additional $4 billion a year in universities just to return to the funding levels of the early 1980s.

The Innovation Agenda was first introduced by the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien in the late 1990s. The panel which designed the initial report comprised CEOs of private banks and corporations in addition to the president of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. Not a single faculty member was included on the panel of “experts.” The report defined innovation in exclusively economic terms as the overriding need for universities “to bring new goods and services to market.”

As a result, the federal government required universities to produce research that primarily serves the needs of the market. Matching funds for such research must be found from the provinces and the private sector. Universities and provincial governments have been forced to comply with an Innovation Agenda that undermines the institutional autonomy of universities.

The explicit goal of the Innovation Agenda was to have Canada move to fifth place in the world – from its position as 14th – in research support in order to increase economic productivity. But the agenda has failed to achieve its goal. Canada has not moved into the top five countries in the OECD, our capacity to compete in the global market is much the same as it was, and universities remain chronically underfunded.

A reasoned response would be for university presidents to call for a reassessment of the Innovation Agenda together with a large increase in government funding. But the presidents of the so-called “top five” universities (Toronto, British Columbia, Alberta, McGill and Montreal) have done the opposite.

They want a larger share of existing research money and graduate education for themselves. They believe that other universities should focus on undergraduate education, which is seen as a lesser activity. Indeed, University of Toronto president David Naylor has called for more “differentiation” among universities – just the kind of system which Starnes and others have been decrying.

In order to counteract this trend, faculty, students and the general public must remind governments of their responsibility to fund the entire university system as the only place in society where the critical search for knowledge takes precedence.


Howard Woodhouse is professor of educational foundations and co-director of the University of Saskatchewan Process Philosophy Research Unit. His book, Selling Out: Academic Freedom and the Corporate Market, was published by McGill-Queen’s University Press.


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