Saturday, November 5th, 2016

When it's Time to go on Strike

I couldn’t believe my good fortune when I arrived at the psychology department of the University of Manitoba in 1968. I was one of six new professors. The department was just in the process of changing the format of its introductory psychology course.

At the time, students watched films on various psychological topics once a week in a large auditorium. If they had any questions about the material, they had the opportunity to discuss them later with a graduate assistant in a more reasonably-sized classroom.

In place of the films and the once-a-week meetings, there were now to be real classes, classes of a reasonable size with real teachers, and I was lucky enough to be one of them. We had so much fun in those days, the students and I. The setting provided an opportunity for a wide-ranging, free exchange of ideas. Classes often ran overtime because, instead of leaving at the end of the period, students tended to want to congregate in the front of the classroom to continue the discussions that we had just been having.

Another interesting aspect of the university at that time was that, while it was increasing the number of teachers, it had few administrators. In 1968, there was a president, a vice-president and a dean of arts and science. In short, the university was investing its money in front-line troops, the people who were there to engage with students and get them interested in ideas and information about the workings of the world.

But all of that has changed — it has gone topsy-turvy, reverting back to the bad old days with a vengeance. Instead of hiring more teachers, the university has been systematically getting rid of them. In 1999, the university induced a number of senior, tenured professors to leave by providing them with a one-time retirement bonus. And when some of those professors were replaced, they were replaced by sessional appointments — teachers who were signed on for a couple of years at low salaries, with no benefits and no job security.

And the introductory psychology course? What has become of it?

While there are still a couple of introductory classes taught in the traditional manner, most of the 2,500 students must learn the material and take their exams on a website. And, while they do have access to twice-a-week tutorials with a graduate student, those sessions are, in fact, sparsely attended.

And here’s the irony: while the university has been divesting itself of teachers, it has been hiring administrators. It’s hard to keep up with the administrative growth, but at last glance I believe that in place of a president and vice-president there is now a president, three vice-presidents, and a bevy of vice-provosts. And the position of dean of arts and sciences is now two positions—a dean of arts and a dean of science — each with a concomitant number of associate deans.

And, apparently, to make sure that there will be enough Deanship candidates in the future, the administration, in the "Collegial Governance” section of a prestrike bargaining document, says it wants to increase the ease of hiring Deans from outside the university by providing the inducement of offering to hire new Deans’ spouses as well!

In case you’re wondering, those administrators don’t come cheaply. As an example, the salary of the president of the University of Manitoba is third among the presidents of the 13 comparably sized universities in Canada. This is in sharp contrast to the salaries of the university's professors, who happen to rank at the bottom of the pack.

So it would seem that now is the time to start to right a listing ship, a ship top-heavy with administrators and their salaries. It’s a time for the University of Manitoba to offer its professors salaries commensurate with those of comparable universities in Canada and it’s a time to hire more of them to fulfil the needs of its students who are seeking a first-class education provided by people, and not computer screens.





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