By Doug Hallett
People who teach at the University of Guelph say they are alarmed by the university’s new cost-cutting thrust and what it could mean for their jobs, for students’ education and for the economic health of the community.
The head of the University of Guelph Faculty Association, whose 787 members include faculty, librarians and veterinarians, foresees it could lead to fewer courses and less traditional in-classroom teaching at U of G. The association is “very concerned about the budget cuts and what appears to be a created crisis,” said UGFA president Ed Carter.
Meanwhile, Local 3913 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents more than 400 sessional instructors as well as more than 1,200 teaching assistants at the U of G, says there is fear of job loss among its members.
“Management will want to drastically reduce, overall, the number of faculty, although they have stated that there will be growth in some areas,” said Carter.
“Additionally, management will want the number of courses being offered to decrease, resulting in fewer choices for students, likely with increased class sizes,” he said in an email sent in response to a Tribune query.“There will be an emphasis on distance education and hybrid courses advocated by the province and our senior administration,” he said. “We are told that the expectation is that the provincial government will reward those universities who change with more money.”
The traditional method of offering courses is “by lectures/seminars/labs on campus,” Carter noted.
Distance education courses, on the other hand, are offered online. They include lots of resources to help students, “but the student misses out on personal contact with the instructor, except from discussion groups/emails, etc.” he said. “Students do not view this type of course the same way as a traditional course.”
A hybrid course is a mixture of traditional and distance courses, Carter explained. They can offer a lot of information through videos and online demonstrations, with students meeting once a week with the instructor to hear the professor’s viewpoints on the subject and to participate in discussions.
“You would replace a portion of the lectures with online material. The idea would be that you could handle more students in a course this way,” he said.
U of G management is using a controversial system called the Program Prioritization Process, imported from the United States, as part of its new cost-cutting initiative. The goal is to cut a total of $32.4 million over three years from the university’s budget to address a gap between projected expenses and revenue.
The University of Guelph Faculty Association’s October newsletter is highly critical of PPP and of a U of G task force report that used the PPP process in its evaluation of the university’s academic and non-academic programs.
Carter said the main issue for his association is budget cuts.
“The PPP seemed to have little impact in determining the amount of the cuts,” he said. “We were told that $32.4 million needs to be found, which includes $6.4 million for targeted reinvestment. Now the colleges are being told that they have to find these savings, somehow, or increase revenue.”
U of G management has said 75% of the planned cuts, or $24.2 million, will come from colleges, with the heaviest burden of cuts falling on the College of Arts. Another 23% of the cuts are to come from non-college programs, with 2% from ancillary sources. Colleges are to be allowed to delay half of their cuts to the last of the three years.
Deidre Rose, interim president of CUPE 3913, said her union is concerned, among other things, about what changes at the U of G could mean for the community. “Some of our sessional lecturers live in Guelph, while others commute,” she said Friday. “The job losses that we anticipate will reduce the spending power of our members, leading to a ripple effect throughout the community of Guelph and environs.”
Rose added these comments to an official statement from CUPE 3913, which was issued earlier on Friday in response to a Tribune query.
“Our concern is that many departments might opt – or be forced – to cut back on the number of courses taught by sessional lecturers, which would mean job losses for our members,” the CUPE statement says. “Sessionals are mentioned many times in the PPP document and seem to be viewed as a problem rather than a solution,” CUPE says.
“For years we have been struggling to improve wages and job security for our members, some of whom have been teaching at this university for more than a decade. The fear of job loss is a reality for many of our members.
“It is a bit more difficult to gauge the impact that the PPP will have on our teaching assistants, but many graduate programs are being evaluated and there might be adverse effects for our members at the departmental level,” CUPE says.
“Larger class sizes will mean more work for undergraduate and graduate teaching assistants, and the nature of that work might become more standardized and focused on evaluation rather than teaching.
“We are concerned about what this could mean for our students – more online courses, larger class sizes and more standardized textbook learning are distinct possibilities – and about how these changes will affect the quality of education for our students,” CUPE’s statement concludes.
Rose said she teaches six courses a year, but some sessional instructors teach only one course. She said most teaching assistants, or TAs, are graduate students.
The UGFA’s October newsletter includes a response from the association to the PPP task force report and its ranking of 492 university programs into five groups or “quintiles,” with the top-ranked ones higher up. It says the result could be to transform the U of G from one of Canada’s finest comprehensive universities into “a narrow technical institute.”
By Doug Hallett