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CAUT Bulletin Archives

May 2009

Reflections on the Academy

By Robert Sweeny

Historical Identities: The Professoriate in Canada

Paul Stortz & E. Lisa Panayotidis, eds. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 2006; 450 pp; ISBN: 9780802090003, cloth $74 ca.
Six tenured professors (five of whom teach in education faculties), five retired historians, two with tenure-track appointments in interdiscipli­nary studies, and a sessional lecturer collaborated on this eclectic collection. These basic issues of discipline and status are relevant because they reflect the types of concerns that surface all too rarely in this occasionally intriguing, but frequently flawed book.

To start, the editors decline to define professoriate, letting “the contributors … instead offer the arguments.” (p. 21) Only one, the well-known CAUT activist William Bruneau, accepted the challenge. He defined a professor as anyone with a reasonable expectation of ten­ure, no longer seeking a degree, who has the right to teach at a university. (p. 32) Now this eminently reasonable definition eliminates from the professoriate perhaps half, certainly 40 per cent, of the people currently teaching undergraduate courses in Canada, but no one seemed to notice.

Given the diversity and range of case studies offered up, this neglect, if not benign, is at least understandable. Women’s history, mistakenly presented by the editors as “gendered voices” (as if the male professorate were not gendered), looms large with three studies on women religious, and one each on being a lesbian, being a woman in science and being a faculty wife. Politics are the official remit of two essays. Five essays deal with how the professoriate evolved.

In a remarkable study, Thérèse Hamel examines how the people felt who were caught up in the maelstrom of merging teaching-training normal schools into university-based faculties of education in Quebec in the 1960s. Hamel uses autobiographical narratives to capture the qualitative essence of a traumatic transformation that could so easily have been reduced to a quantitative tale of progress, as Malcolm MacLeod did in his contribution on hirings at Memorial University.

Hamel’s study reveals that this cornerstone of a “not so Quiet Revolution” (p.186) in education was a highly gendered assertion of academic training over practical experience. Only one in 50 teachers at normal schools for girls made the transition to being a university professor, versus four in 10 for teachers at schools for boys and three in 10 at integrat­ed schools. Nuns were the greatest victims, and it is their subsequent trajectories and memories of the reform that make this article so moving.

If the role of women religious is well known in Quebec, the same cannot be said for English Canada. Elizabeth Smyth’s fine over­view ar­ticle combined with Dianne Hallman’s sympathetic study of Irene Poelzer of the University of Saskatchewan should help change that situation. Lay women may not have had it much better, if one can generalize from the series of mini-biographies Marianne Ainley presents of women in science.

A recurring theme here and elsewhere is the systematic firing of female professors if they married a colleague. This policy appears to have been widespread until well into the 1960s. Much earlier alter-native spousal arrangements explored by Cameron Duder certainly seemed to have been more fulfilling than the postwar decline into desperate and marginalized existences of faculty wives in British Columbia studied by Alison Prentice.

In his classic The Vertical Mosaic (1965) John Porter had argued that faculty’s low level of participation in public life reflected the influence of Harold Innis’ disdain for the political process. Michiel Horn, another scholar well known to CAUT activists, challenges this explanation in a detailed survey of political action and administrative policies at English Canadian universities. He found that until the 1960s it was commonplace for faculty to have to resign their position to run for public office. While some nonethe­less did participate, far more chose the civil service over elected office.

Steve Hewitt asks the uncomfor­table question of how many faculty acted as police informants on col­leagues and students? Censorship of RCMP and CSIS records makes a clear answer almost impossible, but one does come away from the article with the feeling that for every F.R. Scott or Frank Underhill there was a faculty member acting on anti­thetical ethics. Apparently their numbers grew with the Cold War and particularly during the turbulent 1960s and early 1970s.

Barry Moody argues that a 1880s debate over a hiring at Acadia Uni­versity set the stage for many of the collegial disagreements that marked the 20th century. Co-editor Lisa Pa­nayotidis examines how caricatures in turn of the 20th century student publications constructed perceptions of the professoriate at the University of Toronto. MacLeod ana­lyzes the extraordinary numbers of hirings at Memorial up to 1970 to argue that there was no gender, class or ethnic bias, leaving one to wonder why the turnover was so remarkably high.

Co-editor Paul Stortz writes of the childhoods of professors in the arts faculty at the University of Toronto from 1935 to 1945. This is the period Ainley had shown to be crucial in the emergence of a female professoriate, but they were primarily lecturers and Stortz only examined assistant professors and higher ranks. His tale is spun from the purple prose of hagiographies and memoirs of the most prominent of professors: “Mary, Innis’s mother, by virtue of her ‘alert, direct, faintly appraising gaze (which) bespoke intelligence and character’ unswervingly directed Harold towards higher education.” (p.359)

The only exploration of the impact of professional schools is Donald Fisher’s account of how the social sciences, in particular business, changed the academic culture at Bishop’s University. The abandonment of a liberal arts education in favour of a more utilitarian approach Fisher linked to a crisis engendered by the creation of Quebec’s CEGEPs in 1967 that “produced a sharp reduction in numbers of both students and faculty members, not only in the social sciences, but across the campus, and an ensuing malaise about the university’s role and its future.” (p.159)

There was a crisis in collegial governance at Bishop’s in these years, but it stemmed from expansion not contraction. Dawson College, the first English language CEGEP, opened in the fall of 1969 and because it was insufficiently large for the expected intake, Bishop’s created a “collegial similar programme.” This shift to a five-year degree resulted in many more students and some new faculty. In the fall of 1972, these temporary stresses became permanent with the opening at Bishop’s of Champlain College, the regional English language CEGEP. The organization of a faculty union was a response to this crisis.

What we do is important and, as Bruneau demonstrated in his entertaining review of the international literature, we are unlikely to learn much from a “bloodless … mech­a­nistic” istoriography. (p. 41) If this uneven collection proved less than the sum of its parts, it does contain exemplary contributions to understanding, as Bruneau emphasized, “the lived experience of teaching and research” (p.34) in Canada and for that we can be grateful.

Robert C.H. Sweeny is a history professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland.