May 14 2009

Recession Fallout and the New Salary Reinvestment Movement

Category: NewsBob Hanke @ 3:54 pm
Universities start to feel pinch
Schools cancel courses, scrap teaching positions, even disconnect phones to reduce costs
By Louise Brown (excerpted from the Toronto Star, May 14, 2009).

The recession has cost the University of Toronto law school two dream hires; professors whose job interviews the school cancelled abruptly last month because of a $2.5 million shortfall in its endowments.

What makes it worse to Dean Mayo Moran is that one already has been snapped up by a U.S. school.

“They were two great Canadians; one a specialist in international development and the other in health –” Moran stops herself before saying too much about who they were, because of confidentiality and just a little embarrassment.

“It doesn’t matter how spectacular they were – and they were terrific – but we couldn’t justify hiring them,” said Moran, who is scrambling to cut costs without touching the $2 million in aid so many students use to help pay the $20,000 tuition.

And so, for the first time, the world-renowned faculty will run a deficit the university will have to cover.

It seems even the Ivory Tower, hailed as a refuge from the storms of the marketplace, is having to batten the hatches in this economy.

At York University, where all departments have been told to chop 3.5 per cent from their budgets for each of the next three years, law Dean Patrick Monahan has postponed a search for two new professors; one a leading scholar in human rights, and another to fill a retirement.

“It’s not something we like to do, but if you have to make 3.5 per cent in cuts over the next three years, it’s very challenging,” said Monahan, noting he may have to chop the number of courses offered to upper-year students.

The recession also has prompted York to scrap small niche “majors” such as Russian Studies (which drew only two new students this year), cancel one of two Canadian studies programs and a small cultural studies stream of fine arts.

On a less lofty plane, York has cut office cleaning from every day to twice a week, is urging staff to curb BlackBerry use and may consider getting rid of professors’ clunky old land lines that get used so little in the era of email.

To read the rest of this story, click here.

NYU Applauds John Sexton’s $1 Salary

(excerpted from Take Back NYU!, May 13, 2009)

Our preemptive congratulations to New York University’s John Sexton on his expected announcement that the president will take a symbolic salary in the amount of $1 per year until the current fiscal crisis in academia ends. As the largest private university in the world, this move will send a strong signal to the NYU community, as well as colleges and universities around the country. NYU is committed to do everything in its power to remain a vital institution in the intellectual life of New York City. This sacrifice demonstrates the university’s outstanding commitment to research, learning, and preparing the next generation of scholars and leaders.

“If we are to maintain both the extraordinary academic momentum of recent years and the financial stability of our University, we will have to be particularly nimble and creative, ” writes Sexton. This announcement serves as proof of the creativity, innovative thinking, and commitment to learning that has made NYU famous throughout the world.

This is not merely a symbolic action, and the president’s $850,000 contribution is only the most visible in a groundswell of material support to be shown by administrators and stewards of the institution. In response, Provosts, Vice Presidents and Deans are likewise expected to unanimously announce temporary salaries of $22,000 per year. This amount is equivalent to what the university’s estimated cost of room, board and transportation in calculating stipends to teaching assistant in the New York City area. In order that this move does not disrupt the vital business of our university, these administrators will retain their subsidized housing in Manhattan and work-related expense accounts.

To read more about the salary reinvestment movement, click here.


May 11 2009

More Lessons from the Longest Strike

Category: Post-strike Discussion (2009)Bob Hanke @ 4:30 pm

Demanding the Impossible: Struggles for the Future of Post-Secondary Education[1]

by Tyler Shipley (excerpted from The Socialist Project, E.Bulletin, No. 215)

There is growing acknowledgement emerging from student and faculty associations across Canada that there is a crisis in post-secondary education and a need for real change in the structure of university funding. This has manifested as a proliferation of student and worker unrest across the country and, indeed, the world; in 2008 and early 2009, there were dozens of university strikes and occupations across the world marked both by broader ideological challenges to the prevailing social order as well as increased repression from campus and state authorities. In Montreal, a protracted faculty strike was supported by an active student movement at UQAM and ended in an impressive victory. Meanwhile, student movements like “Opiskelijatoiminta” in Helsinki, and occupations of university space at NYU and the New School in New York have drawn inspiration from the sometimes violent demonstrations in universities across France and countless other actions in Italy, Greece, India and elsewhere.

Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that there has been a simultaneous divergence of goals and strategies that has translated into fewer decisive victories in the long-term struggle for high-quality, accessible education.[2] The recent strike of graduate students and part-time faculty at York University in Toronto over the winter of 2008-09 confronted these questions directly. Many competing narratives will emerge from the CUPE 3903 strike, given its untimely end at the hands of back-to-work legislation, but it seems clear that most of its participants agree on one thing: the state of post-secondary education is in a bad way and it is quickly reaching its breaking point. This breakdown, especially as it has played out at York, is well documented in Eric Newstadt’s The Neoliberal University: Looking At The York Strike, published during the first weeks of the strike. Given his thorough exposition of the extent to which York has embodied the troubling neoliberal shift, he can perhaps be forgiven for the pessimistic tone of his analysis.[3]

Building on Newstadt’s framework, this piece will sketch a brief history of the funding crisis in post-secondary education in the hopes of highlighting what I think are the crucial pressure-points in fighting back the trends toward inaccessible and watered-down educational experiences for students and low-reward, exploitative working conditions for teachers. Unlike Newstadt, I believe that there are significant openings for radical transformations emerging in the current moment, provided we build the necessary political groundwork to sustain larger, broader and more militant student and faculty coalitions that can challenge the neoliberal status quo. But, as Newstadt convincingly illustrates, this struggle requires a nuanced and critical understanding of how the neoliberal university replicates itself in ever more nefarious forms.

The problems facing post-secondary education today cannot be addressed by working within the constraints of current university budgets; mismanagement of resources is certainly a time-honoured tradition at places of higher learning, but it is not the source of the problem. Further, it is not sufficient to locate the source of our troubles at, for example, the provincial level and commit ourselves to lobbying campaigns at Queen’s Park. Such efforts have proven themselves unable to bring the leverage necessary to alter the austere climate of neoliberal legislatures.

In contexts where collective bargaining and normal progressive strategies no longer make inroads against the underlying distribution of power and resources, political advance seems to run up against unmovable obstacles and defeat sets in even when only advancing minor reforms or attempting to hold onto the status quo. Being politically ‘realistic’ either continues the spiral of decline or begins to confront the limits. Hence the slogan of the CUPE 3903 strike, taken over from the Situationists during the May 1968 social movements, “be realistic: demand the impossible.”

Chronic Underfunding and the Neoliberal University

The strike by CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) 3903 set a record for university strikes in English-speaking Canada at 85 days. It is clear that the mobilization around the 2008 round of bargaining, and eventually the strike itself, was built around a growing recognition among academic professionals that the entire system of post-secondary education is eroding from the inside. Despite the fact that students are paying ever higher user fees in order to gain access to the intellectual establishment, their experiences once inside are increasingly mediated by an army of underpaid and overworked teaching assistants and contract professors who – far from being given the resources to adequately teach their students – are forced to take on hundreds of students each semester just to pay their bills from month to month. Graduate students, for their part, survive almost exclusively on student loans, amassing tens of thousands of dollars in debt on the promise of a sustainable tenured teaching career in their future. Only now are they beginning to discover that those careers are being eliminated in favour of contract work, and the skyrocketing attrition rates in graduate schools are a most immediate visible effect.[4]

Hardly cause for celebration, but you wouldn’t know it at York University.

To read the rest of this article, click here.


May 06 2009

Lessons from the Longest Strike

Category: Post-strike Discussion (2009)Bob Hanke @ 8:06 pm

Equity, ethics, academic freedom and the employment of contingent academics

By Linda Muzzin (excerpted from Academic Matters, May 2009)

The recent York University strike by contingent faculty has provided a focal point for discussion in my evening graduate course, “Faculty in Colleges and Universities” at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education this winter.

Among us are practising professionals, including a contingent faculty member, a college administrator, corporate lawyer, two high school teachers, and a physician, so it is not surprising that the ethics of professional practice, which I teach, are often on the table. For example, how do we reconcile the need of the administrators to be able to pick up the telephone and call a contingent faculty member to fill in for a class left suddenly without an instructor just before the class starts tomorrow with the reality that these “just in time” faculty are poorly paid and routinely treated as second-class citizens? And what are the ethics of an administrator determining which contingent faculty to recruit to teach a course?. Is the most eligible chosen, the most available or, perhaps, the admimistrator’s favourite? The increasing unionization of contingent faculty might be expected to address such inequities through a seniority system. But isn’t a seniority system incompatible with hiring the “best and the brightest”?

It helps that I recently led a research project that involved interviewing 160 administrators, as well as both tenure-stream and contingent faculty at Canadian universities and that I am currently involved in a similar study in Canadian colleges. As a feminist and anti-racist, I take every opportunity to emphasize the equity aspects of the situations we discuss, in the terminology of mainstream ethics, “social justice.” We distinguish “equality” ( based on individual rights and choices) from “equity” (that prescribes structural interventions when individuals and groups are not on a level playing field in terms of power).

For example, in the first half of the course, we review the faculty demographics that show women are not making it to the upper levels of the academic hierarchy to the extent their numbers would warrant. We also note the growth of the contingent faculty group, which contains fewer white men, proportionately, than there are in the tenured and tenure-stream groups. We deplore the failure of Statistics Canada to gather data on contingent faculty because we would like to examine this inequity. Why isn’t this data collected routinely? Is it merely an oversight? Or is there a conspiracy to hide inequities in postsecondary institutions? Or is contingent faculty just a phenomenon that we didn’t expect to be around much longer than the downsizing of the 1990s? Or is it, as at least one administrator in the class has suggested, that contingent faculty are a small, ephemeral group of people who don’t appear on any institution-wide lists because they are only around for a short time?

We know this last claim isn’t true, because contingent faculty members were a large enough a group at York University to have supported the recent strike. How large is the group? In the U.S., estimates vary, depending on who is included, but experts agree they are well over half of all faculty. Non-tenured academic positions are bewilderingly diverse, ranging from permanent affiliations (teaching stream and clinical faculty) through contractual (full-time term with or without benefits and administrative responsibilities) to sessionals or part-timers (paid by the hour for classroom time only). Arguably, these groups face similar problems with respect to job security and academic freedom, so they can be referred to collectively as “contingent.” This word denotes “of uncertain occurrence” and “incidental to,” in this case, the academic enterprise. The Oxford dictionary explains that a contingent is composed of “troops contributed to form part of an army.” This definition is particularly informative for this discussion, in that military service, distinct from other types of professional work, implies obedience to authority and a lack of autonomy that is necessary in order to function successfully.

To read the complete article, click here.


May 04 2009

University Finance and the Financial Meltdown

Category: Book Reviews,University FinanceBob Hanke @ 10:05 am

The Universities in Trouble (Or, Why we Need A User’s Guide to the Budget Crisis at York University like A User’s Guide to the Budget Crisis at UNC-CH)

by Andrew Delbanco (excerpted from the New York Review of Books, 56(8), May 14, 2009)


Since the financial meltdown began to accelerate last summer, the world has changed utterly for colleges and universities just as it has for everyone who had not been stashing cash under the mattress. Along with failing banks, auto manufacturers, and insurance companies, universities have been making headlines—especially those whose gigantic endowments (Harvard’s was approaching $40 billion before the crash) have sharply declined. Last year, politicians and pundits were complaining about the unseemly wealth of such institutions. This year, alumni are getting e-mails from beleaguered presidents assuring them that Alma Mater will somehow ride out the storm.

The headlines tend to focus on the collapse of institutional investments, which, indeed, has been spectacular. No one quite knows how much has been lost. Led by the example of Yale’s chief investment officer, David Swensen, whose Pioneering Portfolio Management is described by the chair of the Yale investment committee as “the best book ever written on managing institutional investment portfolios,” endowment managers had been shifting large sums toward illiquid assets such as private equity partnerships, which typically require periodic infusions of fresh capital, and whose current market value is virtually impossible to assess. This and other versions of “an unconventional approach to institutional investment” (the subtitle of Swensen’s book, first published in 2000 and recently reissued in revised form) worked very well during the boom years, bringing home double-digit returns.

Today, leading universities are reporting endowment losses of 20 percent or more, but some informed observers think that the true figure, at least in some cases, may be closer to 50 percent. Actions that would never have been contemplated a year ago, such as selling severely depreciated assets in order to meet cash obligations or issuing bonds at punitive interest rates, are no longer unheard of. And in the current market, would-be sellers and borrowers are finding few buyers or lenders.[1]

To read the rest of this review, click here.


May 02 2009

Share Your Strike Memories on TVO’s The Agenda

Category: Post-strike Discussion (2009)Bob Hanke @ 1:40 pm

This Week’s Topic: York at Middle Age

York University is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and on Wednesday, May 6, 2009, The Agenda will be discussing the university as it enters middle age. The producers would like to read your York story or anecdote. Whether it’s about casualization and precaritization, your feelings about being legislated back to work and the new collective agreement, or how you are reworking your courses and/or commuting to work to rule so as to resist returning to a “normal” working, teaching and learning relationship with students, please share.

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