Poll calls for more job-secure faculty: OCUFA

More than two-thirds of southwestern Ontario residents recently polled on behalf of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) believe university courses should be taught by professors who have job security.

The recent province-wide poll, which surveyed roughly 2,000 individuals across the province, found 68 per cent of those who live in the region want university professors to have job security and benefits. Support was even higher among Ontario youth considering a postsecondary education, with 71 per cent stating this as their preference.

“It is pretty clear southwestern Ontario residents see the issue of fair working conditions at universities as being of concern and has a direct connection to the quality of education at southwestern Ontario universities. Ontarians believe good work conditions are necessary for continued strong education,” said Gyllian Phillips, president of OCUFA, at a news conference in London.

“Unfortunately, what we’ve seen across the province is an increasing, and disturbing, rising dependence on the use of contract faculty or precarious faculty.”

Since 2000, the number of courses in the province taught by contact faculty has doubled, according to OCUFA estimates. Recent data suggests more than 50 per cent of university courses taught in Ontario are taught by contract faculty or faculty in precarious conditions, Phillips added.

“With an election on the horizon, it is time for all political parties to make postsecondary education a priority and commit to investing in good jobs at our universities.”

According to Karen Campbell, Vice-Provost (Academic Planning, Policy, and Faculty), 66 per cent of teaching at Western is done by full-time faculty. Of these, two-thirds are tenured or tenure-track, while the remainder are full-time faculty with varying contract lengths, some of whom have long-standing contracts with Western.

Contract faculty with more than 14 years of service at Western no longer have an end date to their contract.  Approximately 15 per cent of teaching at Western is done by part-time teachers who are active professionals (e.g. musicians, dentists, nurses). Another six per cent of teaching is done by graduate students and post-doctoral fellows who teach on a part-time, course-by-course basis and are not eligible for a full-time role.

“The remainder, representing approximately 13 per cent of teaching at Western, is done by individuals whose main current activity, to the best of our knowledge, is part-time university teaching,” Campbell said.

The OCUFA poll’s regional results show strong support for better working conditions for contract faculty, with 89 per cent supporting equal pay for those teaching the same courses as their full-time colleagues and 85 per cent supporting equal access to benefits, including health insurance and pensions.

“As a faculty association, we have been working hard to improve working conditions for our contract faculty members,” said Stephen Pitel, president of the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA). “When we invest in the faculty who teach our students, we invest in the quality of education, we invest in London, and we invest in southwestern Ontario.”

Poll data shows the public understands faculty working conditions correlate to student learning conditions, he added. When faculty working conditions decline, it negatively impacts the quality of education. Issues of precarious employment are a focus for UWOFA as it prepares for its next round of negotiations later this month. Pitel hopes to see more momentum in continuing teaching appointments at Western and limited-term contracts with no end date. Fair and equitable pay for part-time faculty is also a concern.

“It’s comforting to know contract faculty aren’t alone in feeling their working conditions should be fair,” added Ann Bigelow, former UWOFA President and a lecturer in the DAN Management and Organizational Studies program.

After more than a decade of contract-to-contract work at Western, last year Bigelow was able to secure a limited-term contract with no end date, a newly established employment avenue for Western faculty. Job security should not be so elusive for those who have worked hard to make themselves indispensable to their departments and their students, she said.

Part-time and contract faculty are forced to re-apply for jobs they have done year after year, for lesser pay and no benefits, Bigelow stressed. Some are hesitant to speak out against working conditions for fear of not having their contract renewed. And for the students hoping to pursue an academic career, there is no hope on the horizon.

“We have hundreds of young minds, eager to learn what you have to teach them. How do you encourage them to strive for something that has been a complete disappointment to you? You can’t be a role model to students,” she said.

Founded in 1964, OCUFA represents 17,000 faculty and academic librarians in 28 faculty associations across Ontario.