Fight to save contract profs highlights dispute
Former and current history students at Western University are rallying around three popular full-time history professors who have been told their contracts will not be renewed at the end of the school year.
The campaign comes as Western and its roughly 1,650 faculty members have been locked in a contract dispute since June, with a strike date set for Friday.
“The thing that shocks us all about these three faculty members is that their classes are consistently full and these are the courses our students want to take,” said Sara Poulin, a PhD history student at Western, who has taken courses from all three of the professors.
“So now there is the potential that the professors will not have jobs, but there is a chance their courses will not be offered next year.”
Students have started a Facebook page protesting the contract cuts for professors Karen Priestman, Geoff Stewart and Jeff Vacante, who Poulin said each taught for close to a decade at Western.
Students and alumni have also started an email writing campaign to Bob Anderson, dean of social sciences, and provost Andrew Hrymak.
They may even stage a protest, Poulin said.
“It was with great dismay that I learned of the decision not to renew each of their contracts,” wrote history graduate Gordon Vance in a letter addressed to Anderson. “Western’s students will suffer as a result of the loss of three of the university’s best young professors.”
Over the past couple of years, university faculties have been eliminating contract faculty positions, particularly in the history department, Poulin said.
Declining enrolment in the school’s history programs is to blame, the school has told students.
Dan Belliveau, president of Western’s faculty association, said the faculty and the university are still haggling over several issues to reach a collective agreement, including job security for contract workers.
Belliveau said a strike date has been set for Friday at 12:01 a.m. He said the faculty association is concerned about the precarious nature of contract academic faculty appointments and that the positions can be eliminated for ill-defined “operational reasons” as determined by university administration. “One of our main goals in this round of negotiations is to establish job security for our contract faculty,” Belliveau said. “Either part-time contract or limited-term contract faculty … they may have been serving for years and are still required to apply either term by term for their courses or perhaps after one- or two-year limited term to attempt to get their term extended. … That is something we are working hard to eliminate.”
A recent report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives on contract faculty appointments at Canadian universities found that public universities are relying heavily on contract faculty, with 53.6 per cent of appointments across the country being contract jobs.
At Western, the report said, contract appointments make up 65 per cent of all faculty appointments, compared to the Ontario provincial average of 54 per cent.
Chandra Pasma, co-author of the report, said precariously employed teachers often don’t get the same support and resources as their counterparts, depending on terms of a contract.
“The biggest thing for contract faculty is insecurity and low wages. In some cases wages can be as low as $5,000 a course,” she said. “A teacher with a full course load can still be below the poverty line in some cities.”
With limited or no job security, contract teachers find it “really difficult to plan their lives.”
“In some cases it is difficult to make choices the rest of us take for granted, like deciding to start a family,” Pasma said.