Surveying the Damage…

A recent online survey of faculty and librarians at Ontario univerities was conducted by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations in March and April, to assess faculty opinion about changes in Ontario’s universities since the Ontario government’s “Reaching Higher Plan” commenced in 2005.  The survey was based upon over 1,400 responses, which is probably a reasonably high (if self-selected) sample rate around 10%.

Noting that the survey is drawing conclusions about faculty perceptions of changes, the results [part one; part two] may be instructive to us as Ontario college professors, and include some of the following data:

  • Only 15% of respondents said that the majority of vacated tenure-stream positions in 2005-8 were replaced with positions that were of an equivalent level, while 35.4% said that the majority of replacement hires were in lower-ranked tenure-stream positions, 23.3% said that the majority were replaced by adjunct faculty positions, and 17.2% who said that the majority were not replaced at all.
  • More strikingly, when asked about vacancies from the previous year, 45.7% of respondents reported that a majority of vacated tenure-stream positions in the departments had not been replaced at all. Which leads us to the corollary…
  • 60% of respondents claim that their class sizes increased from 2005-8, and 55.9% identified an increase in the past year alone. (This compares to 5.7% who claim their class sizes decreased from 2005-8 and 6% who reported a decrease in the last year).
  • 69.6% of respondents claim that, in their own departments, budgetary pressures had specifically led to increased class sizes, and 77.3% claimed that such pressures had led to deferred hiring. (I’m curious about the 8.3% gap between those last two statistics – the professors who felt that deferred hiring had not necessarily produced increased class sizes. Possibly, those are departments in which enrolments have dropped or classes have been cut.)
  • A remarkable 79.1% said that the “Hiring of New Tenure-Track Faculty” should be the overwhelming priority for any new funding earmarked for teaching support. Hiring new faculty — not shinier technology or nicer offices or labs for the current profs, nor increased time-off through professional development. That number even increased to 90.1% — the percentage who responded that the hiring that universities needed was that of “permanent, full-time, full-reponsibility positions”.

You can check out Part Two for the details about perceived changes in the student body’s needs and preparedness. But, as ever, my interest comes back to education and educational impact, and the following statistics sober me:

  • 42.2% of respondents “stated that they perceive a decline in quality between 2005 and 2008” – the period covered by the government’s Reaching Higher Plan – and 57% perceive “a decline in quality over the past year”, which, as the report’s authors report, “coincides with the province’s measures to cap or rollback expenditures across the broader public sector.”
  • 38.4% of respondents report reduced out-of-class contact with students (although the study doesn’t tell us whether that’s a reduction in net hours or time-per-student), and 31.5% report an increased reliance on multiple-choice tests, with 26.8% describing “other” impacts upon their teaching as a consequence (and a symptom) of the changing face of Ontario university education.

To restate that last point, a third of responding faculty admit that they were compelled to change the way that they teach – to limit their students’ educational opportunities, and to limit the effectiveness of their evaluations of students’ knowledge – as a consequence of “budget cutting measures”. 

Why does that strike me as so important? Because that one statistic tells a story. It’s the statistic where professors recognize their first-hand involvement in the reduced educational quality at Ontario’s universities that 57% of them identify. It’s where they recognize that the education they provide is not what it used to be.

Remember that Ontario’s university professors (like college professors in British Columbia or Quebec) have academic freedom and more control over their classes than Ontario’s college professors. Unlike us, they have no managers performing SWF calculations to conclude that increased multiple-choice testing is needed to accommodate increased class sizes. Apparently, though, they have no need of such managers: 60% of respondents report increased class sizes, and unless days will now feature more than 24 hours, a reduction of individual attention to students (whether grading their assignments or addressing their needs out-of-class) is a mathematical inevitability.

*                    *                    *

Granted, these professors are being asked to report on their own jobs, and one might be justified in questioning their objectivity.  The foremost dissenting voice — speaking in defense of educational changes since 2005 — is John Milloy, Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities, whose response to the survey was reported in the Globe and Mail as follows:

Universities Minister John Milloy disputed the notion students are being short-changed.

Operating grants to universities have risen 77 per cent from $1.9 billion in 2002-2003 to $3.2 billion in this past fiscal year.

While part of the increase is due to enrolment growth, Mr. Milloy said dollars-per-student have increased by 28 per cent during that time and surveys show high levels of student satisfaction.

“Quality is not declining … it’s in fact the opposite,” Mr. Milloy said.

“We’ve seen a phenomenal investment in the system.”

If the Globe and Mail’s reportage is faithful, then I understand the Honourable Minister’s argument as resting on the following reasoning:

Premise One:  The province is spending more money on university education

Premise Two: Surveys show high levels of student satisfaction

Conclusion: Eduational quality is improving

As a completely unrelated aside, apropos of absolutely nothing at all, I’m reminded of one final statistic from the OCUFA survey:

  • 49.8% of respondents who supported remediation programs in Ontario universities identified “critical thinking” as a priority area for remediation



This entry was posted in Uncategorized.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s