We head into collective agreement negotiations with the colleges this summer. As we look ahead, we know that we face some significant challenges to creating a better environment for both students and faculty.
We know, right now, 70 per cent of faculty are working in precarious, under-paid contract positions. When we raise concerns with senior administrators about this, we are told that the colleges have no choice, as they have no money to create good paying secure jobs for faculty.
Yet at the same time that they are claiming they’re out of money, new buildings are going up on many campuses; more high-paid administrators are being hired, outpacing full-time faculty hiring; and student tuition continues to rise.
From this, we know that the issue is priorities, not money. The colleges are certainly underfunded, but that fact makes it even more important they put the limited funds they have into students and faculty first.
Ontario’s Public Colleges at 50: A Better Plan, Issues in Collective Bargaining 2017
Revised September 7, 2017
OPSEU has published four newsletters and four videos on the issues facing Ontario’s public colleges that we are seeking to address in collective bargaining.
1. Students and Faculty First
2. Collegial Governance in Ontario’s Colleges: The Time is Now
For the first time in the history of our division, collegial governance, including faculty academic freedom, is the highest-ranked demand coming out of the provincial demand-setting meeting. This is a historic development; however, collegial governance and academic freedom have long been issues within the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology (CAATs).
In 1984, faculty at the CAATs went out on one of only three strikes that have occurred in the system’s 50-year history. Unsustainable faculty workloads were a prime concern, but also at issue was growing evidence that a “factory floor” management model, in which administrators made academic decisions and faculty had little power to ensure program quality, was utterly unworkable.
In response to the 1984 strike, a provincial taskforce was struck to explore the issues that drove the job action. The result was the Skolnik Report, written by respected Ontario Institute for Studies in Education professor Michael Skolnik, which made a strong case for changing the assignment of faculty workloads and led to the Standard Workload Form (SWF).Â In addition, the report made clear recommendations about faculty input into academic decision-making.
3. The privatization of Ontario’s colleges
Chronic government under-funding for postsecondary education means Ontario now offers the least per-student funding of any province in Canada. As a result, Ontario’s public colleges are increasingly being pushed to recklessly pursue other revenue streams.
This includes both a drive to contract out public services as well as problematic, for-profit ventures with private colleges, corporations and even corrupt governments around the world. However, far from helping to balance the books, these questionable endeavors risk the reputation, the educational quality, and even the financial health of our colleges. The third issue of Ontario’s Public Colleges at 50: A Better Plan looks at some examples of privatization under way in our colleges, and the risks we face as a result.
The arrangement to contract out program delivery to private colleges offers the hope of short-term financial benefits to Ontario’s smaller colleges, but will do immense damage to the colleges’ reputation in the long run. Privately run, second-tier colleges lack the experienced full-time faculty, student diversity, program breadth, recreational facilities, libraries, student services, and sheer complexity that make public colleges such a vibrant learning environment. Indeed, students enrolled in these shops are often required to sign a waiver stating that they understand that they will not have access to the same facilities and student services as students in the mother college. Our third bargaining video focuses in on this issue and takes a deeper look at who has to lose in order to generate profits for the owners of these private colleges.
4. Is online learning designed for students – or budgets?
The number of students in Ontario’s public colleges has nearly doubled since 1989. Sadly, as a result of government under-funding, the number of faculty has failed to keep pace. This has forced colleges to look for ways to stretch their budgets to educate more students, with fewer faculty.
One way colleges are trying to cut corners is through online learning. Whether it comes in the form of online courses through Ontario Learn or eCampus Ontario, or through an increasing number of blended courses, where a portion of the in-class hours are replaced with online ones, students are increasingly finding themselves staring at a screen, rather than participating in a classroom.
As we look back at the last 50 years of Ontario’s colleges, and ahead to the next 50 years, the proper use of technology will be a crucial part of the discussion. After all, online learning – used correctly – can be a way of increasing access to education and enhancing student learning in vibrant, active virtual classrooms. However, the lack of academic control over content at some colleges, as well as the tight budgets behind the decisions made to date, raise significant concerns about which goal the current push for online learning is really designed to help meet: educating students or balancing budgets.