McGuinty Speaks Out on Postsecondary Performance (plus: Erratum)

Firstly, a necessary correction.   In my last post, I erroneously interpreted a letter, believing that the author located college professors’ lack of academic freedom and decision-making power over their courses’ texts and evaluation.  I was mistaken — he had in fact correctly located it in Article 6.01 of the Collective Agreement.

Of course, if it is located in the Collective Agreement, then managers’ authority has — at its root — the mutual acceptance of both managers and faculty, the latter of which have repeatedly, willingly ceded authority over academic issues that relate to their classes.

Speaking somewhat cynically, I suspect that faculty were willing in the past to hand over that authority in exchange for salary raises and workload limits.  Looking to the future, I expect that faculty’s continued willingness to  cede that authority to managers will depend upon a combination of the following:

  1. A belief that they (faculty) ought not be trusted with important academic decisions involving their own classes, and that managers are the more trustworthy gatekeepers of academic standards.
  2. The continued offer of more concrete, immediate benefits (like salary increases or workload reductions) to faculty during future contract negotiations.
  3. A belief that the official, nominal power is irrelevant, and a satisfaction that the faculty have sufficient authority (in form if not fact) to ensure that appropriate academic decisions are being made, regardless of what the Collective Agreement says.

Breaking them down, I think that #1 is increasingly unlikely, given the increase in the number of professors with advanced degrees and extensive educational experience; similarly, #2 is increasingly unlikely, given recent political policies regarding salary increases for civil servants.  That leaves #3 — will managers make academic decisions that satisfy faculty’s understanding of academic obligations while adhering to the fiscal pressures set down from above?

There is, of course, a fourth possible factor that could account for faculty’s continued willingness to cede academic authority to their managers during contract negotiations: A lack of faith that an arbitrator would be willing to give such authority to faculty, thus rendering pointless any strike undertaken to obtain it.  The plausibility of this factor, however, is rooted in the future (or, perhaps, continued) collective demoralization of faculty.

Which brings us to our latest update: A report from the Globe and Mail of Dalton McGuinty’s meeting with the Globe’s Editorial Board, which touches upon questions of management compensation, adequate staffing and academic freedom.  Feel free to break out your politician-decoder ring and let me know (at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com) what you think he’s intimating:

*                    *                    *

McGuinty gives Ontario colleges and universities an ‘F’ in new spending

Karen Howlett

Toronto — From Saturday’s Globe and Mail Published on Friday, Apr. 09, 2010 10:04PM EDT

Ontario’s colleges and universities need to be more accountable for the taxpayers’ dollars that support them, says Premier Dalton McGuinty, warning that his government is not getting enough bang for its investment in higher education.

During his six years in office, Mr. McGuinty has made education one of his highest priorities, directing billions in new funding to Ontario campuses, including a $310-million infusion in this year’s budget to add 20,000 new university and college spaces.

But beyond higher enrolment numbers, postsecondary institutions have not delivered the same kind of results as elementary and secondary schools, which have used their funding to hire more teachers and develop special programs to engage students, Mr. McGuinty told The Globe and Mail’s editorial board on Friday.

“Can I honestly say that I have got qualitative improvement as a result of these investments? I don’t think so, and we need to talk about that,” he said. “We have not demanded the same kinds of accountability that we have with our hospitals and elementary and secondary schools.”

Mr. McGuinty is looking at taking on the cherished principle of academic freedom as his government attempts to erase a $21.3-billion deficit. He is ushering in a new era of restraint that includes wage freezes for non-unionized public-sector workers, proposed pay-for-performance measures for top executives of hospitals and other provincial entities, and a review of Crown assets.

If the government does sell off any assets, a decision that Mr. McGuinty stressed on Friday is very much “up in the air,” he would reinvest the proceeds in such things as postsecondary education, rather than paying down the deficit.

But he is not about to rush out and sell off the province’s lottery corporation, liquor retailer or any other asset unless he can strike a deal that stands the test of time. Mr. McGuinty said he doesn’t want future generations to look back and accuse his government of “burning the furniture to stay warm today.”

[. . .]

The classroom is the centrepiece of Mr. McGuinty’s five-year plan to return Canada’s one-time economic engine to prosperity. It calls for building on the backs of a new generation of workers trained for the highly skilled jobs that will supplant those on assembly lines.

But at a time when his government needs to push harder to wring value out of every dollar it invests, Mr. McGuinty intends to put those who run the province’s hospitals, postsecondary institutions and other public entities on a shorter leash.

He said he needs to have “honest conversations” in the coming months with university and college campus leaders about what they can expect in return for the funding they receive.

“There is this issue of academic independence,” he said. “I think we are going to have to come to grips with that in a 21st-century kind of way if we are going to continue to be the principle [sic] funders for our colleges and universities.”

The government also plans to introduce pay-for-performance rules that would link a hospital chief executive officer’s salary to the institution’s mortality rate and patient satisfaction. Mr. McGuinty is looking at expanding the concept to the top executives of every Crown corporation and agency in the province.

“I think we’ve got to take a look at some of the salaries we’re giving to senior executives in the public sector,” he said. “I’m talking about more than a freeze.”

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