#39 – Getting Schooled, Part Two: Contractual Idiocy

The concept of tenure is a simple one. In exchange for paying and protecting an academic from harm, the academic provides valuable research insights and teaches students in her ways to inspire the next generation of academics. This concept of patronage is fucking ancient – Aristotle tutored Alexander the Great because he was paid by King Philip II of Macedonia to do so. Surely to shit Canada can’t screw this up, can it?

Yup! Canada absolutely can and will screw that up! Enter the university-as-business age, where students represent profits and education takes a back seat to income. Enter the contract professor. Poorly-paid, dependent on good reviews from students to keep their jobs, and unable to know if they even have work the next semester, these professors are now teaching half of all undergraduate students in Canada. In exchange for abruptly halting an ancient tradition, caker universities provide…administrative bloat. In Canada, the best use for facilities of higher learning is to provide cushy jobs to the friends of wealthy people. Gives a whole new context to the humblebragging CBC piece about Canadians have more postsecondary degrees than anyone else, eh?

The biggest reason for contract professorship growing into a full-time phenomenon is of course cost. Contract professors don’t get benefits or job security or money for doing their own research (which the contractor is of course expected to do on their own dime),  Never mind that the people who teach undergraduate students are desperately poor. Never mind that low wages and limited prospects discourage higher education and thus potentially silence valuable insights. Just look at the savings. Which is what universities and centers of learning were first built for. Plato’s Lyceum was all about squeezing funding from educators and shafting the learned. For sure.

(S) “What’s this about shafting the learned?”

The problem has gotten so bad that even tenured profs are speaking out against the practice. And while these “adjunct” professors are suffering as they try to teach useless caker students, the administrations behind the professors just keep growing. Here’s a funny story about full-time professors protesting a $400,000 year administrative position by offering to split the job four ways. In Quebec, university administrators are making $200 million more per year than they were almost 20 years ago. Said administrations also have a hard time being honest about themselves and their rapid expansion, which is I suppose to be expected. But the point still stands – instead of funding actual intellectuals and their actual research into problems, we’ve opted to funnel funds to mid-level know-nothing administrators who think strangling the academic lifeblood of the university is a good idea.

On top of the administration’s desperate attempts to render professors as broke as possible, universities in Canada have been trying their level best to grow their student populations regardless of whether there’s actually room for those students or if those students can expect a reasonable education. The upshot of that is professors having to teach more students in ever-larger classes, which reduces the ability of the professor to answer questions and to actually teach. And on the whole, universities aren’t hiring enough professors to deal with the ever-growing crush of students.

So, to recap. Your academic achievement in Canada and subsequent desire to teach the next generation of academics is going to leave you mired in poverty and uncertainty, working alongside an unresponsive, ever-growing morass of idiot administrators, responding to reactionary cakers protesting the idea that universities produce research, dealing with a growing number of students that the school does not know how to accomodate, and without any hope that the school might one day recognize that its behavior is suicidal and instead opt to hire enough faculty to address the students being admitted.

What a deal! Who could possibly say no?

2 thoughts on “#39 – Getting Schooled, Part Two: Contractual Idiocy”

  1. Dear poster,

    I’m a frustrated Canadian like you.
    We see eye-to-eye on many issues but not every issue. Half of your posts have me nodding my head and half leave me with more questions and concerns.

    I’ve completed a Masters degree in Perceptual Neuroscience in Toronto but the academic culture left me frustrated. The far leftist culture seemed anti-intellectual to me. Academia has become more about sucking up to the right masters than having original ideas and a hard-working attitude. Innovation moves at an incredibly slow and often disorganized pace. And the bureaucracy is not only inflated but practically useless.

    With that said… I think there is a reason people are suggesting to move away from academia and more towards trades. Academia is funded entirely by the tax-payer and Ontario is horribly in debt. From my current understanding Ontarians carry some of the highest debt per person of all inner-country states (https://www.fraserinstitute.org/sites/default/files/comparing-the-debt-burdens-of-ontario-and-california.pdf).

    The financial fact is that academia is part of the state bureaucracy. You suggest that the burden on the tax-payer is justified by the need for tenure-track professors but I disagree. I believe Ontario’s economic problems run far deeper, and will leave much worse long lasting problems, than not providing enough funding to academics.

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    1. First off, thank you for writing in and congrats on the Masters. Having gone through school in Ottawa I can assure you that your comments on academia here are bang on. Thanks for providing another, less swears-ridden perspective.

      My primary commentary in this piece was how poorly professors who aren’t tenured (i.e.: the ones who sucked up to the right people) are treated. The administration bloats and bloats while the knowledge base decays because profs have to kiss ass instead of do research; the research itself is still useable and even helpful as part of R&D.

      You mentioned a lack of innovation as a key frustration and I very much agree with you. That said, the trades are exceptional drivers of R&D because manufacturing and its ilk highlight problems. You can only install so many car doors or fix so many toilets before your mind sets to “building a better mousetrap” – and some even do it, like my buddy’s Dad (he invented a snake with some sort of camera because he was having troubles with plumbing in the winter).

      Administration on campuses is a disaster and I think we could safely cut that funding without lamenting the loss of the undersecretariat of feels appreciation. I would like to see universities shrink and become more focused on their original, academic raison d’etre – with that, the fiscal burden lightens and the linkage between the inventiveness of the trades and the explanatory powers of academia can actually exist.

      It’s worth noting that Ontario’s colleges are all over this linkage – consider the Mohawk/Ryerson urban planning degree, where the nuts-and-bolts of CAD (i.e.: drafting) and the zoning code are taught at college while the theory of planning is done at Ryerson. Shockingly, a wildly-bloated administration full of patronage hires is not a requirement for doing stuff like this.

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