Current U of A student:faculty ratio worse than during the Great Depression

Once again a picture helps us diagnose one of the difficulties that the University of Alberta is currently experiencing: ever since the early 1980s, the student:faculty ratio has been steadily worsening, so that the current ratio of students to faculty is now worse that it was during the Great Depression and through the very bleak decade that followed.

* This chart is available on the University of Alberta’s Strategic Analysis Office website “Statistics about the U of A.”

The times at which the student:faculty ratios have been at their best were periods in which Canada was most deeply committed to pursuing social policies that privileged the well-being of the many over the enrichment of the few (the 1960s and the late 1970s).

The slight improvement at the very tail-end of the chart is the result of the hiring of new faculty over the last few years — the result, that is, of the very gains that the University Administration is poised to reverse, if it goes ahead with its plan to permit faculty “lines” in the Faculties of Arts and Science close in order to remedy the budget deficits that the University’s President, Indira Samarasekera, has declared “modest.”

Unless we can produce a different outcome to the budgetary crises currently before us, everyone should expect to see the ratio rise to approach what it was at its absolute worst, in the last 1940s.

Imagine what we might achieve if the University were to reverse various negative trends (including the growth of the Administration) to achieve the kind of student:faculty ratios the University had in its first quarter century. Let us call for the Administration to ensure that professors who retire are replaced, so that we can reverse the negative statistics for the immediate benefit of all students enrolled at the University and the students planning to enrol over the next few years.

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3 Responses to Current U of A student:faculty ratio worse than during the Great Depression

  1. The Phantom Sessional says:

    It’s not as bad for students as you make it out to be, because “Full-time Continuing Faculty” does not include any Contract Academic Staff: Teaching–not even full-time Faculty Lecturers. As a CAS:T member, I certainly do have contact with students. More, I know, than some of my Full-time Continuing Faculty colleagues.

    It is unfortunate that we in CAS:T are invisible in metrics like this, even though there are on the order of 800 of us working at the UofA. If we were treated fairly, you’d see that 20.2 number drop by quite a bit. Sadly, many of my CAS:T colleagues have not had their contracts renewed, and the rest of us lie awake at night dreading the next round of budget cuts.

    • Carolyn Sale says:

      Dear Phantom Sessional,

      As Kathleen has already noted, we’re on the side of contract academic staff.

      This is one of the reasons we are arguing that the solution to the budget difficulties the Faculty of Arts is facing this year and next should not involve the closing of faculty positions.

      When our faculty retire, they need to be replaced.

      When our faculty retire without being replaced, the young and talented people who are currently serving as contract academic staff do not have the opportunity to move into full-time continuing positions.

      To put it another way, when our faculty retire without being replaced, the University’s Administration is failing to make an investment in the future of Albertans in the form of new tenure-track faculty. Their failure to invest will compound all of the problems that Contract Academic Staff and students are already experiencing as a result of earlier rounds of cuts, and every Contract Academic Staff member who feels like a “phantom” in the current circumstances —

      I must, however, disagree with your opening contention. When we take CA:ST into account, in a way the University’s metrics do not, the situation is worse, not better, for students than we have presented it. If CA:ST featured in the chart, the loss of instructors in the Faculty of Arts over the last two years — and thus the negative impact upon students — would be all the more obvious. In English & Film Studies, for example, almost all the sections of courses that would over the last decade have gone to CA:ST instructors have been struck from our “teaching plan.”

      Your choice of moniker points directly to the problems that we are aiming to address. Within those metrics, CA:ST are indeed phantoms. But CA:ST are also phantoms because they are the sign of the University’s choice to depend on precarious labour rather than to invest in tenure-tenure faculty. Until we resolve this problem, the entire University should feel haunted.

      Best wishes,

  2. Kathleen Lowrey says:

    Hey Phantom Sessional — you are right, of course; the shrinkage of the tenured professoriate has only been sustainable via the extensive use of contract academic staff. If tenure-track hiring kept pace with student enrollments, many of those PhD-holding contract academic staff would be in tenured positions. When tenure-track faculty talk about the vanishing of faculty lines, we’re on the side of contract academic staff.

    Turning to the student experience, contract academic staff do a terrific job in the classroom. However, they are at a real disadvantage outside of it in ways that undermine the value of the student degree. Small things like not having a permanent office or campus mailing address make it harder for students to track contract academic staff down again a few years past graduation, when they need things like reference letters for graduate school or career advice. It is also the case that reference letters from tenured faculty can have more impact than those from contract academic faculty — fairly or not. Making sure the tenure-track and tenured professoriate keeps pace with student numbers isn’t a zero-sum game; more tenureable positions are to everyone’s advantage.

    I think you might like Marc Bousquet’s book, _How the University Works_, if you have not already read it. It’s really informative on these issues.

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