Recently, the Western Gazette (Canada’s only daily student newspaper!) published an article entitled: “The Precarious Path to Professorship”. The article spoke of the ongoing issue of contract academic staff (CAS) teaching an increasing number of classes at Canadian universities. Before I delve into the situation at Western, I do need to comment on the article linked in the previous sentence.
The CBC article in question used Kimberly Ellis-Hale as their example of a contract faculty member struggling to make ends meet. Ms. Hale is 51 years old and has been teaching at Laurier for 16 years. She is struggling to make ends meet as a result of a being a single mother of two children and the low pay that CAS receive. A very sad tale indeed; until you actually decide to dig a little deeper.
A quick Google search of “Kimberly Ellis-Hale Laurier” will reveal that Ms. Hale is currently a Ph.D candidate at the University of Waterloo, and she holds a B.A. from the University of Toronto and an M.A. from Waterloo. Ms. Hale’s reputation on among her students is also less than satisfactory, which could be a hindrance against her career advancement and stability. While those ratings may be unofficial, professors are required to be evaluated by their students, and departments pay attention to what students have to say. For example, when a professor at Queen’s University was accused of spreading anti-vaccine propaganda in her first year class, she was subsequently investigated and placed on a leave of absence. The professor will not be teaching the same course and will be subject to a rigorous internal review process before she is allowed to teach again.
I am not one to discourage one’s pursuit of education, but perhaps deciding to pursue a Ph.D. when you have to support two children isn’t the wisest decision given the minimal pay graduate students receive in Canada. Ms. Ellis-Hale also decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Sociology, a subject that’s notoriously easy for undergraduates and low-paying for faculty.
It is easy to cry injustice at large institutions such as universities, but doing so without concern for the repercussions of our own choices is equally as unjust. Yes, perhaps graduate students should command higher salaries given the stresses they incur, but until that day comes, you need to be aware of what you’re getting yourself into before you dive into a 4+ year commitment of research and low pay.
With that being said, let’s move onto the situation at Western…
The Gazette article in question left me quite skeptical. On one hand, I have a good number of former classmates from undergrad currently pursuing the academia dream, so I can’t help but worry a little for their future and feel a pang of injustice about this whole scenario. On the other hand, I have a science background and I make my decisions based on gathering data, observations, and facts. In the Gazette article I linked to, the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA) estimates that 37% of their members are CAS. In the online scanned copy of the article, the graphic on the left hand side reports that number as 39 percent. Strange.
Regardless of the what number is official, that’s still a very high number. Thinking back to my undergrad, I can think of but a handful of lecturers that taught in my classes, but certainly not to the magnitude of almost 40 percent. My skepticism grew to the point where I decided to seek out the answer myself.
1) I sat down and went to Western’s website. I went to each department’s webpage and (painstakingly) counted each faculty member one by one, ignoring: i) the Faculty of Law; ii) Schulich Medicine & Dentistry; iii) The Faculty of Education; iv) Graduate programs in all other departments, and finally: iv) all Affiliate Colleges (Huron, Brescia, and King’s).
2) I went through each department’s website and counted full-time faculty and part-time faculty. I define part-time faculty as lecturers, graduate students, or professors that were designated (quite conveniently) “part-time”. If a professor was listed as “Assistant” or above, I considered them a full-time faculty member unless explicitly noted on their bio. Adjunct professors were not counted, nor were Emeritus professors unless they were explicitly listed on the faculty webpage, because these professors have employment elsewhere, or all retired.
3) I organized all of my results in a spreadsheet
1) 1752 total faculty members were counted
2) A total of 19.1% of all faculty members counted were determined to be “part-time”
3) Percentages of part-time instructors in each faculty were as follows: FIMS (58.5%); Music (48.1%); Arts & Humanities (27.1%); Social Science (26%); Health Sciences (19.6%); Ivey Business School (14%); Science (6.1%); Engineering (0%) (Figure 1)
1) Health Science has a noticeably higher percentage of part-time faculty due to the School of Nursing; nurses are needed to teach future nurses, after all, but nurses are generally gainfully employed, especially if deemed qualified enough to lecture future nurses. All other Health Science departments contained no part-time faculty.
2) FIMS (The Faculty of Media and Information Studies) is the newest Faculty at Western, and it also has the highest proportion of part-time staff members.
3) The internationally renowned Ivey Business School still had 14% of their faculty listed as part-time, but these faculty members are either graduate students or practicing professionals such as accountants or consultants with a steady income who pursue teaching out of interest, not as a primary source of income. The case of Ivey is also indicative that the proportion of part-time faculty does not impact the quality of education.
It is clear that there is some discrepancy between the numbers I have gathered and the numbers that are being reported by the UWOFA. In order for there to 38% part time faculty (which is the average of the two figures reported by the UWOFA) , there would have to be a total of about 666 (rounded up from 665.76) part time faculty members. How I failed to count 331 part time faculty members is beyond me, but something isn’t adding up. I would ask that a member of UWOFA please point me in the right direction, or try to explain how they arrived at their numbers. It would be unfortunate if they were fudging their data to leverage their campaign.
It also becomes clear that universities are making the most cuts in terms of tenured faculty within the arts faculties. In the STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math for those unaware) a total of only 6% of all faculty were part-time, while in the Arts and Social Sciences (not including the Ivey Business School), a whopping 33.6% of all faculty were part-time.
One reason for this discrepancy is where the research interests of the university lie. To achieve a full-time faculty designation, a professor not only has to teach courses, but also conduct research, publish papers, sit in on committees, and perhaps most importantly, attract research dollars to the university.
Unfortunately, many organizations simply aren’t willing to fund research on the effect of post-World War II media on society as they are to fund the development of an AIDS vaccine. Simply put, much of the return on investment in scientific research is more measurable in actual dollars. The benefit of an AIDS vaccine or a new technology is much easier to quantify than the benefit of developing a sociological or musical theory or concept.
This is not to say that the Arts aren’t important; in fact, I previously wrote an article explaining why we need art in our lives in order to alleviate depression and holistically improve our lives. In difficult times, humanity turns to their most basic needs. Currently, we are in economic turmoil and, in general, are struggling to make ends meet. We are not at a point culturally when investing the development of the arts is of utmost priority, as artistic endeavours and products lie higher on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs than those of the natural and physical sciences.
A profession that deals with human health (e.g. a nurse or physician) will always be in demand, but one that deals with a requirement higher up the pyramid like esteem or creativity (like a musician or visual artist) will not always have the same job security due to art’s lack of basic necessity, but this individual could potentially earn more depending on the impact of their work. Some of highest paid professions are those of entertainers and other artists, but these positions are also much more rare.
Part-time faculty members are not paid enough considering their education, but level of education does not necessarily equate to a demand for higher pay. For example, many high school graduates are out in Alberta earning more money working in the oil sands than many Ph.D educated individuals will ever hope to earn. The difference lies in the need of work. Harvesting oil to fuel just about everything in our world is currently more important to the greater population than post-modern philosophy. There is simply not the demand for growth in arts research that there once was.
The fact of the matter is, individuals currently pursuing full-time faculty positions in the arts should be aware that the demand for their services is waning, and they should not be surprised with the lack of positions available for them. Getting a Ph.D does not entitle you to a seat on the ivory tower, so exercise caution when considering a career in academia, especially in the underfunded arts.
It remains to be seen what will come out of the campaign for better treatment of CAS, but until universities start to budge, even our most highly educated professionals may have trouble paying their bills.