Fight to save con­tract profs high­lights dis­pute

Sentinel-Review (Woodstock) - - NEWS - HEATHER RIVERS

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.

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