In several of my previous columns I have mentioned restructuring trends both in Canada and in the U.K. that are working to separate teaching and research functions in universities. The ultimate goal of people at the forefront of these movements is to create a handful of super, elite universities that would concentrate on research while ignoring their teaching and service functions.
In almost every case, current collective agreements or framework documents negotiated between faculty and administrators specify that the responsibilities of full-time faculty are teaching, research or scholarship, and service. Sometimes these agreements, or university policies, specify how faculty members are to allocate their time among these three components and often suggest a 40-40-20 distribution. While there is considerable variation in these percentages, most faculty accept that they must contribute to these three functions as part of their job responsibilities. Now, some faculty may rarely teach at the undergraduate level but the change here will be when a whole class of professors in an institution never enters an undergraduate classroom. What are some of the techniques being used to separate teaching and research functions at some universities?
First, there is every indication that we are beginning to experience a shortage of qualified faculty. A report from the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada places the number of new faculty needed to replace those forced to retire at age 65 over the next decade in the thousands. This is more than could be supplied by the existing output from Canadian graduate schools. AUCC's solution was to lobby for the end of two-tier job advertising so that foreign nationals could be considered immediately for jobs at Canadian universities.
There is one solution to this perceived staffing crisis that is never mentioned. If mandatory retirement is a large part of the problem, get rid of it and retain faculty until they voluntarily retire. Admittedly, not all faculty support the abolition of mandatory retirement as they see it as a means for the professoriate to reinvigorate itself. Others say mandatory retirement discriminates against faculty, particularly women who have come late to academia.
Why have university presidents been silent on this matter, particularly when our new 65-year-old prime minister has taken the position that mandatory retirement should be abolished? Look around your campus. How many of your recent retirees are now back teaching on limited-term, or per-course, contracts. Maintaining mandatory retirement allows universities to capitalize on a qualified, talented pool of teachers at a lower cost. The number of retired faculty rehired on teaching-only contracts is likely to increase over the next decade, particularly when faculty are retiring with inadequate pensions.
Second, Canadian universities continue to emulate their American cousins and increasingly rely on contract employees. There is a legitimate role for per-course or other contract academic staff to play in universities. Often they bring professional expertise or assist with unexpected increases in enrolments. In other cases, universities prefer the use of sessional faculty because it's cheap labor.
One Ontario university president is alleged to have said, "Why should I put a $75,000 research professor in front of an undergraduate class when I can have it taught by a part-timer for $7,000?" We do not have a good idea of how many sessionals are employed at Canadian universities as Statistics Canada is unable to collect this information, as many universities claim they do not know how many part-time faculty they employ. Any company's board of directors would sack its CEO for making such a claim.
Faculty associations must oppose attempts to separate teaching and research functions, particularly the creation of teaching-only positions. This can be done by negotiating flexible retirement provisions that allow for early retirement as well as retirement after age 65. Hiring faculty back to teach after age 65 is proof they should not have been forced to retire in the first place. Some faculty associations have negotiated caps on contractual work in an effort to maintain full-time faculty numbers at specific levels. These caps recognize there is a legitimate need for a limited number of contract academic staff. This is a start but better provisions must be made for those contract academic staff already in academia.
Ignoring the needs of existing contract academic staff is another form of exploitation. Faculty associations must negotiate provisions that provide salaries, benefits and working conditions for contract academic staff that are
on a par with those offered full-time faculty. Faculty associations must oppose any attempts to put in place practices that exploit contract academic staff, such as requirements to teach five or six courses per semester with no opportunity to conduct their research.
There is a need to assist contract academic staff already in teaching-only positions to become competitive for transfer to full-time faculty positions by enhancing their research capability. These provisions should ensure that contract academic staff have the right to participate in research and that they are provided with access to the facilities they need to conduct their research or scholarship while in teaching-only positions. Contract academic staff should receive support for travel to conferences and opportunities to direct the research of both undergraduate and graduate students. Long-term, teaching-only staff should have the opportunity to retrain or to become familiar with new research techniques.
These are just a few suggestions that we must explore to maintain the academy as a place concerned with both teaching and research. In the meantime, contract academic staff should be given the respect that is due for the excellent work they do under very trying conditions.