Letter: Algoma Strike Totally Unwarranted

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letter to the editor

By: Andrew Ault

On January 30th, the Algoma University Faculty Association revealed they voted “84% in favour of a strike mandate.” They did this, according to the article, for three main disagreements with the offer from Administration: (i) proposals to increase teaching loads (and reduce research loads), (ii) creation of a teaching-only stream; and (iii) keeping “average salaries of faculty at Algoma [at] the bottom of northern Ontario universities.”

These proposals are completely justified in the context of Algoma, and it would be counter its mission to oppose these introductions.

I would like to first tackle the Union’s claim that it is wrong for Algoma faculty to be paid the lowest of any northern Ontario university; and actually argue many faculty at Algoma are actually OVER-paid.

Faculty in universities serve two roles (i) teaching loads and (ii) research opportunities. In order to conduct research, generally faculty have to hold a PhD or similar degree. However, things are different at Algoma.

In its popular Business Administration program, only 50% of its faculty have PhDs. The other 50% do not. The latter group also does not do any active research — with no scholar from this group showing at all on Google Scholar, a popular search engine for academic contributions; albeit, with one exception, particularly the Chair of Social Sciences holding three publications to his name.

Thus, if they do not do research, and get paid near what faculty members at other schools who teach AND do research; wouldn’t a teaching-only stream for Algoma faculty only make logical and intuitive sense? After all, they hold positions they would otherwise not get anywhere else.

The Sprott School at Carleton University, for instance, does not allow ANY faculty to hold Assistant, Associate or Full Professorships without a PhD, and in 2011, actively demoted those without PhDs to instructor roles. Nipissing and Lakehead are also in the same boat with all most of its Assistant/ Associate and Full Professors either holding or being a candidate for a PhD; and most certainly active in research.

Ironically, the top-50% of professors (and top paid) at Algoma’s Business Administration program ALL do not hold PhDs. Thus, they do not do research and, if employed elsewhere, would be only full-time Instructors getting paid less, or tasked with having to teach more courses.

This is not to say these faculty members are inferior, but in fact, is to say these faculty members are the key point of differentiation at Algoma. They have high rankings on RateMyProfessor and are praised by students for bringing in real-life experience to the classroom. However, it is to say that these faculty would never have these posts elsewhere; and thus, a “teaching only” option, for SOME (not all) faculty members, makes sense at theiInstitution.

Second, it is claimed that proposals to reduce teaching loads harm the integrity of the university, whereby Algoma is to “provide research-based teaching and learning for [their] students” according to their union. However, the strategic mandate for Algoma is to be a learner-centered, exclusively undergraduate teaching university. This means, the emphasis on research is far lower than other universities, and emphasis on teaching is far greater.

With small class sizes, overall student population and supposed teaching-focus, it provides its unique position in Ontario’s landscape as a true liberal arts and science university. Small universities like these are common in the States, generally classified as “colleges,” and often hold some prestige (see for instance, Dartmouth College, Ithaca College, etc.) Becoming an institution like this should provide Algoma an amazing opportunity to expand, not be a hindrance to its growth plan.

Thus, it appears that Algoma’s teaching focus should be its competitive advantage, not its barrier to becoming a research powerhouse. Let it embrace its plan, and faculty, please do not strike and put students at risk of what they came for — you.

Andrew Ault is a Saulite who recently graduated with High Distinction from Carleton’s HBA in Political Science and Public Policy; where he is pursuing a second degree in Commerce and graduate study in Political Economy.

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