Dalhousie's Priorities - Choices Have Consequences

President's Bulletin: September 27, 2017

On October 2, 2017, Dalhousie University will award Professor Emeritus Sue Sherwin of Philosophy an Honorary Doctorate. When Dr. Sherwin began her research at Dalhousie in the 1970s, feminist philosophy and medical ethics, let alone feminist bioethics, were unproven fields. But because she’s an excellent researcher, and research is like a fire that consumes one from within, she persevered and opened up new vistas of thought and practice. My first introduction to Sue was at the 2004 American Philosophical Association meeting, where I was interviewing for jobs. She was being awarded the Society for Women in Philosophy’s highest honor.

Dr. Sherwin’s name is also on a beautiful bookcase in the DFA headquarters as part of the 1979 DFA collective bargaining team that negotiated the first collective agreement between the DFA and the Board of Governors. The reason I volunteered for the DFA executive is because as my excellent, famous colleagues in Philosophy died, retired, or left for other Universities, they weren’t being replaced. In 2005 my department had 12 full-time faculty; now we have eight. We would have been seven if we hadn’t successfully beat out many other, equally desperate departments in Arts and Social Sciences to compete for new hires that won’t make a sizeable dent in the attrition of our Faculty. I believe that our graduate program has been considerably weakened, and that we are operating below capacity at the undergraduate level as a result of a failure to renew positions.

The modern research University is an incubator for the desperate yearning to know and understand. Research professors with tenure have the freedom to risk new forms of inquiry and answers to fundamental questions without putting their livelihood in jeopardy. On Monday, in the final minutes of the Senate meeting, a Senator asked the President following the report on the Strategic Directions agreed to by the Senate and Board, “where is the renewal of rank and file tenure-stream faculty members in the strategic directions”? (I’m paraphrasing). President Florizone’s answer included the comment that renewal of faculty through tenure-stream hiring can only be solved by increasing post-secondary education funding from the province.  While I agree that post-secondary education funding is problematic, financial choices that are made by the Dalhousie administration are at the heart of the decreasing number of tenured faculty across the University. 

Below are charts that indicate the overall loss of tenured and tenure-track faculty over a 10-year period, and then losses in the three worst hit Faculties.


In my last bulletin, I showed that Dalhousie is near the bottom of academic salaries as a proportion of overall compensation in both the U15 and our salary comparators. I also presented data to show that over the last 10 years, as a proportion of revenue, investment in the academic mission of the University has declined significantly.

Financial choices made by the Dalhousie administration are eroding the tenured and tenure-track faculty and causing serious consequences for Dalhousie’s stature as a research intensive University.  It is time to reverse this trend.  I encourage you to engage in dialogue with your colleagues and your Dean to discuss the importance and urgency of financial and academic choices that are reducing Dalhousie’s capacity for research. Recruitment of the best and brightest new faculty is necessary for ensuring that our undergraduate and graduate programs flourish.

Darren Abramson
DFA President

Dalhousie Faculty Association