OCUFA President responds to Globe & Mail editorial

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OCUFA’s President, Constance Adamson, has responded to an unfortunate editorial that appeared in today’s Globe & Mail. The editorial suggests that there is a crisis in undergraduate education, and bizarrely, much of the blame lies with faculty. The full text of OCUFA’s response can be found below.

Dear Editor;

Your editorial “Canadian Universities Must Reform or Perish” (October 11, 2011) is correct about one thing: there are serious challenges facing undergraduate education in Ontario and Canada, and these challenges need to be addressed in order to preserve the quality of education at our universities. Huge classes and high student-to-faculty ratios do not make for an excellent student experience.

No question, reform is needed. But we must be very careful about which vision of reform we embrace.

Your editorial suggests that the primary purpose of a university education is job training. This is not a view embraced by Ontario’s professors and academic librarians. Education is, as it has always been, about human development. Universities provide an education; people get jobs. Transposing this relationship distorts the purpose of our institutions, and leads to a variety of incorrect conclusions.

While I do not have the space to enumerate all of the errors and misconceptions in your editorial, I do wish to take issue with one particularly harmful one: the idea that the lack of teaching or over-emphasis on research is somehow the fault of faculty themselves, or odder still, the salary they receive. Ontario’s professors and academic librarians are passionate defenders of the quality of higher education in our province. The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario – an organization you are fond of quoting – noted in a 2010 report that 96 per cent of Ontario’s faculty view teaching as “important or very important to their professional practice.” The same report found that over three quarters of faculty surveyed were active users of their campus teaching development centre. However, only 46 per cent of faculty felt their university supported their development as teachers. If there is a problem with undergraduate teaching in Ontario, the fault does not lie with the professors themselves.

The simple fact is that, in an under-funded university system faced with perpetual enrolment growth, Ontario’s professors face serious barriers to providing a quality student experience. No matter the technology used or the strategies employed, a student in a 500 person class will not receive the same experience as a student in a class of 30. Until we get serious about hiring more full-time faculty, we won’t be able to improve the student experience.

Finally, I would caution those who are quick to blame faculty but last to ask for their input. Professors and academic librarians make their careers on being thoughtful and well-informed. Strange, then, that the mandarins who rush to press with prescriptions for the university system are so loathe to consult with faculty in the first place. If university administrators and government are serious about reform, then they must make a concerted attempt to engage faculty in the process. They may end up being surprised with the kind of meaningful reform that results.

Yours sincerely,

Constance Adamson

President, OCUFA

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