On Businesses and Services

A GTA prof looks at the vote result and sees plus c’est la même chose:

The contract is accepted, and while I am very disappointed, I’ll live with the results and continue to teach my students the best I can.

Having said this, I find the following statement from Rachel Donovan doubly upsetting:

“We are very pleased that the majority of our faculty saw this offer as a fair and reasonable offer,” said Rachael Donovan, chairperson of the colleges’ bargaining committee.  We now have a collective agreement and of course we have avoided a strike, which is wonderful, certainly for our students, but it’s also good for our faculty and our communities in terms of being able to move forward.” [linked here]

I don’t know which offends me more: the double-speak or the insulting of our collective intelligence.  It’s good for faculty?  How?  By imposing terms of employment, and then refusing to implement at least some of the WTF recommendations?  Academic freedom has no cost potential, neither does recognizing seniority for partial-load faculty.  Yet, these were virtually ignored by management.

It’s good for our students?  How?  I have 36 students in each class (a total of 3), and 38 students in another.  There are about 7-8 students in each class that are already failing.  I don’t have the time to consult with them individually; I’m up to my ears in marking the next few weeks and prepping for classes when they reconvene after Reading week.  I’m letting these students down, I know, but there’s isn’t much I can do apart from watching them fail from a distance.

Let’s say I was able to consult with these students during office hours (for which there is no compensation): they amount to another full class; each of these students have chronic problems with grammar, style, and logic.  No doubt, they entered my classes convinced that they were capable of moving forward.  Convinced by whom?  By a system that rewards mediocrity because it is fatally incapable of providing quality and enforcing standards.

Who gets hurt by all this?  Students do.  They will face frustration after frustration when they are repeatedly turned down for work or are fired for lack of ability; abilities, ironically, that a diploma claims to enshrine in theory, but not in actual practice.  I have talked to a fare share of former students who agonized over how their diploma gave them nothing — no job and no confidence.  Working at a coffee shop should not be the end result of a 3 year program in business.

I hope the college management is content; they have fought hard for the status-quo, and will reap the harvest of a mediocre system that does nothing to advance the lives of students, but does everything to save costs. This is nothing short of Darwinian: those students who can cut it individually will make it; those who cannot (and need help) will not.

I’ve said the following before re: the college management’s approach to education: they believe they are running a business; we (as faculty) believe that we are providing a vital, civilizing service.  Unless we can find a way to meet in the middle, it’ll only continue to get worse, and I cannot remain in a system that does not allow me to properly teach my students.

Business vs. service.  The real question, ultimately, is which one the Ontario government and the Ontario taxpayers consider the college system to be.  I suspect that we might be disappointed by the answer (which would at least explain why the media focused on nothing but the two sides’ respective cost estimates during during the negoatiations — as encouraged by Dr. Rachel Donovan).  If people thought of colleges at least partially as a service, would they not at least ask (as they do of, say, Ontario’s medical or legal services) about quality and adequacy?

But the question is also what we think we’re providing.  If we are convinced that we were providing a necessary service, would we not demand the conditions that we need to provide that service?  And would those conditions not matter more to us than fiscal issues of money gained in a contract or money lost during a strike?

Probably oversimplifying, I see two possible attitudes on our end to account for an acceptance of our new contract: 1. We don’t need things like academic freedom, educational authority, or over 46 seconds of office hours per student weekly to provide our service (and it’s therefore okay that the new contract may deny those things), or 2. We do not provide a necessary service–we provide a business–and it is acceptable if the owners and managers of that business choose to adopt a business structure that promotes mediocrity on the part of employees and students, because of shoddy production values.

Might part of the difficulty lie in the fact that the quality of the finished product is difficult to measure?  That’s it’s difficult to tell whether the finished product “works” or not?  Clearly, if a business were to turn out products that didn’t work when you plugged them in, that business would go bankrupt quickly.  The question is: Are our finished products capable of doing that which we tell the citizens of Ontario (and future employers worldwide) that our graduates can can do?  If so, perhaps the business model is working, from a capitalistic point-of-view; if not, then perhaps we’d have a solid argument for changing the production model, to increase the quality of production (by spending more time per individual student, amongst other approaches).

But if we can’t tell whether our students are graduating with “enough” knowledge and skills, is that because that such things are unmeasured or unmeasurable, or because we havn’t done the hard work of coming to agreement about what level of capabaility we truly demand from our graduates and, in turn, our colleges and ourselves?

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