I wanted to share pretty good joke about academics – and at this time of year, when exams and term papers are stacked to the ceiling, who doesn’t need a good laugh?
Q: What do you call a train full of profs?
A: A tube full of smarties
You need to know a bit of British slang to get this one (the “tube” is slang for the subway).
There is a hashtag for academic humour #academicchristmashumour.
Only one joke is posted so far….what does that say about academic humour, I wonder?
Would You Like to Attend a Conference on Ensuring Student Success Across Institutional Parameters?
TUFA invites two members to attend the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations’ conference, “Ensuring Student Success,” which takes place January 20-21, 2012 in Toronto, will feature, according to OCUFA, “diverse and engaging speakers who will critically explore the idea of student success by unpacking the meaning of the term, examining the various ideas advanced to improve the student experience, and highlighting the structural realities that may help or hinder this goal.” Questions that will be explored at the conference include: What do we mean when we talk about student success? Are faculty, academic librarians, students, administrators and government talking about the same thing? How can we ensure that our students are getting the education they need to achieve their goals, be the citizens and leaders of tomorrow, and succeed in the workforce? Interested members (limited number due to funding restrictions) will have their registration fees and travel expenses covered. Please email Marcus Harvey at tufa at trentu dot ca to express your interest in attending.
Please note: the views expressed in this opinion piece are of the author’s and do not reflect the views of TUFA’s membership as a whole.
The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) released a shocking statement on academic freedom that has academia rightfully up in arms. The Canadian Association of University Teachers released a strong statement opposing the significant changes to academic freedom that the AUCC supports. If the AUCC has their way, faculty will remain “loyal” to their respective institutions by keeping their discourse framed within institutional parameters. At the heart of academic freedom is the ability to counter institutional practices and philosophies. Faculty perform as vital forces in the operation of the university, working to preserve and further the goals of the institution, which includes casting a critical eye on the institution in order to ensure, for example, its ethos. The AUCC implicitly casts this aspect of faculty life as a hindrance to the university.
The CAUT accurately claims that academic freedom must not be conflated with institutional autonomy. While the institution, ideally, protects academic freedom from outside interference by, for example, corporations, academic freedom must also be protected from internal pressures, and it’s this protection that the AUCC erases. In more polemical terms, the AUCC advocates silencing those who would “bite the hand that feeds them.” However, this master/slave dichotomy ignores the very nature of the university as a space for debate, conflict, and dialogue and not a corporate enterprise in which employees must toe a party line.
Rejection of the AUCC’s misguided statement has not only come from the usual suspects, but from a long-standing member of the AUCC, theUniversityofToronto. U of T’s president, David Naylor, recently released his letter to the AUCC rescinding his membership to the AUCC in a press release. He counters the AUCC’s claim that the new policy on academic freedom was unanimously endorsed by university presidents: he was not present and did not have the chance to vote. Therefore, the AUCC’s claim has the ring of “truthiness,” to quote Stephen Colbert. Dr. Naylor has ended U of T’s affiliation with the AUCC, claiming that he no longer has time to serve the organization, but if I may be so bold, it is clear that his resignation is based on more than an overloaded calendar.
The AUCC’s redefinition of academic freedom reflects the desires of many institutions and governments to go back to the “good old days” when faculty knew “their place,” which was to be silent about university governance, academic goals, research results, and so forth. Faculty fought hard to win the right of academic freedom, and we should be vigilant in the face of forces that work to repress freedom in research, creativity, and service. The stakes are very high: think of Dr. Nancy Olivieri and her fight to stop the production of harmful drugs. She was told to keep quiet, but she didn’t. She is only one voice of many who counter the “bottom-line thinking” that has infected the academy. I have heard my own colleagues being told to “keep quiet” about problematic institutional practices, or we will scare students away. Critical inquiry in a place of learning is crucial: turn up the volume on constructive criticism; don’t turn it down. No professor works an average of 50 to 60 hours a week at a place they hate; we put in these crazy hours, because we love what we do. However, as highly trained individuals who are often called upon to operate in leadership roles in the governance of the institution, we can see where improvements can be made.
The AUCC and the provincial government with their current campaign to give students “value for money” (by monitoring faculty even more than they already are) promises to quite possibly devalue the position of professor to nothing more than sycophantic (more on the government’s plans for faculty next blog post – to read a little more right now click here). But what did J.R.R. Tolkien teach us about sycophants? They are not loyal – worse, they will turn on their “masters” in an attempt to gain power. Dominance and subordination is no way to run any business, but in an institution of learning, it’s despicable.
On a final note, perhaps the AUCC’s statement throws an interesting light on the recently released academic plan discussion document by Trent’s Provost Planning Group? Is academic freedom challenged by the tentative academic plan? Your comments are welcome.
Most students do not fit the model of “entitlement” outlined in this article, but some of the responses to rude emails are very funny. In fact, I think that students will get a kick out of it as well. The disclaimer at the bottom of the article is heartening.
You can join the facebook group that the article discusses quite easily! Just click here.
Friends: the following is a letter sent from the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations regarding the rather shocking series of announcements the Ontario government has made concerning high education in this province. Please comment and share.
A number of faculty associations are hearing from university administrators that the Ontario government is set to embark on a significant “reform” of the higher education sector – therefore institutions need to be pro-active and position themselves to take advantage of anticipated government directions. And it would appear that some administrations are using these assumptions to re-orient their institutions into directions they would like to pursue. While it is assumed that the Ontario government has a fully-developed plan for a “more cost-effective model for delivering university education” ready to be implemented, this is simply not the case.
We do know, from the government’s past initiatives, the Liberal Party election platform, and the November 22, 2011 Throne Speech, that it would like to pursue certain initiatives — greater credit transfer between colleges and universities, more joint programming between colleges and universities, enhancements to online programs, more “accountability”. It has also committed to establishing three new satellite campuses in the Greater Toronto Area, which it would like to see as undergraduate institutions with a focus on teaching (as opposed to research). What this means in practice is still unknown.
The government will also be implementing an annual tuition grant of $1600 for up to 4 years of full-time undergraduate study for students from households earning $160,000 or less. The grant for colleges students will be $730. The cost of this program is estimated at $423 million starting in 2012-13, and rising to $486 million in four years.
In addition, the government has committed funding for 60,000 new spaces at Ontario’s universities and colleges by 2015-16, with $309 million in additional funding committed by 2013-14.
As well, the government states it is committed to following through on the Drummond Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Service, led by former TD Bank economist Don Drummond. The Commission is expected to report in January 2012, and its recommendations incorporated into the 2012 Ontario Budget. The recommendations will have implications for the broader public sector, including universities. To date, the government has stated that ” it will protect health care and education as the most important public services. Reforms will not compromise quality”. Of course what this means in practice is yet to be seen. It has been reported that in light of the government goal of balancing the budget by 2017-18, education funding will only be allowed to increase by 1% a year. Again, the devil will be in the details. What is clear is that funding for the higher education sector will focus on “affordabiliity” (i.e. the tuition grant) and accessibility (i.e. the 60,000 new spaces). There will be little funding available for needed quality improvements.
What is also clear is that various constituencies — for example, the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO), Ian Clark, David Trick and Richard Van Loon in their new book Academic Reform, Colleges Ontario — are lobbying the government to accept and implement their policy prescriptions for the “reform” of the higher education system. Those policy prescriptions are not the same, nor necessarily consistent with one another.
One policy prescription advocated particularly by HEQCO and in Academic Reformis the need for more “differentiated” universities — to which some university administrations are also responding. “Differentiation” is an abstract term meaning different things to different people.
There is currently no government policy on “differentiation”, and university administrators, although sometimes jumping on the bandwagon, have different ideas of what this ill-defined term means and how “differentiation” would be implemented. To date, no policy work has been done on encouraging “areas of strength” for universities on a system-wide basis, nor detailing what new accountability agreements will look like. In fact, when we speak to policy staff in the Ministry (i.e. not in the Minister’s office, where staff have just been hired) they have no clear idea where the government will be going in these areas, especially regarding the issue of university missions and “areas of strength”. Furthermore, there has been no policy work done on changing the funding formula to encourage “differentiation”.
Will the government undertake a fully-fledged restructuring of the higher education system? It is hard to crystal-ball gaze but it should be remembered that we are currently in a minority government, and it is more likely the attention of the government will be focussed on the health-care system. System-wide “reforms” can be hugely disruptive and politically perilous, especially in a minority-government situation. Where change does occur, it is safer for a government to do it incrementally.
Faculty associations will no doubt hear more about the need for greater “differentiation”, for faculty to do more teaching and for teaching-focussed institutions. OCUFA has responded, and will continue to respond, to those proposed policy “solutions” and will be running a campaign in the winter/spring on faculty concerns — which was noted at the October Board meeting, and will be discussed again at the February 2012 Board meeting. We are (and also will be) meeting regularly with government and the opposition parties to highlight our concerns, and will keep you informed about those discussions.
As well, at the December 2, 2011 OCUFA Collective Bargaining Committee meeting, David Trick will be making a presentation based on the book, Academic Reformwhich argues for more “teaching-focussed” undergraduate institutions, and for faculty to do more teaching. We will be providing a critique of that argument for those at the meeting. Their previous book, Academic Transformations by Ian Clark, Greg Moran, Michael Skolnik and David Trick, (2009) also argued for the creation of “teaching-only” universities in Ontario and “more learning per dollar”, as a form of differentiation, and the resulting cost savings, which we have also critiqued.
And as you may be aware, HEQCO put out a report on differentiation which OCUFA vigorously critiqued.
For the HEQCO paper:
For OCUFA’s response (and other critiques of relevance):
For a critique of Academic Transformations, please see the article by Ken Snowdon in Academic Matters:
OCUFA will continue to update you about Ontario government directions for higher education.
The Labour Appreciation Night put on by the Peterborough District Labour Council created a genuine atmosphere of solidarity and support. In academic circles, we have been under concentrated attack in one form or another for the last few years – from administrators claiming our salaries are too high to the province trying to impinge on collective bargaining rights through a variety of means. What the evening with our brothers and sisters revealed is that labour as a whole, whether faculty, public servants, or factory workers, are under pressure to conform to the expectations of the bottom-line (and “the bottomed out mind” to quote Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison). Here are a few pictures from award winning activists celebrated by the Peterborough District labour Council and its members
Brenda Smith-Chant and Sara Humphreys attended Labour Appreciation Night in solidarity with our union sisters and brothers, but also to pay tribute to TUFA’s former executive director George Hewison, a nationally recognized union and social activist. George was the keynote speaker for the evening and gave an impassioned speech on the Occupy movement. I can tell you from my own experience travelling through the U.S. and Canada that the movement is everywhere, and it is an inspiring protest, to say the least. George countered the prevalent ideology that protestors are disorganized and do not know what they want – poppycock, according to George. They want an end to the horror of trickle down economics that took serious hold in the early seventies. The Occupy protestors are not simply disenfranchised youth, but a group of workers – employed and not (and, therefore, taxpayers) – who want the kind of opportunities their parents enjoyed, but due to the clawbacks on hard fought workers rights – such as reductions in benefits and salary and increased work hours and so on – the new generation of workers are suffering. Quite simply, they cannot buy what they produce and this paradigm ALWAYS leads to some form of revolution. The talk was stimulating, accurate, and created a fervent solidarity. Kudos George!
The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) has just published its overview of party platforms concerning higher education. OCUFA’s report makes for interesting reading….here it is:
Higher education has become a significant issue in the 2011 Election Campaign, competing for attention
with the economy, job creation, and healthcare on the policy agenda. This is due to a variety of factors.
First, the citizens of Ontario are concerned with the accessibility and affordability of the university
system. Recent OCUFA polling indicates that, when primed, Ontarians list “affordability of PSE” just
behind “quality of health care” as the second most important issue facing the province, ahead of
unemployment and reducing taxes.1 As a result, all parties have introduced some form of financial relief
Second, the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, the Ontario New Democratic Party, and the
Green Party of Ontario are all responding to the Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty positioning himself as
the ‘Education Premier’. The opposition parties must pay attention to higher education to prevent the
Liberal Party from controlling the agenda on this important issue.
Finally, the university system is important to the economic and social development of Ontario. Any
political party interested in growing the economy and improving the job prospects of Ontarians – and
they are all concerned with this, for both idealistic and practical reasons – must have an effective set of
higher education policies. Considering these factors, it is no surprise that each party has put an
emphasis on higher education within their announced platforms.
But are these policies appropriate to the needs of higher education in Ontario? To answer this question,
it is important to clarify the policy outcomes that are desirable in the provincial context.
In order to ensure a high quality, accessible and affordable university system, the ideal platform would:
Each of the party platforms will be evaluated according to these desirable policies.
Funding enrolment growth
The Liberal Party of Ontario, Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, and the Ontario New Democratic
Party have all committed to funding 60,000 new spaces at Ontario’s universities and colleges by 2013-
14. However, it should be noted that this funding was announced in the 2011 Ontario Budget, so the
Liberals, PCs, and ONDP are simply continuing this previous policy. The Green Party of Ontario platform does not contain a specific reference to funding for enrolment growth.
Increasing per-student funding
While funding for growth is important, it is also necessary to increase the per-student funding level in
order to ensure universities are able to provide a quality education. Since 1990, the per-student funding
level in Ontario has declined by 25 per cent, and is now the lowest in Canada. Bringing in new students
at this inadequate per-student funding level puts additional pressure on institutions, and may lead to
larger student-to-faculty ratios, larger class sizes, and an unmanageable infrastructure debt. At present,
Ontario has the worst student-to-faculty ratio in Canada, at 27-to-1.
Of all the provincial parties, only the Green Party has promised to increase funding for universities,
funded through a postponement of pending corporate tax cuts. However, it is not clear if this funding
increase will be pegged to the per-student funding figure, or at what level they wish to set the per student amount.
The absence of increased per-student funding from the Liberal, PC and ONDP platforms is worrisome, as
it indicates a lack of awareness among these parties of the need for increased funding within the
university sector. Even with funding for additional student spaces, this status quo approach will tend to
exacerbate existing quality concerns within the university system.
Controlling the cost of higher education
Tuition fees in Ontario are the highest in Canada. This has many citizens justifiably concerned about the
affordability of higher education in the province. The OCUFA Poll found that 66 per cent of all Ontarians
– and 87 per cent of Ontarians aged 18-24 – think tuition fees are too high.
Given the visibility of the tuition fee issue, it is no surprise that every party has made affordability a key
component of their post-secondary education platforms. The PC party is proposing to make financial aid
more accessible to middle class families, thereby allowing a larger number of students to access loan
support. However, the PC platform does not make any provision for controlling the rise of Ontario
tuition fees or reducing actual up-front educational costs.
The Liberal platform proposes reducing post-secondary tuition rates by 30 per cent for lower- and
middle-class families through a new tuition grant, which would apply to full-time students in
undergraduate programs. The grant would be available to students whose families earn less than
$160,000 a year. It is claimed that this would result in an annual saving of about $1,600 per university
student and more than $700 for every student enrolled in college and cover more than 85% of Ontario
higher education students. The funding for the grant would be directed to each institution, and then
applied to a student’s tuition account. The cost of this initiative, which would begin on January 1, 2012,
would initially be $200 million, increasing to $486 million a year by 2015-16.
This is a significant initiative designed to address the affordability concerns held by the majority of
Ontarians. The scope of the program means that it will have a substantial effect on the upfront costs of
low- and middle-income students and their families, groups that have been disproportionately affected
by tuition fee increases. This policy is also attractive in the sense that it does not remove revenue from
the university system; institutions will receive the same tuition revenue as before, with students reaping
savings through an effective instant rebate. However, this policy does not actually control the rise of
tuition fees – they will continue to increase according the five per cent maximum mandated by the
current tuition fee policy. A policy, it should be noted, introduced and maintained by the Liberal Party.
The ONDP are proposing to freeze tuition at current rates, and eliminate the interest on student loans.
While this move will help control the costs of higher education, and significantly ease the burden of
repaying student loans, there are some problems with this proposal.
OCUFA’s position on tuition fee freezes has always been that such a move must be accompanied by
compensatory funding to universities. While freezing tuition fees improves affordability, it also removes
revenue from the university system in the form of projected fee increases. If this funding hole is not
filled with public funding, this will negatively impact university finances and may lead to a decrease in
quality. The NDP proposal only proposes compensatory funding of 2.5 per cent per year, or about $830
million. This is well below the 5 per cent revenue increase currently provided by the existing tuition fee
policy. In short, the NDP is proposing to fund only a portion of the total cost of the tuition freeze to
individual institutions. In a system that will be facing significant growth pressure, this will likely harm the
quality of higher education in Ontario.
The Green Party is also proposing a tuition fee freeze, and have indicated that they will “maintain
university budgets” for the duration of the freeze. This can be interpreted to mean that they will fund
the freeze at a level that does not remove revenue from the system. While this is a more appropriate
structure for a fee freeze, the Green Party has not provided costing data that describes how they will
fund this commitment.
Protecting collective bargaining and academic staff
In times of deficit, governments may seek savings by attacking the collective bargaining rights
of workers, or seeking to cap or restrain hard-won compensation and benefits. This is not only
unfair, but it is also misguided: broader public sector workers, like professors and librarians, are
members of the community and participants in the economy. Reducing their salaries and
benefits only serves to hurt Ontario families and the economic recovery.
The Ontario Liberal Party is committed to following through on the Drummond Commission on
the Reform of Ontario’s Public Service, led by former TD economist Dan Drummond. While this
commission has not yet reported, it is likely that its recommendations will have some
implication for the broader public sector, including universities. However, the Liberals have also
stated that they will not pursue “slash-and-burn” cuts in the public sector, and their platform
does not contain any specific reference to restraining public sector salaries or benefits.
Nevertheless, the McGuinty government did legislate a wage freeze for non-union employees in
the broader public service, and promoted a wage freeze policy for unions negotiating collective
agreements after the 2010 Ontario Budget. This record should be kept in mind while assessing
the labour-friendliness of the Ontario Liberal Party.
For their part, the PCs have signaled their intention to go after public sector compensation.
From their platform:
In recent years, arbitrators have awarded unions excessive contracts, even as Ontario has been
saddled with record deficits and a struggling economy. Ontario families get stuck with the bill.
We will fix this costly problem. We will require arbitrators to respect the ability of taxpayers to
pay, and take into account local circumstances. We will make the system more transparent and
accountable by requiring arbitrators to explain the reasons for their decisions. When arbitrators
make decisions that cost Ontario families money, those families deserve to know why.
The proposed attempt to restrain public sector salaries would be inappropriate and harmful, while the
interference with labour arbitration presents an untoward government intrusion into collective
The PC Party has also indicated a desire to go after unions themselves:
We will change Ontario’s labour laws to give union members more flexibility and a greater voice.
We will give all individuals the right to a secret ballot in certification votes. We will introduce
paycheque protection so union members are not forced to pay fees towards political causes they
Unions will be required to be transparent and open with their financial information, just as
businesses and charities are. This will enable union members to know exactly how their dues are
While these proposals are framed as protecting union members, they are really ways to limit and
weaken the political advocacy of unions in Ontario. Clearly, this is not something the OCUFA or its
members can support. Neither is it a necessary policy: Ontario union financial information is already
transparent, budgets are approved by union members or their delegates, and the allocation of funding
for advocacy is controlled through democratic means.
At this time, neither the ONDP nor Green Party has indicated any plans to go after public sector
compensation or interfere with the collective bargaining rights of unions and their membership.
One additional aspect of the Ontario Liberal Party platform deserves some attention. Their plan includes
establishing three “new, leading-edge undergraduate campuses” at a cost of $300 million in new funds.
Determining the location of these campuses will involve an application process, and the government
would look favourably on applications that emphasized regions partnering with colleges and
universities, that were job-focused, and also leveraged more credit transfer and online education
OCUFA has several concerns with this proposal. As in the past, capital funding for satellite campuses not
covered by the provincial government places strains on the operating funding of the parent institution.
As well, academic and non-academic services for students at satellites have been less available than
those at the main campus, and working conditions and governance provisions for faculty have, in a
number of cases, not been at the same standard as those on the main campus. The structure of the
Liberal plan may amplify these longstanding problems. The involvement of community colleges, the
emphasis on credit transfer and on-line programs, and the focus on employment-related education
could shape these new campuses in ways that would likely negatively affect educational quality,
conditions of work for faculty and librarians, and the student experience. Depending on whom the
government asks to respond to the request for proposals, these initiatives could put universities and
their academic communities at the margins of planning to the detriment of academic excellence. While
the devil is very much in the details with this type of proposal, there is reason to approach the Liberal
campus plan with some caution.
Conclusion: Missing Pieces
While growth and affordability have dominated the platforms of Ontario’s major political parties, there
is still far too little attention being paid to the issue of quality on Ontario’s campuses. Universities should
be open to every willing and qualified student, and tuition fees should likewise be affordable for Ontario
families. However, unless we ensure a quality learning experience, growth and affordability investments
will do little to enhance the education students receive. OCUFA will be working beyond the 2011
election to ensure that our institutions have the resources they need to provide an excellent education
for our students.
It is also disturbing to see anti-union and anti-public sector rhetoric advanced as part of a party
platform. This is harmful, divisive and ultimately counterproductive to the goal of a high quality
university system and an inclusive, prosperous Ontario.
We hope this document has clarified the various positions of Ontario’s political parties on the province’s
higher education system. Please consider these policies carefully, and raise your conclusions at an allcandidates
debate, on the doorstep when meeting candidates, and at the ballot box.
You can also register your support for higher education through OCUFA’s Quality Matters campaign (www.qualitymatters.ca). If you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact OCUFA at
The CAUT recently posted the following (hopefully) good news:
Librarians and archivists at the University of Western Ontario, who had been on strike since September 8, reached a tentative agreement on September 20.
“This strike was another example of the challenges faced by academic librarians as they resist attempts by university and college administrations to devalue librarians’ work and jobs,” said CAUT executive director James Turk.