Editorial—The Long and the Short of It

If you’re following post-secondary news, you already know about the strike action going on across Ontario’s post-secondary institutions.  From what I’ve read, there are two primary sticking points remaining on the table. The first is job security.  Universities and colleges across the province are moving more and more to sessional instructors and Teacher Assistants.  In a time of continually tightening budgets, this is understandable. They cost less, they allow the university to be more flexible to enrolment changes.  This lets them balance the demands of students, staff, and faculty with the demands of governments (and the public) that are not willing to take on the costs required to fully educate their citizens.

Regular faculty see this, naturally, as a threat.  After all, if you can hire two or three sessional instructors for the price of a single tenured professor, why on earth would you bother ever awarding tenure again?  Far better to save what money you have for the “star” researchers that are more likely to draw in the lucrative graduate students, and everything else that you’re forced to do by government you run as cheaply as possible.

The second sticking point is academic freedom.  University administration departments are expanding far faster than the academics they administer, and there is fear that this administration is moving into control over how courses are created, or even taught.  Regulations are drafted, often for sound financial reasons, about the number or types of textbooks that are allowed in a course. Methods of teaching are being proscribed by administrators who are making decisions based on what research shows them will attract more students (such as online learning).  Yet the faculty argues that these are the wrong metrics to be measuring how a course is made or taught, as it threatens the ability of the professors to fully communicate what it is they’re trying to teach.

To add to this, students are now coming forward with their reasonable demand that they don’t care what the problem is. They’ve paid money for these courses, they deserve to be taught

I don’t view any of these groups as being necessarily in the wrong, but the problem is that they have different goals.  The administrator’s goals are to make sure that the university is well-funded and successful. The faculty’s goals are to make sure that the teaching is the best possible to educate the students.  The students goals are, generally, to get through the requirements so that they can get their degree and move into the work-force.  The problem lies in that our governments are creating universities that are split in this manner.  And the root of that problem is us.

We, as citizens, have lost track of what governments are supposed to do.  Governments are supposed to organize society to protect the citizens from as much hardship as possible.  Students, administrators, and faculty shouldn’t be staring each other down. They should be getting together and getting to the source of the problem—governments putting budgets ahead of education.  Even though there is a wealth of evidence that the best cure for budget woes is a well-educated populace, even if that’s more expensive in the short term.

Until governments get beyond the short-term and look at the longer view, these types of difficulties are just going to get worse.  That’s the long and the short of it.   Enjoy the read!

  • President AUSU

    I love this editorial, Karl. I can honestly say that all too often, stakeholders are pitted against one another in a scramble for University dollars.

    • Karl Low

      What boggles my mind is that the scramble exists at all when it comes to teaching. We know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that education more than pays for itself. We figured this out with the kindergarten to grade 12 school system. Can you imagine how much poorer everybody would be if education up to highschool wasn’t a guarantee?

      Why then is it so hard for people to imagine that “Hey, maybe higher education would do the same thing?”

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