USFA e-Letter: The Perils of Austerity

Some members of the USFA Executive Committee recently attended a conference sponsored by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations entitled “Academia in the Age of Austerity”.  The conference provided an overview of the consequences of various exercises in austerity that have been implemented in the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Canada.

Implemented typically under the auspices of financial duress and the need to be more successful in the competitive realm of universities, austerity exercises create fear and uncertainty.  The outcome of this fear and uncertainty is some degree of softening towards, and even acceptance of, consequential measures administrations adopt to address the financial duress and competitiveness.  However, the experience of our colleagues shows that these measures are driven by political ideologies that threaten our model of post-secondary education. Their experiences have included:

1)         Deterioration of the teacher-scholar model through separation of the academic agenda from the research agenda and the creation of a two-class system of researchers and teachers.

2)         Increased acceptance of the corporate model through the elimination of programs based solely on a narrow cost-recovery basis without regard for the traditional liberal arts model of university education.

3)         Movement towards the privatization of post-secondary education through the withdrawal of government funding and continued increases to student tuition to support university operations.

4)         Expansion of contingent academic labour such as sessional lecturers and short-term contracts recruited to teach.

5)         Attempts to weaken collective agreements and create processes to selectively sever employment for undesirable employees.

To what extent these political ideologies will influence the decisions at this University is not entirely clear, but members ought to be aware of what has happened elsewhere.  What do you think the University of Saskatchewan and post-secondary education in Saskatchewan should look like in 10 years?