“Five to One, Baby, One in Five”

posted August 21, 2019

Dr. Julia M. Wright, DFA President, 2019-20

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).

The Census suggests another ratio: if the DFA response rate to the Census was 91% and 957 responded, then that puts the administration’s 2018 DFA count at about 1,050; 134 non-union faculty also responded, so the number of faculty may be closer to 1,200. Even if the proportion of university employees who are faculty may be as high as “one in five,” to again quote Morrison, it sure isn’t anything to brag about.

The University of British Columbia was criticized in 2015: “UBC has a 2:1 staff-to-faculty ratio, while [the University of] Toronto has a 1:2 ratio.” UBC is closer to the norm, though. Here are Dalhousie’s closest Atlantic peers and some other U15s (using their terminology for employee groups):

So the university website puts Dalhousie’s proportion of faculty (1 in 6) at less than half of the lowest ratio reported by these seven universities.

Universities do vary in terms of who they count and how. The University of Victoria is unusually detailed about its count and it has close to a 1:1 ratio of academics to non-academics: it recognizes instructors as academics but separates them from faculty and many of its academics are precariously employed. And some of these universities are reporting slightly different years, though they’re all the most recent available.

Even recognizing such variations, there seems to be a general trend in those universities that put this information clearly on their websites: at least one-third of their workforce is faculty. If Dalhousie were in a comparable range, we would have over 800 more faculty colleagues. Take a moment to think about what even half that would mean to our academic programs, our students, our research, our workloads—and the province, given the role of universities in driving economic success and other social benefits.

Let’s move beyond staff-to-faculty ratios. If Dalhousie had the same ratio of faculty to full-time students as Memorial, a similarly sized medical university in the region, then Dalhousie would have 1,444 faculty. (You can see this at a granular level—I checked some comparable units and numbers of professors at the two universities are either similar, as in Biology, or Memorial has more, as in Social Work.)

Our ratio also affects the university culture. Five to one, Human Resources and myriad other units are not dealing with us. Five to one, our Collective Agreement is irrelevant to the work of the administration. In policy development, planning, and so on, we’re not a significant cohort. Our Collective Agreement is just one in five at Dalhousie.

According to Research Infosource’s 2017 data (and using the university’s 999 figure), Dalhousie has over 25% more research income than Memorial, even though it has over 25% fewer faculty, and more than three times the research income of UNB, even though it has less than twice as many faculty. Since faculty numbers are differently calculated, let’s look at this from the perspective of total employees: York University (the second-largest university in Canada by undergraduate enrolment) has 7,000 faculty and staff to Dalhousie’s 6,000, but less than two-thirds the research income of Dalhousie.

Again, these numbers may be differently calculated; moreover, disciplines are highly variable in terms of whether external research funding is needed and how much, so the discipline mix is always a factor in research income. But these and other calculations all point in one direction: we are doing more with less. #DalProud, indeed.

“Five to One” is a song about revolution, recorded just weeks after anti-war protests at the Pentagon: “They got the guns, but we got the numbers,” sang Morrison. We’ve got numbers, too, like those I’ve detailed above and last month, as well as many others collected by the DFA over the years (with more to come!).

DFA concerns about workload and fairness are not rooted in speculation, or belly-aching, or faculty failure to organize their time. Workload problems are real and they are discernible in the numbers as well as palpable in our daily experience, especially for our limited-term colleagues. We are less than “one in five” doing the work that in other universities is done by over one in three.

Please feel free to contact the team at dfa@dal.ca or me at julia.wright@dal.ca.