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Faculty frustrated with lack of consultation on Strategic Mandate Agreements

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The Ontario Government has been working with the province’s universities to develop Strategic Mandate Agreements (SMAs) that identify each institution’s strengths and set out how the government can work to best support the strategic priorities of each institution and the system as a whole. However, the process by which these agreements have been developed has not included meaningful consultation with university faculty, whose teaching and research is at the core of every university’s mission. The failure to consult with faculty and incorporate their input into these agreements raises significant concerns for Ontario’s professors and academic librarians about how decisions regarding the future direction of their institutions are made, and the legitimacy of the SMAs themselves.

The second round of SMA negotiations between the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development (MAESD) and individual Ontario universities is expected to conclude this summer.  Each institution’s agreement is oriented around five government objectives and priorities. These priorities include 1) student experience; 2) teaching and learning; 3) access and equity; 4) research excellence; and 5) community engagement. For each priority, there are system-wide indicators that all institutions will report on, as well as institution-specific metrics that each university selects as part of the negotiations.

Unfortunately, the government has not required institutions to consult with their campus communities as part of the SMA negotiation process. As a result, consultation on most campuses has been limited, with little to no opportunity for faculty input, and faculty associations are deeply dissatisfied with the process. Typically, if “consultation” did occur, administrations presented drafts of completed SMAs to senates for the information of senators, but opportunities to provide input or modify these drafts were non-existent. In some cases, campus town halls were held, but the mechanism through which community feedback was to be integrated into draft SMAs was not made clear.

The very nature of the five key priority areas addressed by the SMAs is such that anything decided in these agreements will directly impact faculty in every aspect of their work as teachers and researchers. The absence of meaningful consultation with faculty as part of the SMA development and negotiation process significantly undermines the legitimacy and effectiveness of these agreements. This failure of process must be corrected when designing the next round of SMA negotiations.

Earlier this month, OCUFA sent a letter to the government’s lead for SMA negotiations and the Deputy Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development to highlight the shortcomings of the current round of negotiations and identify strategies for improving the process in the future.

In the next round of SMA negotiations, MAESD must require institutions to provide evidence of meaningful consultation with faculty before negotiations between the Ministry and university administrations begin and again before the final agreements are approved. While it is the responsibility of local university administrations to undertake local consultations, the Ministry must take a leadership role and set standards for the negotiation process that will result in SMAs that reflect the views and priorities of the entire campus community – not just administrators.

Moving forward, OCUFA will continue to work with MAESD and other stakeholders to ensure that the next round of SMA negotiations involve meaningful consultation in which faculty voices are heard.

Faculty and the Fight for $15 & Fairness

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The government’s announcement of its intention to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2019 is a victory for workers across Ontario and for faculty who have been active members of the Fight for $15 & Fairness, a provincial campaign calling on the provincial government to take decisive action to address precarious work.

Faculty still have a role to play in making sure this legislation gets passed. Professors are trusted leaders on their campuses and in their communities. It is important that faculty speak up for positive changes to labour and employment law and decent work for all.

For more about what you can do to secure better labour laws and a $15 minimum wage, click here.

Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development signals interest in faculty renewal

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Following the introduction of government legislation to implement select recommendations from the Changing Workplaces Review, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development Deb Matthews distributed a letter to stakeholders in Ontario’s postsecondary education sector reaffirming the government’s commitment to fair employment and supporting universities and colleges during the transition to new labour and employment laws.

This letter to postsecondary education stakeholders also signaled that the Minister intends to initiate a conversation about faculty renewal. While the timelines, process, and scope of this conversation have not yet been announced, the Minister’s interest in this issue is an important opportunity to make headway on some of OCUFA’s key priorities. OCUFA looks forward to participating in this conversation as a major stakeholder, well positioned to communicate faculty perspectives and demonstrate the value of faculty renewal for supporting universities’ core mission of teaching, research, and community engagement.

OCUFA’s Contract Faculty and Faculty Complement gaining momentum

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While planning for the 2017-18 academic year, the Contract Faculty and Faculty Complement Committee spent some time looking back on its creative, eventful, and effective first three years. Since its creation, the committee has worked hard on education and solidarity-building strategies to address the issues facing both contract and tenured faculty.

Over the past 15 years, it is estimated that the number of contract faculty in Ontario has doubled while universities fail to hire new tenured faculty to fill vacancies created by retiring professors. Contract faculty positions are insecure, paid by the course, and sometimes without benefits. Tenured faculty face significant workload challenges as they balance teaching, research, and their responsibilities in university departments and committees.

Working together is the only way to solve these critical issues facing Ontario universities. In the last three years, OCUFA’s Contract Faculty and Complement Committee has launched a website, www.weteachontario.ca, that allows contract faculty to tell their personal stories and where the public can sign a pledge in support of good jobs for all faculty. Members also actively tabled as part of Fair Employment Week, and OCUFA hosted an international conference on precarious academic work.

This engagement, and a growing understanding of the need for better, more stable jobs, has led to more media stories examining the challenges facing Ontario’s faculty and helped build awareness and support for the struggles faced by contract professors.

Working with allies in higher education and the labour movement, OCUFA has been putting pressure on the Liberal government to improve Ontario’s labour law to strengthen the rights of workers and support good jobs.

OCUFA’s Contract Faculty and Faculty Complement Committee has much to be proud of, but with a growing sense of momentum, there is much more that can be done!

Faculty associations building solidarity

This spring saw two faculty associations hold events to build solidarity amongst their members. These events, hosted by the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association and the Windsor University Faculty Association, featured comedy, music, and opportunities for faculty to get to know each other.

Both events were supported by OCUFA and the Contract Faculty and Faculty Complement Committee with the goal of bringing together tenured and contract faculty to build solidarity in advance of bargaining. To read more about these events, click here and here.

Two short videos with highlights of the events can also be viewed below:

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Looking forward to the 2017-18 academic year

This fall, Fair Employment Week will return the week of October 23, 2017. With a fresh look and new initiatives, the week will be bigger and even more exciting. The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) is revamping the campaign with new graphics, a new website, and more interactive tools to help get the message out about the importance of fairness for contract faculty.

As preparation for Fair Employment Week, CAUT will be hosting a national conference on October 20-21 in Toronto to bring together representatives of contract faculty unions to identify issues, challenges, and success stories. It will also provide practical skills building workshops to help organizing on local campuses.

For more information and input on the revamp of Fair Employment Week or the CAUT national conference on contract academic staff, contact .

Workers’ voices heard, government moves on fairer labour laws and $15 minimum wage

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University professors and academic librarians are pleased that the government is taking steps to bring more fairness to workplaces across Ontario. Today’s announcement by the Ontario Government includes positive measures to ensure equal pay for part-time and casual workers, more reasonable scheduling, and better rules for joining unions in some sectors. It also includes a welcome plan to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour by January 2019.

Since the outset of the Changing Workplaces Review, OCUFA has been advocating for changes to employment and labour law that would improve working conditions, in particular for contract faculty at Ontario’s universities, and strengthen the rights of workers to join a union. The government has now indicated it is planning to move forward on many of our recommendations:

  • OCUFA recommends that all workers, including part-time and contract workers, should receive equal pay for work of equal value and equal access to benefits. The government announcement proposes that part-time, casual, seasonal, and temporary workers are paid equally to full-time workers when performing the same job for the same employer, but equal treatment is not extended to benefits.
  • OCUFA recommends reasonable scheduling provisions that provide employees with at least two weeks’ notice of work. The government announcement includes provisions that would protect employees from last-minute scheduling changes and being “on call” without any pay.
  • OCUFA recommends that the use of discontinuous contracts should be eliminated. The government announcement does not address this issue directly.
  • OCUFA recommends that the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) should be empowered to consolidate bargaining units. The government announcement proposes that the OLRB be allowed to change the structure of a bargaining unit where the existing units are no longer appropriate for collective bargaining.
  • OCUFA recommends that labour law ensure workers can organize collectively to improve their conditions of work and join a union, including a return to automatic card-based certification, a requirement that employees punitively disciplined during organizing drives be reinstated, and making first contract arbitration more accessible. The government announcement suggests returning to card-check certification in specific sectors (home care, community services, building services and temp agencies) and making first contract arbitration easier to access.

After two years of focused advocacy work on improving employment and labour law to address the rise of precarious work, OCUFA is pleased the government is taking action on this issue. This announcement follows the release of the final report of the Changing Workplaces Review on May 23, and represents a major step forward in efforts to support decent work for all workers in Ontario.

OCUFA will participate in the upcoming committee hearing process to provide input on the proposed legislation, and looks forward to working with our partners in the Fight for $15 & Fairness and the Ontario Federation of Labour to encourage the government to implement positive legislative changes as soon as possible.

Final report of Changing Workplaces Review released

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On Tuesday, May 23, the Ontario Government released the final report of the Changing Workplaces Review. The review was initiated in 2015 to consider the province’s existing employment and labour law and how it might be improved to address the growth of precarious work and create better conditions for workers. The rise of precarious work has been of particular concern to OCUFA because it is estimated that the number of contract faculty in Ontario has doubled over the past 15 years.

As part of the consultation process, OCUFA submitted five recommendations that would improve working conditions for faculty and academic librarians and strengthen the rights of workers to collectively organize and form a union:

  • All workers, including part-time and contract workers, should receive equal pay for work of equal value and equal access to benefits.
  • The use of discontinuous contracts should be eliminated.
  • Employers should be required to provide employees with at least two weeks’ notice of work.
  • The Ontario Labour Relations Board should be empowered to consolidate bargaining units.
  • The Labour Relations Act should be updated to ensure workers can organize collectively to improve their conditions of work and join a union, including a return to automatic card-based certification, a requirement that employees punitively disciplined during organizing drives be reinstated, and making first contract arbitration more accessible.

The final report considers most of OCUFA’s recommendations and specifically highlights how engaged Ontario’s faculty have been in the process with “almost every Faculty Association in the province” making a submission. Unfortunately, although the report recognizes the urgent need for changes to Ontario’s employment and labour law, in many cases it recommends further study instead of action.

On the issue of equal pay for work of equal value, the report agrees that no employee should be paid a rate lower than a comparable full-time employee of the same employer. However, it recommends exemptions for workplaces where compensation is based on “objective differences” in work, which is concerning because it may be used to justify the exclusion of contract faculty.

On equal access to benefits, the use of discontinuous contracts, and the requirement for advanced notice of work, the report recognizes the need for reform, but only recommends further study.

OCUFA is pleased to see the report recommend empowering the Ontario Labour Relations Board to consolidate bargaining units. However, it does not suggest any requirement for union or bargaining unit consent and rejects suggestions that mergers only occur between bargaining units in the same union.

It is encouraging that the report repeatedly confirms the rights of workers to collectively organize and join a union. Unfortunately, it does not recommend a return to automatic card-based certification and instead provides a list of recommendations to counter employer interference in secret ballot votes.

While not referring to the reinstatement of employees participating in organizing drives specifically, the report recommends prioritizing investigations of punitive termination. Finally, the report recommends improving access to first contract arbitration.

As a whole, the final report of the Changing Workplaces Review leaves the concerns of Ontario’s precariously employed contract faculty largely unaddressed. While disappointing, the government has yet to announce the changes it intends to implement. Using the report as a foundation, OCUFA will continue advocating for changes to improve working conditions for faculty and academic librarians across Ontario.

Ontario’s employment and labour laws are outdated and this is an important opportunity to ensure new legislation improves on the recommendations in the report to reflect the priorities of Ontario workers and supports good jobs. OCUFA will continue working with other labour unions and community members as part of the Ontario Federation of Labour’s “Make it Fair” campaign and the Fight for $15 & Fairness to strengthen the rights of workers.

The OFL and Fight for $15 & Fairness are encouraging people to call, email, or meet with their MPP to urge them to support decent work. They have provided a list of MPPs and their contact information here.

The government is expected to formally respond to the final report of the Changing Workplaces Review shortly and announce the changes they intend to pursue. Once the details of that announcement have been made public, OCUFA will provide a more detailed analysis of the report and how it is informing the government’s policy agenda.

OCUFA holds final Board of Directors meeting of 2016-17 academic year

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On Saturday, May 13, OCUFA held its final Board of Directors meeting for the 2016-17 academic year. The day was an opportunity to discuss recent developments in higher education and review the organization’s current priorities: university funding, contract faculty and faculty complement, university governance, and faculty pensions. During a special lunchtime reception, board members celebrated the winners of the OCUFA Service Award and Henry Mandelbaum Graduate Fellowships.

Contract faculty and faculty complement

The Contract Faculty and Faculty Complement Committee have been hard at work this spring to keep fairness for contract faculty on the agenda. On March 3, OCUFA hosted a social media day of action to highlight the issues facing contract faculty and put pressure on university presidents and boards of governors to make changes. Supporters from faculty associations, OPSEU, and CUPE all took part.

Later in March, special events were held on two campuses to build solidarity between contract and tenure-stream faculty. These events featured comedy, music, and opportunities for faculty to get to know each other. For more information on these events, click here and here.

OCUFA continues to support the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign. OCUFA representatives attended a provincial strategy session this spring and co-chaired a caucus of faculty, students, and staff that are involved in the campaign across the province. As part of this initiative, a panel featuring York University Faculty Association President Richard Wellen, Contract Faculty and Faculty Complement Committee Chair Fran Cachon, and OCUFA Vice-President Gyllie Phillips discussed the important role faculty can play in the Fight for $15 and Fairness. To learn more about what you can do, click here.

University funding

The 2017 Ontario Budget was tabled on April 27 and, unfortunately, failed to make much-needed investments in the province’s universities. The budget includes no new university operating funding for the next three years. Adjusted for inflation, this will amount to a six per cent funding decline in real terms and means that the major investments made through the government’s 2006 Reaching Higher framework will have been effectively reversed by 2019. This represents a troubling erosion of public financial support for Ontario’s universities which threatens the quality of education and will cause Ontario to fall even further behind other provinces in public per-student funding. Read OCUFA’s complete post-budget analysis here.

As the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development moves ahead with the implementation of a new funding model for Ontario universities, questions remain unanswered about exactly how some of that funding will be distributed. OCUFA continues to caution against the use of punitive performance based funding and will advocate against the use of metrics that harm faculty, students, and institutions.

In addition, faculty have been quite concerned with the lack of consultation during the second round of SMA negotiations (SMA2), which are currently underway. Government has not required institutions to consult with their campus communities and so, in many cases, these agreements are being negotiated without input from faculty, students, or other members of the university community. OCUFA is supporting associations that want to engage in the SMA negotiation process through the sharing of information about developments on different campuses and by drawing attention to the inadequacy of the consultation process.

University Governance

University governance continues to be a concern for members. To help develop strategies for supporting collegial governance, OCUFA has been hosting a series of conference calls where participants can share developments on their campuses.

In March, OCUFA co-sponsored a conference on governance hosted by the Confederation of University Faculty Associations–British Columbia in Vancouver. The conference focused on the role of faculty associations as unions and collective bargaining. To read more about the conference, click here.

Many of these issues were on the agenda at OCUFA’s Advocacy Day on March 1. University faculty from across Ontario gathered in Toronto to participate in a day of advocacy at the Ontario Legislature. Twenty-three faculty ambassadors spent the day meeting with over 35 Members of Provincial Parliament and discussing the four priorities detailed in OCUFA’s 2017 pre-budget submission. To read more about OCUFA’s 2017 Advocacy day, click here.

Pensions

OCUFA continues to support faculty association pension needs, including working with sector partners to build a voluntary jointly-sponsored pension plan (JSPP) for university faculty. The development of the JSPP continues to progress, with representatives from the University of Guelph, Queen’s University, and University of Toronto meeting on a regular basis.

OCUFA’s Collective Bargaining Committee has been hosting special meetings with chief negotiators focused on building capacity and knowledge about pension issues and possible changes to solvency rules that may be introduced by the provincial government later this year.

OCUFA executive elections

During the meeting, the OCUFA Board of Directors elected the organization’s executive for the 2017-18 academic year.

As of July 1, the new executive will be comprised of:

President:
Gyllian Phillips (Nipissing University Faculty Association)

Vice-President:
Rahul Sapra (Ryerson Faculty Association)

Treasurer:
Glen Copplestone (King’s University College Faculty Association)

Members-at-large:
Michael Attridge (St. Michael’s College Faculty Association)
Diane Beauchemin (Queen’s University Faculty Association)
Sue Wurtele (Trent University Faculty Association)

Chair of the Board:
Kate Lawson (Faculty Association of the University of Waterloo)

As President Judy Bates and Chairperson Brian Brown are finishing their terms of office, a special reception was held the night before the board meeting where they were thanked for their years of dedication, leadership, and hard work.

Awards celebration

Finally, a special awards luncheon provided an opportunity to celebrate four individuals whose contributions have enriched Ontario’s universities and their communities.

York University professor Craig Heron and Lakehead University professor Glenna Knutson were honoured with OCUFA Service Awards for the work they have done to strengthen OCUFA and advance the interests of professors and academic librarians across the province.

University of Guelph PhD student Laura Jane Weber and Laurentian University Masters’ student Beaudin Bennett were then honoured with Henry Mandelbaum Fellowships for their excellence in scholarship and community engagement.

The luncheon wrapped up with a special presentation from 2016 Mandelbaum Fellowship winner Karen Marie Olsen Lawford who shared her work on the gap in maternal health care for First Nations women who live in northern communities.

The next OCUFA Board of Directors meeting will be held in October

OCUFA analysis of the 2017 Ontario Budget

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The 2017 Ontario Budget failed to make much-needed investments in the province’s universities. This continued underfunding threatens the quality of education and will cause Ontario to fall even further behind other provinces in public per-student funding.

The budget includes no new university operating funding for the next three years. Adjusted for inflation, this will amount to a six per cent funding decline in real terms and means that the major investments made through the government’s 2006 Reaching Higher framework will have been effectively reversed by 2019. This represents a troubling erosion of public financial support for Ontario’s universities.

There were no major new announcements about postsecondary education or the Changing Workplaces Review, however, some modest commitments were made to expand workplace learning opportunities for students and improve the recently overhauled student assistance program. These commitments reflect the government’s stated approach to transforming the postsecondary education system by focusing on preparing students for a changing economy and increasing access.

Read OCUFA’s complete post-budget analysis here.

Graduate students from Guelph and Laurentian win 2017 Mandelbaum Fellowships

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TORONTO – The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) is pleased to announce this year’s recipients of the Henry Mandelbaum Fellowship: Laura Jane Weber from the University of Guelph, and Beaudin Bennett from Laurentian University.

“The Mandelbaum Fellowship recognizes graduate students who combine exceptional scholarship with deep engagement in their communities,” said Gyllie Phillips, Vice-President of OCUFA. “Despite receiving many excellent applications, the committee was unanimous in selecting Laura Jane and Beaudin as the recipients of the 2017 Fellowship.”

At the Doctoral level, Laura Jane Webber was recognized for her research into the practice of flying pregnant women from their communities in Nunavut to give birth in southern hospitals. Weber, a student in Guelph’s Population Medicine and International Development Studies program, is committed to community engagement and has an impressive record of research and volunteer work.

At the Master’s level, Beaudin Bennett was recognized for his exploration of intimate partner violence in First Nations communities on Manitoulin Island and the perspectives of Indigenous women impacted by this violence about the acute injuries, chronic anxiety, and depression they suffer. A student in Laurentian’s Indigenous Relations program, Beaudin’s leadership and volunteer work show a strong commitment to social justice.

The Mandelbaum Fellowship was established to honor Henry Mandelbaum, Executive Director of OCUFA from 1996-2011. The Fellowship is awarded to a graduate student who has demonstrated academic excellence, shows exceptional academic promise, and has provided significant community service in his or her university career.

“Henry was passionate about social justice, and improving the lives of those who faced formidable social and economic barriers,” said Phillips. “Sadly, Henry passed away in 2012, but we are honoured to continue his work through the Mandelbaum Fellowship.”

Laura Jane Weber and Beaudin Bennett will receive their awards at a ceremony hosted by OCUFA in Toronto on May 13, 2017.

Founded in 1964, OCUFA represents 17,000 faculty and academic librarians in 28 faculty associations across Ontario. For more information, please visit the OCUFA website at www.ocufa.on.ca.

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For more information, contact:

 Ben Lewis, Communications Lead at 416-979-2117 x232 or
OR
Mark Rosenfeld, Executive Director at 416-979-2117 x229 or

Professors from York and Lakehead honoured with OCUFA Service Awards

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TORONTO – The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) is pleased to announce this year’s recipients of the OCUFA Service Award: Craig Heron from the York University Faculty Association (YUFA), and Glenna Knutson from the Lakehead University Faculty Association (LUFA).

“The OCUFA Service Award was established to honour individuals who have done, or continue to do, exceptional work on behalf of OCUFA and its member faculty associations,” said Judy Bates, President of OCUFA. “We are thrilled to bestow this award on two such deserving individuals.”

Craig Heron, a professor at York University, served as a member of OCUFA’s Board from 2012 to 2016. For decades, he has been a leading advocate for faculty rights, collegial governance, academic freedom, and union activism in Ontario. He has been a prominent figure in the campaigns against the corporatization of the university and program prioritization and strives to ensure the faculty around him recognize the larger political importance of their work.

Glenna Knutson, a professor at Lakehead University, served as Chair, Treasurer, and Member-at-Large of the OCUFA Board and Executive where she showed a remarkable dedication to diversity, fairness, and justice. In addition, she has been an active member of OCUFA’s Online Education Committee and represented LUFA on OCUFA’s Collective Bargaining Committee. Glenna has been a uniting force, bringing her colleagues together to build a stronger voice for Ontario’s faculty.

“The recipients of this award have shown remarkable dedication to OCUFA and provided tireless service to their colleagues on their campuses and across Ontario,” said Bates. “Without their work, OCUFA simply could not achieve its goals of protecting the rights and interests of faculty while promoting a high-quality, accessible public university system.”

Professors Heron and Knutson will receive their awards at a ceremony hosted by OCUFA in Toronto on May 13, 2017.

Founded in 1964, OCUFA represents 17,000 faculty and academic librarians in 28 faculty associations across Ontario. For more information, please visit the OCUFA website at www.ocufa.on.ca.

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For more information, contact:

Ben Lewis, Communications Lead at 416-979-2117 x232 or
OR
Mark Rosenfeld, Executive Director at 416-979-2117 x229 or

Ontario professors concerned about the erosion of university funding

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TORONTO – Ontario’s faculty and academic librarians are troubled the government has not made much-needed investments in the province’s universities. This budget threatens the quality of education and will cause Ontario to fall even further behind other provinces in per-student funding.

“As professors, we are committed to providing our students with a vibrant and enriching education,” said Judy Bates, President of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA). “The government’s continued underfunding of our universities will stretch existing resources even thinner, compromising the integrity of learning environments and our ability to prepare students for success upon graduation.”

For seven consecutive years, Ontario has ranked last among all provinces in per-student funding, and this budget will see the province fall even further behind. Faculty and students already feel the pressure of underfunding. Ontario has the highest student-faculty ratios in Canada and the number of precariously employed contract faculty has doubled in the last fifteen years.

The government continues to follow through on its plan to increase access to postsecondary education for students from low-income families and OCUFA supports these measures. However, the lack of investment in universities undermines this progress by short-changing the high-quality learning experience students and parents expect. The budget includes no new public operating funding for universities. This represents a troubling erosion of public financial support for Ontario’s universities.

“Additional public investment in our universities could transform them,” said Bates. “It would support hiring more full-time faculty and smaller classes that offer innovative and fulfilling learning experiences for our students.”

Ontario’s universities are vital institutions that inspire and expand student minds, and support scholars who develop research that fuels social and economic progress. Robust public funding is the foundation upon which the province’s universities thrive for the benefit of all Ontarians.

Founded in 1964, OCUFA represents 17,000 faculty and academic librarians in 28 faculty associations across Ontario. For more information, please visit the OCUFA website at www.ocufa.on.ca.

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For more information, contact:
Ben Lewis, Communications Lead at 647-894-8938, or
Mark Rosenfeld, Executive Director, 416 306 6030 x229, .

Enrolment still increasing, despite projected decline

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With Budget 2017 arriving imminently, it is useful to revisit the provincial government forecasts for one of the principal variables in provincial funding for universities – the number of students. In the 2010 provincial budget, the Ontario government optimistically promised to add 40,000 new places for full-time university students by 2015. Because of a demographic dip in the cohort of 18-24 year-olds (already anticipated in 2010), that actual number was never met.

In the 2015 budget, the government changed its tune and predicted that enrolment would flatten and actually decline. However, that assumption should also be taken with a grain of salt. While it may be too early to tell if the number of university applicants for 2017 is an outlier, the proportion of 17 year-old applying to universities has been increasing. Among both undergraduate and graduate students, fall enrolment in 2016 increased by 2 per cent province-wide. With the exception of 2014, the trends suggest enrolment will continue to grow.

Regional demographic changes do mean that some institutions are seeing a decline in enrolment, while others continue to experience increases. This is why a nuanced approach to funding is important, with attention not just to the methods for allocating funding, but the total amount as well.

At this point, OCUFA forecasts that the gap in university funding between Ontario and the average for the rest of Canada will widen to 37 per cent for the current budget year. We do not yet know how much bigger the gap might become this year, but we do know that lowballing the enrolment forecast will certainly compound the effect of declining enrolments where they do occur.

With enrolment increasing, it is vital that the government increase public funding for Ontario’s universities so that they remain capable of providing a high quality postsecondary education.

Worldviews Lecture tackles populist challenge for universities

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Worldviews Lecture tackles populist challenge for universities

On April 5, Professor Sir Peter Scott, a Professor of Higher Education Studies at the UCL Institute of Education, delivered the third annual Worldviews Lecture on Media and Education with a focus on the populist challenge for universities.

In a live video broadcast to an audience in the library of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), Scott described how right-wing populism has driven a series of events over the past two years, including the election of Donald Trump and the vote of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. Then he addressed the challenge universities face coming to terms with this rising tide of anti-elitism.

Scott illustrates how populism has been driven by the failures of free-market neoliberalism and the growing gulf between haves and have-nots. While universities are considered elite institutions, home to many of the world’s experts, populism represents a general distrust of government organizations. Scott sees danger in this reality, but he argues populism’s strength should not be exaggerated and those in the academy should not be spooked. Instead, he believes that goal should be to continue expanding access to higher education as a key component of citizenship in democratic societies.

Scott concluded by presenting a four-point plan to counter the populist narrative:

  1. Shift away from the obsession with creating ‘world-class’ universities and focus on widening participation so that no group feels marginalized or left out.
  2. The commodification and commercialization of learning must be resisted.
  3. More democratically formed research communities need to be developed, in which producers, users, and beneficiaries have more equal voices.
  4. The community engagement mandate of universities needs to be reinforced as part of the effort to restore the ‘public’ university.

Following Dr. Scott’s virtual lecture, a panel of local academics continued the discussion of the populist challenge from a variety of perspectives.

Idil Atak, Assistant Professor in the Department of Criminology at Ryerson university, discussed the malicious myths that stigmatize immigrants and are one driver of populism, especially during election periods. She detailed how enthusiastically these stories are picked up by the media, and how the academy has a role to play in conducting the evidence-based research that dispels these myths.

Greg Lyle, President of Innovative Research Group Inc., agreed with Professor Scott that populism is not winning. He highlighted poll results showing that the Canadian public values postsecondary education, and that two-thirds of Canadians believe that experts should be trusted. He argued that as economic gaps widen, individuals feel that the elite, including politicians, have lost touch with their constituents. He concluded by advocating that universities engage more with their students as individuals and people.

Emma Sabzalieva, a Doctoral researcher in the Centre for the Study of Canadian and International Higher Education at OISE, talked about students from a global perspective. She highlighted that approximately five million students travel internationally for their education, and a third of them travel to the US and UK – the countries most visibly afflicted by populism. While there might be short-term ripples, she does not believe international students will stay away from these countries over the long term.

Steven Tufts, Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at York University, stated that while it may be making headlines now, populism isn’t new. He discussed the ‘common sense revolution’ of the Mike Harris era in Ontario, a populist platform that targeted postsecondary education among other social programs. He further argued that populism is not a right-wing issue, that it can also be driven with a progressive agenda. He concluded by encouraging professors to engage with their communities and join the fight to extend fair wages and fair working conditions to all workers.

To watch a video of the entire event, click here:
http://worldviewsconference.com/worldviews-2017/

 

This article originally appeared in OCUFA Report. To receive stories like this every week, please subscribe.

University of Windsor faculty gather for night of music and solidarity

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On Thursday, March 16, members of the Windsor University Faculty Association (WUFA) gathered at Windsor’s historic Walkerville Brewery to enjoy a night of great music, refreshing drinks, and engaging conversation.

The evening brought together tenured and contract faculty from across the university. It provided an opportunity for faculty to get to know each other, develop new relationships, and strengthen existing ones. The nine-person R&B band Soul Delegation set the tone for the night with a lively set that kept the crowd’s toes tapping as faculty enjoyed the tasty food and drinks.

Welcoming attendees, WUFA President Jeff Noonan called for solidarity in a time when external pressures threaten to set back progress on university campuses across Ontario. Citing the responsibility faculty have to support and fight for each other, he called on members to stand together for the long-term good of the university. The evening also provided a chance to thank Kathryn Lafreniere for her term as Chair of WUFA’s contract faculty committee, which is currently preparing for bargaining.

WUFA Sessional Director Fran Cachon echoed Noonan’s remarks, reiterating how important it is for faculty to build stronger relationships with each other. As Chair of OCUFA’s Contract Faculty and Faculty Complement Committee, Fran highlighted the inspiration she has drawn from working with students, faculty, workers and community members across the province to raise awareness about the need for fairness for contract faculty and good jobs on university campuses. She recognized the hard work of WUFA’s members and thanked them for their support.

Similar to the event at Western University the previous week, the evening social was co-organized by WUFA and OCUFA with the goal of bringing together tenured and contract faculty to build solidarity in advance of bargaining.


This article originally appeared in OCUFA Report. To receive stories like this every week, please subscribe.

Briefing note: Student questionnaires on courses and teaching

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It is a common practice at universities to have students complete end-of-term questionnaires about their courses and instructors. Sometimes called student evaluations of teaching (SETs) or student questionnaires on courses and teaching (SQCTs), these are often used to make decisions about faculty tenure and promotion without an appreciation of their limitations. These questionnaires could be good for capturing the student experience, but responses are inherently influenced by factors outside of the professor’s control, including the subject being taught, class size, and the professor’s gender, race, or accent. Further, the comment sections in these anonymous questionnaires can and have been vehicles of harassment.

Ontario’s faculty understand the value of student feedback, but the manner in which this feedback is sought, and the ends to which it is used are problematic. The goal of student questionnaires should be to inform the understanding of the teaching and learning experience, not to punish faculty for their class size, instructional innovations, gender, or skin colour.

To consider these issues, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) has set up a working group with experts in methodology, research ethics, and human rights. The group has been tasked with developing a deeper understanding of how student questionnaires are currently being used at Ontario’s universities, defining the limitations of these questionnaires, and developing proposals for ensuring that these questionnaires are used appropriately. The working group is expected to release its report and recommendations later this year. What follows is a summary of the group’s findings so far.

Student questionnaire results are skewed by factors outside of faculty control

When completing a questionnaire, students are influenced not just by their impression of their professor’s instruction, but by their more general experiences in the class, program, and institution. So many factors influence the classroom experience that it is very difficult to determine whether ratings are the result of faculty performance or other contributing factors. For instance, students in larger classes, lectures early in the morning, or more difficult upper year courses are more likely to give low ratings than those in smaller classes, mid-day lectures, or easier first-year courses. In fact, in multiple large studies it has been shown that instructors who help students achieve higher outcomes in future learning receive relatively poor ratings compared with instructors of the same course whose students later attained lower academic outcomes.

Student questionnaire results are skewed by systemic discrimination and bias

Systemic discrimination based on gender, skin colour, and accent is a very real issue on Ontario’s campuses, and one of the places it manifests itself is in student questionnaire results. Research conducted in several countries over the past two decades has shown that women, people of colour, and those with accents receive lower evaluation ratings than their white male peers – regardless of ability. This discrimination and bias even plays out on the basis of course content, with classes about gender and racial issues more likely to receive lower ratings.

Student questionnaires facilitate anonymous harassment

Course evaluation questionnaires are composed of mostly multiple-choice questions. As such, they provide a very limited type of feedback. Accordingly, many such questionnaires include room for comments, allowing students to address topics not captured in the multiple-choice section. Unfortunately, as these questionnaires are anonymous, the comment section has become a means by which many faculty are being subjected to racial and sexual harassment. In the absence of effective precautions, moving the questionnaires online only facilitates this kind of threatening behaviour.

Student questionnaire results can compromise educational quality

Student questionnaires can provide important feedback about the student experience in a course, but not necessarily about a faculty member’s teaching performance. Determining whether a professor is conducting class according to student expectations is not the same as assessing how well students are learning in that class nor whether effective instructional methods have been used. Innovation in the classroom often results in lower SQCT scores even when it improves learning outcomes. If the employment status of faculty is tied to the results of these questionnaires, professors are incentivized to gain favour with their students and make course work less rigorous. That compromises the integrity of courses. Contract faculty are especially vulnerable in this scenario, as many have to reapply for their jobs each term, and the results of these questionnaires could be used to determine whether they are hired again.

Student questionnaire results should not be used to determine university funding levels

With the Ontario government’s intention to expand the portion of provincial funding based on performance indicators in later rounds of Strategic Mandate Agreements (SMA), it is important to be clear that student questionnaire ratings have no more place in allocating funding than they do in setting tuition fees, as proposed in the UK. The aggregation of ratings would compound the effect of biases and would not provide reliable indicators of program quality or respect qualitative differences between programs or institutions. It would ultimately penalize universities for achieving faculty diversity, instructional innovation, and true challenge and long-term learning for students.

Conclusion

Student feedback is important, but the purpose of student questionnaires on courses and teaching should be to help faculty develop their teaching, not to undermine their standing as employees, subject them to harassment, or punish them for factors outside of their control.