Western’s birthday celebration crashed

March 10, 2014 31 Comments »
Western’s birthday celebration crashed
SHOTS FIRED. Western encountered a bit of a PR problem on Friday when its Twitter hashtag, #since1878, was used by professors to air their grievances.

While Western alumni were tweeting their Western memories on Founder’s Day last Friday, some used the opportunity to protest the allegedly insufficient wages of some Western professors. Using the official Founder’s Day hashtag, #since1878, faculty and students in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies posted tweets condemning the university.

Eric Lohman, a professor of media studies, sent tweets at Western exposing the low wages of staff and increasing tuition fees for international students.

“I sent the tweets I did because as an adjunct professor and TA at Western, it is incredibly frustrating to see the administrators celebrating the school’s founding when the people who make this university function — adjuncts and TAs — are being forced to live below the poverty line,” Lohman said in an e-mail.

Lohman explained that the majority of teaching at Western is done by part-time faculty or TAs and added that students ought to know how the university operates.

“I want [students] to ask why all of the people that teach them on a daily basis are being paid nothing, while their tuition fees continue to rise,” Lohman added. “I want everyone to see that there is nothing to celebrate at Western when the majority of the teachers are being exploited in this way.”

Warren Steele, an assistant professor in FIMS, sent tweets saying he didn’t earn a living wage after six years of teaching, and “The only thing that keeps me from quitting are the students I teach.”

“I sent [the tweets] because last year I taught a full course load, performed service work, conducted research, mentored students and gave up nearly all of my free time and energy to do my job well, because I care deeply about what I do, and I took home $24,000.” Steele said in an e-mail. “As I understand it, full-time faculty members who perform the same workload make three to four times that amount, if not more.”

“We should all have the means to live, not just subsist,” Steele added.

The official Western Twitter account responded to Steele, saying, “thank you for everything that you do here at #WesternU! Our students make it clear how appreciated you are to them.”

Melissa Cheater, Western’s digital content manager, is in charge of managing that Twitter account.

“As an alumna of the inaugural class of the FIMS media and the public interest program, I was proud to see the Western community use digital platforms to share their experiences,” she said. “This is what Western and FIMS taught us to do in the classroom”

Cheater explained that when the issues are beyond what can be done through Twitter, the feedback is sent to the correct department to be addressed.

“It’s encouraging to know that faculty and students are comfortable leveraging social media to express opinions and engage the Western community in conversation,” Cheater said.

However, Lohman and Steele felt that Western did not respond to the issue properly.

“I was repulsed by Western’s attempt to elide the issue of poverty level wages for part-time professors and TAs with an obsequious remark,” Steele said. “They should take responsibility and address it directly by paying us a fair wage for the work that we do.”

Lohman shared Steele’s view, saying that Western should face up to the issue head-on.

“We are angry and we don’t want a pat-on-the-back and a handshake, we want to be able to feed ourselves and enjoy our lives,” Lohman said. “Anything short of that is just another placating insult.”

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