One GTA prof responds…

… to express her concerns both with my support for management(!) and with the impact of the proposed influx of international students upon the quality of Ontario’s college education.

As the last few posts note, McGuinty looks to enhance Ontario’s postsecondary education systems through extra-national funding (i.e., international students), which would in turn “help expand our schools for our kids and create jobs“.  (Please  note that, according to the Premier’s logic, attracting the international students would take priority; expanding the schools would occur only after their infusion of tuition dollars.)

There are valid questions, however, about a) the current effectiveness of college education programs for students (whether at home or abroad), and b) the impact of catering to an increased number of international students upon the education and credentials we provide.

One reader’s response as follows:

I am sure you have the best of intentions, but I find your blog distressing. The current debate about labour relations in the colleges is not between two equal sides, with good and bad arguments exchanged on a level playing field. Management has almost all the power, and management therefore bears the bulk of the responsibility for the mess we are in. You are trying too hard to be “fair”.

In assessing the damage done to the colleges, you do NOT adequately take into account the poor management practices that have been endemic in the Ontario system since 1967. The faults have been identified time and again by independent reports, most notably “Survival or Excellence” by Dr. Michael L. Skolnik in 1984, which put almost the entire blame for dysfunctional management-faculty relations squarely upon management.

In the the first 15 years of the colleges, senior management was mainly made up of former Ontario high school high school principals, vice-principals and phys. ed. teachers, who had no idea of what a postsecondary education should be, but were delighted with their new, unheard of pay scales, perks and titles. Lacking an intellectual background was bad enough; but they also had NO significant management or administrative experience.

They were, however, astute enough to know that the way to administrative success in the college system was to downgrade and denigrate the largely-university trained teachers, to “dumb down” the curriculum and join the race to the bottom of the educational barrel.

In the past 25 years, there has been a shift toward corporate practices that mimic the worst of the private sector. It is hard to tell which is worse: the authoritarian amateurism at the beginning or the corporate culture of today.

In my case, the curriculum I was hired to teach led to a three-year diploma, equal in most respects to a [polytechnic] degree. It was, however, downgraded to a two-year diploma, and soon became the easiest program in my college for students to enter, regardless of literacy or numeracy. So, I had students who were unable to pass a Grade 8 literacy exam, nonetheless trying to wend their way through a marketing course that demanded, for them, learning a whole new vocabulary and way of thinking without previously having mastered ordinary English.

And, of course, we teachers were expected to pass these people, regardless of their competence, in order to ensure a high level of student satisfaction as a short-sighted “key performance indicator” of institutional achievement.

The future looks even bleaker, with the current provincial government seeking offshore cash-cows to bail out decades of underfunding (to say nothing of underpaying faculty).

It would be nice to imagine Queen’s Park and the Committee of Presidents undertaking a fundamental re-thinking and redirection of the colleges, but that is unlikely. Still, until and unless the province and the system itself get serious about upgrading, or at least maintaining, the quality of a college education, there will be no acceptible and sustainable peace.

Of course, peace may come, but it will smell like a graveyard with the caskets fully open.

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