As most of the student body already knows, the University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) – the union of full-time professors, researchers, and librarians at the University of Manitoba – has overwhelmingly voted to hold a strike in response to our administration’s failure to address concerns regarding the direction and integrity of the university.
Universities are an important institution as they are the centre for research, innovation, and growth; most importantly, universities transform people’s lives through knowledge and education. Universities are among the key driving forces behind the development and progress of individuals and societies, and a compromise to the quality of education that a university provides to its student body has critical repercussions.
Sadly, this is what is currently happening at the University of Manitoba, as our administration has been prioritizing style over substance and a quality of education we can be proud of. This is what should leave us most worried.
A call for a strike is a very serious thing. It is disruptive, anxiety-inducing, and leaves students as the ultimate victims. But a strike would not have been considered had our professors, researchers, and librarians not believed that the value of our education and degrees were at stake.
UMFA’s main concerns are the evaluation processes that professors are currently subject to, their increasingly heavy workload, and salaries. These issues have direct implications for the quality of our education and how we interact with our professors.
Currently, faculty members are being evaluated through performance indicators which include tracking the number of papers a professor publishes and the number of citations that each of those papers receive. The important work that faculty members take part in to enhance the quality of our education, such as taking time to prepare for classes and talking to students, becomes invisible as professors’ work become commodified. Not only does valuable teaching work go unrecognized, but additionally, the quality of their scholarship becomes invisible as they will not be assessed on the soundness and quality of the research they produce, but instead by the quantity.
This matters to students because if professors are just being evaluated based on the number of research papers they produce and the citations they get, professors are forced prioritize getting those numbers up over dialogue and interaction with students. This is the heart and soul of our education, but if they refuse to play the numbers game, they will likely not get promoted or receive enough budget for their programs, or even worse, get fired.
At the strike information picket, UMFA claimed that, since last year, professorial workload has increased by approximately 30 per cent. This means larger classes and more students to teach, increased administrative tasks, and greater research expectations placed on faculty.
As workload piles up, our professors are further incentivized to limit the amount of time they spend with any student and therefore keep their doors closed. This is unfair both for us in terms of our education and for our professors who have dedicated their lives to their careers.
Then there is UMFA’s fight for higher salaries, which is the top issue that the union is being criticized for. However, the University of Manitoba is not offering competitive salaries and this means the university will be unable to attract top candidates who can offer high quality research and education. We go to university expecting to be taught by top scholars, and the only way this is done is if our university offers salaries that are competitive to other universities in Canada.
University revenues have not fallen; our university is capable of offering better salaries because while our professors, researchers, and librarians are at the absolute bottom salary tier among comparable institutions in Canada, the University of Manitoba’s president, David Barnard, is among the top earners.
I have seen students sitting on the floor during lectures because of the high demand for certain courses that are constantly at maximum capacity. The quality of our education is being threatened and our degrees are at risk; we should definitely not take this lightly. We need to reach out to our administration and president Barnard and demand a fair settlement, because as UMFA president Mark Hudson put it during last Friday’s information picket, it is not a strike that is wanted, but a settlement, a solution, an agreement.
At the heart of our education is the engagement and dialogue we have with our professors. My fear is if our university continues the trajectory it has set, the quality of our education will diminish and we will lose a lot of what is great about this university.