Sudbury

Laurentian says 'discussion is important' regarding amount of part-time profs in Ontario universities

Laurentian’s Interim Vice-President Academic and Provost, Serge Demers, said the poll results don’t tell the whole story. But he accepted its findings that Ontarians want a better province-wide balance in their universities when it comes to full-time and sessional professors.

Survey commissioned to gather opinion of average Ontarian

Laurentian University's interim vice-president academic and provost, Serge Demers, says he accepts recent poll findings suggesting Ontarians want more full-time and less sessional professors in their universities. (Yvon Thériault/Radio-Canada)

Laurentian University is responding to poll results released Wednesday that suggested a majority of Ontarians want more full-time and fewer sessional professors.

The survey was commissioned by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations.

Laurentian's interim vice-president academic and provost, Serge Demers, says the poll results don't tell the whole story.

But he accepts its findings that Ontarians want a better province-wide balance in their universities.

"I'm actually happy they've asked the public about their opinion on the subject, because far too often we look within our own sphere as to what that opinion is, so I think the public opinion is great," Demers said.

The province-wide average of sessional faculty members in universities is currently nearly 60 per cent, according to the Council of Ontario Universities.

Demers says 25 per cent of Laurentian's instructors are sessional, while the other 75 per cent have full-time status.

'Is that problematic?'

Demers explains part-time instructors are necessary to give students a wider range of experiences and to replace professors on temporary leave.

Serge Demers is Laurentian University's interim vice-president academic and provost. (Laurentian University)

Full-time faculty at Laurentian University are eligible for a sabbatical every seven years.

Demers says workload during that year must be reassigned to another instructor, but only until the professor on sabbatical returns.

He says those contracted replacement instructors represent about 12 to 15 per cent of Laurentian's faculty.

Demers adds those variables can change from year to year, from university to university.

"I think it's a question of a spectrum as to what is the right number, because I think a number of zero [sessional instructors] is certainly not appropriate, nor is a number of 100 per cent," Demers said.

"So has the system as a whole moved toward a half [and half split], and is that problematic? I think that's where public discussion is important."

Universities playing catch-up

MPP Peggy Sattler, the NDP's critic for advanced education and skills development, notes the "huge personal and professional stress" many teachers and research face as they "race from one position to another" at different institutions.

She adds she's personally heard from students seeking reference letters from specific instructors, only to find they had moved on to another university after their contract expired.

"We can't ensure high-quality post-secondary education if we are not making sure we have the appropriate balance between full-time tenured faculty and contract faculty," Sattler said.

MPP Peggy Sattler is the NDP's critic for advanced education and skills development. (Peggy Sattler)

She decries the fact that Ontario's per-student funding has been the lowest in Canada over the past decade.

"To make up the declining revenues that universities are experiencing, they either increase tuition, which they are doing, or they try to reduce payroll costs by bringing in more and more faculty and staff on contract basis," Sattler said.

"If you only focus on access, then you really risk undermining quality."

The CBC has also reached out to Progressive Conservative and Liberal party representatives on Thursday and is awaiting their comments.

About the Author

Benjamin Aubé is a journalist based out of Sudbury. If you have a story you'd like to share, email him at benjamin.aube@cbc.ca

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