Category Archives: Faculty Unions

The Assault on Universities: A Review

Is there a worse possible fate for Canadian universities than the imminent future bearing down on universities in the UK? A 100 per cent cut to teaching grants for the humanities and social sciences; tripling of tuition fees to £9,000; up to 40,000 jobs lost and 49 universities (out of 130) at risk of closure.

These developments, set to go into effect in fall 2012, will add to the problems facing universities in light of recent cuts of £1 billion and the ongoing sector marketization and privatization via reforms first introduced by New Labour. These processes include the real or perceived corruption of the academy via the pandering to donors, such as the scandal surrounding the £1.5 million donation from a charitable foundation run by Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of the late Libyan leader, to the London School of Economics.

Such changes will compound the decade-plus impact of research and teaching ‘assessments’ on universities that have led to the wholesale closures of departments, including traditional academic subjects such as biology and English, because of ‘mediocre’ or ‘poor’ performances in research or teaching or in attracting students.

The blind faith in market fundamentalism has evolved via the last 15 years of higher education policy into a ‘logic’ that means even a top performance rating will not guarantee your survival.

No story encapsulates this disastrous logic better than the closure of Middlesex University’s philosophy department and its flagship, world renowned Centre for Research into Modern European Philosophy in 2010, despite earning the highest performance research grade (5P). Middlesex will continue to collect £175,000 per year in additional funding for quality over the next four years.2

The arts and humanities dean’s justification for the closure was “… that, it made ‘no measurable contribution’ to the university” (p. 21) or, in other words, it “brought in a lower per capita income … and therefore seemed uneconomical.” (p. 23)

This logic, which can undermine even the most successful and prestigious of programs, is reflected in the “rise of McKinseyism, the doctrine that things that cannot be measured have no value.” (p. 21)


To read more of this review of The Assault on Universities: A Manifesto for Resistance, edited by Michael Bailey and Des Freedman, London: Pluto Press, 2011, please go to The CAUT Bulletin, Vol.59, no.5 (May 2012): [http://www.cautbulletin.ca/en_article.asp?SectionID=1405&SectionName=Bookshelf&VolID=342&VolumeName=No%205&VolumeStartDate=5/11/2012&EditionID=36&EditionName=Vol%2059&EditionStartDate=1/19/2012&ArticleID=3484]

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Filed under Canadian Universities, Cutbacks, Democracy, Economics, Education, Faculty Unions, Higher Education, Private Universities, Public Sector, Tuition, Uncategorized

UWO’s Offer to Post-Docs Reveals the De-valuation of Academic Knowledge

The Public Service Alliance of Canada’s (PSAC) campaign to win fair wages and working conditions for post-doctoral researchers (post-docs) at the University of Western Ontario, in London, Ontario, Canada, reveals much about the downward push on the conditions of academic workers in Canadian universities in particular and academics in general.

‘Postdoctoral Associates at UWO been trying to negotiate a first collective agreement for two whole years and negotiations have stalled once again. They are being offered a mere $10.93 an hour – that’s only 68 cents above minimum wage for highly trained academics with PhDs!’ [From PSAC National’s website: (http://psac.com/news/2011/bargaining/20110627-e.shtml)%5D

The conditions faced by the post-docs at UWO are similar to the increasing situation of knowledge workers and academics throughout much of the English-speaking/Anglophone world: the conditions that academics and students in the UK are facing are truly bleak (though there is hope in the organisation and solidarity across institutions and groups, as the attacks on the public sector have broadened out to include virtually every sector of the public and civil service).

At Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) in Waterloo, Ontario (about one-hour’s drive from UWO), contract faculty (known as Contract Academic Staff or CAS) are waiting for early September to ratify a new contract that was recently negotiated after their last contract expired almost one year ago (2010). Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty Association (WLUFA), representing the CAS members, has to wait until most of the bargaining unit arrives on campus.

However, given the ways in which the Administration treated them during the last set of negotiations, I would not hold my breath that the contract reflects in any way an adequate recognition of their expertise, education and experience.

The CAS at WLU were forced into a strike back in March-April 2008 because of the low regard held by the Administration towards CAS. For example, one CAS member spoke to me about receiving a doctorate from WLU while at the same time the institution was trying to lower his conditions and pay to McJob wages that younger generations face (i.e. the two-tier work hierarchy that has become increasingly the norm at all kinds of workplaces).

There is a very simple way to determine the value by which university administrations regard the workers, whether academics or cleaners, who make the institutions work: their pay and benefits.

Money in our society is the measure of all things. (Don’t university presidents and provosts claim this when they are trying to explain their six- and seven-digit salaries and benefit packages?!)

Dr Amit Chakma, the President and Vice-Chancellor of UWO, is sending a clear and unequivocal message to all and sundry: someone with three degrees, including a PhD, is worth $10.93 (Canadian) an hour.

Why go into debt (a ‘mini-mortgage’) to be treated – and paid – about the same as a ‘fast-food’ restaurant worker?

How much does UWO, WLU or any university charge for their graduate tuition?

Indeed, how much are they charging for undergraduate tuition? Is it worth it when the university administrations insist on paying as little as possible?

Whether you like it or not, money is the measure of value in our society.

So, regardless of what Dr Chakma or any other university president says, what they offer in concrete, material terms (i.e. how much are they willing to pay or what kinds of benefits are they willing to provide?) indicates the regard within which they hold the PhD or any other academic degree (which, of course, is ironic in so many ways!).

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A Modest Proposal for Linking Tuition Fees to Minimum Wage

If increasingly employers require a minimum of an undergraduate degree, even when the necessary job skills do not demand such education (and perhaps such demands are used as a means to sift through greater numbers of applicants for fewer positions), then surely it is a broader responsibility than the student’s (or her/his family’s) to pay for that education.

If it is the case that employers demand that new employees have a degree, then surely there needs to be some kind of commitment from those employers who are the beneficiaries of their new recruits studying for their university degrees. That is, perhaps employers need to think about paying for the education of the people that they hire – or paying their ‘fair share’ in taxes to support such educational provision.

We also have to rethink about providing access to a greater number of young people to obtain the necessary education to earn the degree while thinking about how it should be paid for.

So, I am wondering if it is more ‘realistic’ or ‘pragmatic’ to propose a linking of tuition fees to a certain number of weeks of employment at a minimum wage?

Essentially, I would suggest that we identify a reasonable number of weeks at full-time hours at minimum wage to be equated to one year’s tuition fees for undergraduate education in the humanities and social sciences (or ‘liberal arts’). (Perhaps, sciences, engineering and related disciplines may require a slightly different model, but I will confine my proposal to the areas I know best.)

While the first university degree, the bachelor of arts or science or education, is becoming the equivalent of the high sch0ol diploma, then perhaps we have to work to ensure greater access by more youth to the first degree as part of a social-economic commitment of the nation to its youth.

While my proposal is primarily directed towards the Canadian situation, it may also have some impact upon those involved in combatting the tripling of tuition fees at universities in the UK (I have been both a student and a lecturer in post-secondary institutions in Canada and the UK).

As you can read in a wee bit more detail below (and in an earlier post in this blog where I made a comparison between the late 1970s and today), I would suggest that it should be in the 4-6 week range. That is, we should think about 160-240 hours (4-6 weeks of 40 hours per week) of full-time minimum wage work.

This link would also have an impact upon the concerns and issues in linking up student jobs and what they earn or, more commonly, what minimum wage pays.

Indeed, perhaps such a link would also work to help identify the problems that minimum wages generally don’t meet the costs of living in the same way that the ‘living wage’ does (perhaps there will be the belated recognition that current minimum wages are any where near what they were in the 1970s and early 1980s).

However, we shouldn’t expect people to have to pay more than the 4-6 weeks of work at minimum wage especially when the lack of employment opportunities often force young people to take contract, temporary and part-time employment.

 

Below are the comments that I made that helped to formulate this proposal, and which are posted on the University Affairs website with the original column by Dr Doug Owram and his thoughts on tuition fees, which can also be accessed via the link (http://www.universityaffairs.ca/thoughts-on-tuition.aspx).

While I appreciate your identification of inflation as part of the equation that saw the low percentage of university costs (or income?) paid for by student tuition fees, I do think we have to consider something comparable between minimum wage rates and tuition fees to make universities accessible for students from non-affluent backgrounds.

As a working-class teenager, the costs of tuition were always a concern. I certainly would not go to any university, including the one that I teach at now, with the kind of costs that I have to incurr.

In 1978, however, I could afford to go to university (in BC)for the equivalent of 4 weeks of full-time work (40 hours per) at minimum wage ($3 per hour). In Ontario at present, students pay closer to 16 weeks: basically four (4) times the amount of work that my generation had to do to pay for tuition.

I don’t believe that it is just the cost of faculty salaries that is a root cause here if for no other reason than classes are so much larger than what I took when I was an undergraduate.

For example, in my department at Wilfrid Laurier University, we teach first-year classes of 300-400 students. Our third-year classes are 50 and last year many classes exceeded that number to cope with cutbacks by the Administration (even though the provincial government made no cutbacks).

However, the Administration has been expanding the number of administrators (estimated at a 48% increase in the last five years versus a 13% increase in faculty and a 18.5% increase in students). (These are the University’s own numbers, by the way.)

Compare that with the late 1970s and early 1980s and third-year classes of 15-30 students (I think there was one I took – a required course – with around 40-50 students in it). My professors were usually full-time and permanent, whereas today at my own university at least 35-40% of classes are taught by Contract Academic Staff or contract faculty (who may be teaching at more than one university to try to earn enough to pay off student loans and other debts incurred while studying for a doctorate). (This, of course, is another issue: the lack of respect shown by Administrators for contract faculty in terms of pay and conditions. Ironic, isn’t it, that universities encourage people to study for a PhD and then want to hire them at McJob rates of pay – even when they’ve earned the PhD from the very same university that treats them with such disdain?!)

Part of it the problem are the low wages available to students when they do graduate: many students also study for a one-year diploma in PR or marketing or Human Resources but still end up working for $25-30,000 per year in Toronto and owe anywhere from $25-42,000.

Universities need to re-think what is at the heart of their mission as well as rethinking how they charge for tuition. Perhaps, we need to consider what the minimum wage is and ensure that NO student has to pay more than say four (4) to six (6) weeks of minimum wage for their full-time university tuition fees.

Universities also need to re-think why they have become so top-heavy with senior administrators and why so much money is being expended in extra-curricular areas rather than in the core missions of the university: teaching and research.

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Filed under Canadian Universities, Economics, Education, Faculty Unions, Higher Education, Tuition, Uncategorized, Wages, Youth