Almost all universities in Canada are public institutions that used to be primarily supported by public funding. As public funding has declined, partly because of reductions in federal transfer payments in the 1990s, universities have tried to fill the gap by increasing tuition and other student fees, increasing donations, and cutting continuing full-time faculty. It’s a losing game because those measures are so costly.
Last month, I went through a few million-dollar figures from the Dalhousie budget—a surplus of $6 million, a cool $1 million thrown in the general direction of buildings, a $43.2 million reduction in academic spending over the last couple of decades, and so on. This month, let’s talk about ratios. Online, the administration reports that Dalhousie has “more than 6,000 faculty and staff” of which 999 are professors, a tad higher than the full count of DFA Members in 2016 (professors, instructors, librarians, and counsellors, including limited-term appointments). That puts the staff to faculty ratio around five to one—part of the reason my title is taken from Jim Morrison’s 1968 lyrics. This imbalance is registered in other figures. The administrative Dalhousie Professional and Managerial Group (DPMG), which does not typically include staff in academic units, is now nearly as big as the DFA: according to the 2018 Dalhousie Census, 957 DFA members and 721 DPMG members responded (and an even 100 in “Senior Administration”; see page 2 of the pdf).
I started reading more on the DFA website in the early 2010s when I chaired my Faculty’s working group on Finances. Those materials, along with other readings and various consultations for our working group, led to my understanding of spending at Dalhousie as “buckets and troughs”: all resources go into buckets; resources then get poured into different troughs, until they’re more or less full. If one starts to run low, skim some from the other troughs. Pouring slop from a bucket is never a finely tuned calculation. It’s a metaphor, of course, but one I’ve found useful because it grasps the lack of detail in the information we get. It’s hard to know why, for instance, every year there are tuition increases but cuts to Faculty budgets (the so-called BAC Cuts, named for the Budget Advisory Committee)—and every year the university ends with a surplus.
Academic unions are rather unusual in the world of labour relations because they do not stop at pay, working conditions, job protections, and employer-union relations (though of course we work a lot on those too!). University collective agreements usually entrench fundamental academic principles, including collegial governance and academic freedom. These do not merely reflect our commitment to a university focussed on the academic mission and evidence-based decision-making. Such clauses belong in our collective agreements because collegial governance and academic freedom are key to our shared responsibility to ensure the quality, currency, and integrity of academic work.
We are writing to express our concern about the proposed budget for 2019-20. In the DFA BAC submission (January 28, 2019), we restated our longstanding concern “about the movement of funds from the Academic Responsibility Centre towards buildings and administrative costs.” We urged the university to restore ARC funding to reinvest in the academic mission without burdening students further with tuition increases. As one of our attached charts shows, there was a steep decline in ARC’s share of the university’s overall budget (from 73.6% in 2002-03 to 64.7% in 2017-18)—more is needed to support research and teaching at a U15 institution. Faculty cannot continue doing more and more with less and less.
Nova Scotia’s theme for the 2019 African Heritage Month is ‘our history is your history.’ The theme calls for celebrating the history of African Nova Scotians in the past, the present and the future as contributors to Canadian history. In other words, to make meaningful impact in the way people live and function in a society, it is important to relate to the shared history, evident in the way people exchange ideas, and engage in activities that enhance their functioning. Moreover, this year's theme reinforces the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent’s goal to support and cooperate with people of African Descent to create meaningful, full inclusion and belonging in Nova Scotia and Canada.
On June 2, DFA President Dave Westwood and President-Elect Julia M. Wright published their opinion piece, "Minds are not commercial products" in the Chronicle Herald. The piece was written in response to Bill Black's May 26 column "Universities must become flexible to stay successful". Dave and Julia's article is below and a link to Bill Black's column is found at the end of the piece.
In his May 26 column, “Universities must become flexible to stay successful,” Bill Black uses an economic lens to view and comment on the value of universities in Nova Scotia and their future. The language and approach would not be out of place at a shareholders’ meeting of a large corporation.
Consider the following: a person teaching University courses who lives in her car because she can’t afford rent; another who has had a full course load for 31 years at two Canadian universities and still can’t make ends meet. These are not the images that come to mind when we think of the highly-qualified professionals who have dedicated their lives and careers to the education of our University students.
The Mi’kmaq worldview is relational, where everything existed within a network of relationships and could not exist as a separate entity outside of those relationships. On all levels of reality, visible and invisible, everything is related. As everyone and everything is related, proper decorum was expected because it was thought that if you harmed someone or something, you ultimately harmed yourself in the process. One cannot take these relationships for granted, rather each person must express honor and respect in their relationships with others. This worldview extends to all human relationships, the environment, the animals, and to other beings. Mi’kmaq ancestors understood that everything is in a continuous state of flux, ever changing and non-static. The constant motion signifies that everything is in the process of becoming. It is also understood that these relationships require renewal ceremonies in order to sustain and maintain balance and harmony through the life cycles.
The government has a clear road map for what needs to be done to support basic, investigator-driven research, thanks to the report of Canada’s Fundamental Science Review, released this spring. The report’s most important recommendation is to increase basic research funding by $1.3 billion over 4 years. We now need to make sure the government acts on the recommendations of the Advisory Panel on Federal Support for Fundamental Science. It is time to get science right.
It’s easy to blame administrators and Boards of Governors for the growing trend toward corporatization in our universities. But according to Jamie Brownlee, a political economist, sociologist and author of the new book Academia Inc., provincial and federal governments play a major role. In an article in Academic Matters, Dr. Brownlee identifies government underfunding as…
Earlier this year, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) held a conference on precarious academic work, a subject that is becoming increasingly relevant as more and more universities replace tenure-track positions with part-time and limited term appointments. The conference, entitled “Confronting Precarious Academic Work”, dealt with a wide range of topics, ranging from…
Academics here in Canada have fought for and largely won the freedom to pursue their scholarly and research interests – and communicate the results of their research — without fear of reprisals or discrimination. At Dalhousie, these rights are clearly stated in the collective agreement between the DFA and the Board of Governors. But this…