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.”

31 Comments

  1. +8 Vote -1 Vote +1Doug Mann
    March 14, 2014 at 12:13 pm -

    To the various uninformed neo-con students defending current university hiring and wage policies:

    1. First, it’s nonsense to say that people like Eric and Warren should just shut up and be “responsible for their choices.” Historically, the reason we don’t live in an economy like Dickensian England is that unions and left-wing parties have stood up for labour, fighting for higher wages and better working conditions. Though in our grade-inflated, dumbed-down academic environment, maybe no one has acquainted you with events prior to Justin Bieber’s latest tweet. Do you really want to live in country where corporations dictate wages and you – yes you – take home $5 a day? There’s a large Asian country with such a policy that I’m sure you’re all itching to move to after graduation.

    2. Second, unlike some of the people you’re attacking, I’ve taught over 80 courses, am about to publish my 4th book, and have over a hundred publications. I finished my doctorate at the end of the 90s, and published it to boot. In fact, I’ve out-published most of the tenured professors in the departments I apply to, and get rejected from. Yet I’m still a sessional. So two facts here – first, the academic job market is terrible, and (most importantly), academic departments never have, and probably never will, hire on merit. For one thing, many of them purposely violate the federal immigration law that stipulates that before hiring a non-Canadian, you MUST interview all equal or superior Canadian candidates. This violation happens even here at Western.

    3. Third, this position reeks of hypocrisy. When undergrad students get a low mark on a test or in a course, they rarely blame themselves, but attack their professors on evaluations for being “unfair” or “too hard” on them. They do not, in my experience, “respect the consequences of the choices they have made”. I’ve NEVER had a course comment to the effect “hey prof, I know I got a low grade, but I skipped too many classes, never studied for tests, and drank too much on weekends. My bad!” Responsibility is a two-way street.

    In short, to paraphrase Wittgenstein, that of which you know nothing, remain silent.

  2. +6 Vote -1 Vote +1UWO Full-Time Faculty Member
    March 14, 2014 at 1:34 am -

    These comments are wrenching to read. TAs and sessional instructors do not make a living wage. ‘So pick up additional teaching positions,’ one will say, ‘to make a living wage.’ When I was a sessional instructor I taught in London, Waterloo, and Toronto, usually simultaneously, to attempt to make a living wage, and failed. There is a painful term for such work: Roads Scholars.

    After adding up my travel and transportation expenses between London and elsewhere, I brought home only about $200 MORE per month from a second teaching position. When my first child was born I picked up TWO other out-of-town positions, and netted the same total profit, because I then needed to cover extensive childcare expenses to compensate for the many days that I was out of town. In my case, picking up ‘more work’ elsewhere did not keep a sessional instructor out of poverty. In fact, attempts to seek additional employment cost as much as I made.

    This is the case for so many others as well. Warren Steele speaks for TAs and sessionals when he says, ‘the only thing keeping me teaching under these conditions is the students.’ Western, like so many other universities, turns ‘best student experience’ on its head, and exploits both paying students and working instructors in the process.

    Underpaid sessionals and TAs are the very substance and bedrock of Western’s ‘best student experience.’ And debt-burdened students, under attack from the province, and un-defended by this university, are what keep instructors coming back to provide that great student experience.

    In between struggling students and labouring instructors is a growing bureaucracy of non-academic upper-management, channeling tuition into expensive re-branding surveys and polarizing, demoralizing ‘research clusters of excellence’.

    All of this precarity, debt, and exhaustion is ‘led’ by the highest-paid university president in the country. We deserve administrators who stand up for our interests, and are more than ‘yes men’ to those who dole out austerity budgets from Queens Park.

    Best student experience? Best presidential paycheck. #Since 2009.

    http://www.universityaffairs.ca/uploadedFiles/Features/2013/February/UA%20Feb13_sessionals-for%20web.pdf

  3. Vote -1 Vote +1gazettereader
    March 13, 2014 at 3:50 pm -

    Hope you guys have seen the recent comment on “dear life”. I cannot believe it.

  4. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Mohammad Halim
    March 12, 2014 at 10:49 pm -

    We notice a weird payment system at Western where graduate student required to pay partial tuition/difference fees in the fall, winter and summer terms. However, graduate student in Engineering at Western and in other Canadian Universities (Toronto, McGill, McMaster, Memorial, Dalhousie, UBC, Dalhousie, Regina, Alberta, Ottawa) do not require to pay any fee upfront. All of their fees are automatically deducted from their total funding amount and they receive a flat monthly salary (including vacation pay and other benefits) throughout the year.
    As graduate students, it is difficult for us to pay a big amount in the beginning of the semesters rather we prefer to get a fixed amount of salary throughout the year.

  5. +12 Vote -1 Vote +1Warren Steele
    March 12, 2014 at 10:18 pm -

    The faculty I work for has been active in trying to address the issue of part-time precarity for some time, and with no results. We’ve even done the work of putting together a Limited Duties Affairs Committee designed to directly address the concerns of part-time instructors within the Faculty of Information and Media Studies. But work like this only goes so far. Thus, rather than have our objections repeatedly stifled, and ultimately silenced, by official channels designed to do just that, we spoke out. Poverty level wages for part-time instructors and TAs has been an ongoing practice for years at Western. Ask yourself why the wider campus community has only begun to talk about this now.

  6. -15 Vote -1 Vote +1Derek Williamson
    March 11, 2014 at 11:16 pm -

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  7. +6 Vote -1 Vote +1Bernie Hammond
    March 11, 2014 at 10:23 pm -

    Since the latter 1970′s, federal and provincial governments under the spell of neoliberal politics have been under-funding post- secondary education. This has driven institutions to depend more heavily on private sources of funding – higher tuition, corporate donations, exploitation of foreign students, and selling bits and pieces of the institutional property in exchange for a family or corporate label.

    What I would like to see is one administrator stand up and name the problem, rather than enthusiastically following a trend that is systematically destroying a vital and honourable institution. Remember the “Maple Spring”? The Québec students “got it” much more clearly than our university administrators. Rather than confront the problem at its source, they are more likely to be seen adding another costly layer of administration, opening a shiny new building, and of course enhancing their own salaries and benefits. Exploitation and under-payment of adjunct faculty must be seen in this political context and responded to accordingly.

    I have sympathy for university administrators and the position they find themselves in but until they wake up, they are part of the problem! Or maybe they are already awake and simply choose to be part of the problem!

    Bernie Hammond

  8. +5 Vote -1 Vote +1Exresidencestaff
    March 11, 2014 at 3:20 pm -

    As an ex-residence staff member, I understand your pain a bit. But working part time aside from studying is different from being a prof or TA.

    Even though other universities in Ontario treat the staff members and the sophs well, Western who proudly announce that they have “the best residence experience” pays the staff members so little. Residence staff members in other universities make enough money to cover the residence fee or even free accommodation in trade of not getting paid. Residence staffs in Western only make half of the residence fee, or barely covers it if you have a higher position while housing makes more positions in the higher end of the student life.

    Every year residence fees go up too, and the raise of the pay for residence staffs don’t match that raise at all.

    It pisses me off when western treats the works like crap, and yet has guts to change name and spend about $200000?

    I cannot imagine how much work profs and TAs (I know TAs work a lot more than profs sometimes) do, and for the amount of work you do, I agree that you don’t get enough treatment from the university.

  9. +14 Vote -1 Vote +1PhilG
    March 11, 2014 at 1:51 pm -

    There is always choice involved in what wages an organization pays its workers, even if these choices are bound to the logic of “pay what you can.” An organization can pay its workers either as little as it can get away with or as much as it can afford, and Western (like most North American universities) is certainly leaning toward the former.

    The problem with the academic labour market in fact mirrors the problems with the market in general, insofar as the middle has utterly disappeared. One either makes it into the privileged (and shrinking) guild of tenured professors, or one spends one’s life struggling for 1/4 to 1/6 of the pay. The major problem with this trend is that the sessional professors actually produce as much or more value for the university by taking on two to three times the teaching load. Not “standing out in one’s field” is in no way a justification for poverty-level wages. Western has all the money it needs to aggressively promote its brand across the world, and this is clearly where its priorities lie.

    A common misconception I see popping up in this discussion is the idea that the abundant supply of sessional teachers and the inability for most to “distinguish themselves” justifies the low wages they’re being paid. Unfortunately, this argument subjects Western’s workers to the same laws that determine wages in sweatshops, which is ridiculous for any institution that claims to be a champion of higher learning.

  10. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Y.
    March 11, 2014 at 1:39 pm -

    @anonymous , that’s because (1) you can’t have all the details about how the university going to pay you and by what percent the tuition will rise in the next 6 years at the time you receive your offer (they simply won’t or couldn’t tell you), especially you are from out-of-the-country (and out-of-North-America); and (2) choosing grad school isn’t just comparing how much money you get (although it does have a significant impact). I knew UWO has a strong faculty and that’s the primary reason I came, but this doesn’t mean that grad students should do a lot work, pay increasing tuitions, and are being paid little.

    It is my 3rd year here. I look at the bill and my expense on tuition increased by almost 9%, while my income is almost fixed. Meanwhile, at least for the field I am studying (a subject in sciences), in the US they waive your tuition, and in other part of Canada the tuition (as far as I am aware of) is mostly frozen. IMHO it’s not easy to figure out that UWO (maybe Ontario?) is _not_ a typical North America place for doing a grad study until you landed and slowly realizing there is a black hole in your bank account.

  11. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1unique name
    March 11, 2014 at 1:09 pm -

    I think you also have to consider that it varies from one program or faculty to another. I know some programs where TA opportunities are only a handful and that grad funding is not tied to TA work at all and where funding minimums are required for faculty members to supervise a grad student.

    I would ask how many of the departments on campus have been implementing the funding letters are required by SGPS which outline the sources of funding and amounts for each student.

    International costs are a lot more, but it’s also important to realize that graduate funding from the government does not flow for international students, so many programs have to work on funding based solely on domestic enrollment to fund both domestic and international students.

  12. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Instructor
    March 11, 2014 at 12:26 pm -

    I am a bit wary about the issue of TA wages. I think grad students are in some programs undercompensated, but is TA pay really the issue? Have you calculated how much you make per hour? I have – it looks pretty good! What you are probably really undercompensated for is the free research that you do… I’m not sure what the best answer to this is. Yes, you probably deserve more money… but perhaps what you’re looking for is better compensation for your research? Should it come in the form of TA pay? I am actually looking for an explanation, I don’t really know!

  13. -1 Vote -1 Vote +1anonymous
    March 11, 2014 at 12:20 pm -

    @Y. I sympathize with international grad students. They do have it worse here. But why did you enter grad school knowing that you’ll have to pay more tuition and have lower access to scholarships?

  14. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Y.
    March 11, 2014 at 12:05 pm -

    It sounds like grad students are greedy and want a full prof’s wage, but in my opinion this is untrue.

    As an intl student, earning $30,000/yr may sounds quite good comparing to some top US grad programs, but in fact you need to pay ~$17,400 back for your tuition and it is increasing every year. Plus, you need to work 280 hr every year as a TA, for all six years in your PhD; or you have to look for scholarship which is difficult to get for intl students. To my knowledge no other universities (or at least very few other universities, in case I miss something, and I would be happy if you correct me) require this much TA works.

    I have to wonder if the university is really training future researchers or just using them as cheap labours while they are around?

    I fully understand that being a grad student you shouldn’t expect to be a millionare. However from my understanding, you should at least have adequat time for your research and don’t have to be _too_ worried about your financial status. However, for 8 months in a year I find TA works consumed much of my energy; while my friends in other universities (for example, one in UVic who works 100 hr a year, another in NUS who works 20 hr a year) have much more time (more importantly, energy!) for their research. I am aiming for a research-track career, and I am fed for teaching after the first two years. I think TA should be an optional thing for senior year students.

    I try to express what I thought during a review meeting for the grad program, but the answer I got is like “well, it’s part of the grad school” or “it’s good for your professional development”.

    I like the country, the people here and especially the undergrads that I teach, but I am really disappointed about the system.

  15. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1Instructor
    March 11, 2014 at 12:05 pm -

    @anonymous… By the way “removing instructors” is part of the problem – they have absolutely no job security, so we don’t even have to remove them, we can just not rehire. How comfortable is it that you don’t even have to fire them! That’s how volatile the situation is. My point is, that if schools across Canada (this isn’t Western specific) actually hire full time faculty to deliver the courses and use sessionals just to fill the gaps, then these people who are currently working as sessionals will actually have job opportunities to compete for!

  16. +6 Vote -1 Vote +1Instructor
    March 11, 2014 at 12:01 pm -

    @anonymous…
    Yes! This is more or less what I am saying – although we do disagree on what teaching-focused faculty have to teach. There aren’t many of them here at Western but in the job market in Canada I have seen 6 to 8 half credits per year as the typical work load for a teaching-focused professor (expected to spend 80+% of their time on teaching). For a researching professor, this would be closer to 1 to 4 half credits per year because they are expected to spend 50% or more of their time on research.

    If a department has 50% of their courses taught by sessional instructors, then yes, I believe many of the courses should be taught by new hires with full time positions! If you think you are best served by 4 sessionals teaching their 4 best courses, or 1 sessional teaching 4 courses, rather than a full time professor making a living wage, then I respectfully disagree. If Western can offer actual full time gigs to these people, they will get amazing candidates, and you will get someone wonderful teaching 6 – 8 courses. The best candidates can do a lot better than delivering their “one best course” (we have a LOT of training!) and yes they absolutely should replace several people that are barely surviving on $7000 a credit with a full time candidate.

  17. Vote -1 Vote +1anonymous
    March 11, 2014 at 11:51 am -

    @instructor- but then you are removing jobs for other instructors. so instead of 4 instructors teaching their best course, you hire one to teach 4 courses?

    (from what i remember, i think teaching focused faculty have to teach 1.0 per term, correct me if i’m wrong)

  18. +9 Vote -1 Vote +1Instructor
    March 11, 2014 at 11:43 am -

    Here’s the thing. The problem is not this one specific instructor. It’s that full time gigs with benefits and job security are being replaced by multiple sessional gigs… If the 3 to 8 sessional gigs were replaced by a researching or teaching focused faculty member (respectively), then somebody (whether or not this professor would be awarded the gig) would be compensated fairly for their work. . Arguing that this professor has not stood out in his field has nothing to do with it, whether it is true or not. The reality is that the full courseload he is teaching should be replaced by a full-time position. Let’s assume he IS standing out in his field, at the top of his game, and the best available. You are kidding yourself if the system would then award him a full-time gig… i.e. it has little to do with his merits at all.

  19. +10 Vote -1 Vote +1Mythical Engaged Student
    March 11, 2014 at 11:24 am -

    @Kieran – Either you totally misread what I wrote or are misinformed. Dr. Steele taught more than a single course last year. He teaches the required 2500 course and has 2 other courses that he himself crafted for the program. There may be be others that I am unaware of, and unless you have concrete information to the contrary, I’m wiling to take him at his word about his workload. The value he, and other sessionals like him, add to the school is far more than he receives in monetary compensation. Appreciation doesn’t pay the rent.

    The “reality” you speak of is one that is being actively and currently created by market-minded schools like Western. It doesn’t have to be this way, and in my mind, it shouldn’t. Quit nitpicking and address the widespread issue here head-on.

  20. -9 Vote -1 Vote +1Kieran
    March 11, 2014 at 11:09 am -

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  21. +9 Vote -1 Vote +1Mythical Engaged Student
    March 11, 2014 at 11:01 am -

    It’s important to remember that while FIMS has brought this discussion to light, this is not a professor-specific, FIMS-specific, or even Western-specific issue. The students, TAs, and faculty who participated in this online demonstration are only the ones who took it upon themselves to speak up.

    Sessionals across faculties and even schools are paid around $4-7,000 per course they teach. If a sessional professor teaches 4 courses per semester (12 hours of class + 4 hours of office hours + class preparation and marking time + research and publishing time + meetings, etc… which can all add up to a 60 hour work week) they can expect to make MAYBE $40,000 annually before taxes. With little-to-no room for advancement. Dr. Steel took home $24,000 last year with a full course load.

    You can make the argument that there are many reasons why this is… and perhaps they’re valid to varying degrees… but sessional positions are increasingly becoming the ONLY jobs that an aspiring professor can get. They’re doing the same work a tenured or tenure-track professor would do for a pittance. The university has a vested interest in fostering a precariously employed and low-paid work force to cut costs, boost their bottom line, and line the pockets of the school’s presidents/CEOs. It’s obscene. Chakma is paid like a CEO, doesn’t even live in the country most of the year, has a home in Florida, and takes private flights (on whose dime… I can only guess). At least this will look good on his resume.

    This affects students directly. What do we pay egregious, and ever-rising, sums to be here for, if not to be taught by the very best educators? I believe there are many here… but for how long? Moreover, it can be hard to focus on your work when you’re worrying about putting food on the table or paying the rent. Students need to rally around the people who make this school what it is—faculty, not careerist administrators—and fight for our common educational experience here.

    Your move, Western.

  22. -8 Vote -1 Vote +1Paul
    March 11, 2014 at 10:51 am -

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  23. -9 Vote -1 Vote +1Kieran
    March 11, 2014 at 10:32 am -

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  24. +14 Vote -1 Vote +1Alex
    March 11, 2014 at 9:52 am -

    Steele was the best prof I had at UWO. This is a shame.

  25. +17 Vote -1 Vote +1John Ianni
    March 11, 2014 at 6:25 am -

    Maybe if UWO (yes, I said it) would stop all the marketing campaigns and re-branding, they could afford to pay the instructors more. However, this is not a Western, or even a university – specific issue. Much of the classroom leadership, at both the university and community college level is provided by part-time instructors, who must have a secondary source of income in order to survive. We seem to pride ourselves here in Canada about our education system, but until we start valuing those who actually lead our students in the classroom, that pride is simply false and ignorant.
    An overhaul is needed to the entire post-secondary system – more emphasis needs to put on valuing, and evaluating, the quality of instruction that our students are receiving – not simply asking the students, “do you like your class?”. Students are our prime stakeholders, but they are not our customers – until these paradigm is shifted, this system will remain broken, and the trickle down is instructors living in poverty.

  26. -23 Vote -1 Vote +1anonymous
    March 11, 2014 at 2:09 am -

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  27. -36 Vote -1 Vote +1Daryl Voisin
    March 11, 2014 at 1:08 am -

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  28. -10 Vote -1 Vote +1Quiet Inquiry
    March 10, 2014 at 11:41 pm -

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  29. +21 Vote -1 Vote +1AnotherAngryGradStudent
    March 10, 2014 at 10:34 pm -

    I’m glad the low wages of TAs are noted here. My take-home pay is nearly $8,000 a year less than I was paid as a master’s student in the U.S. six *years* ago, and the cost of living here is significantly higher. Plus, as an international student, I am not allowed to get another job to supplement my income, AND I’m subject to higher fees than Canadian students.

    At one of the introductory TA meetings our department had when I first came to Western, one of the faculty members spoke about how well paid the TAs are…followed immediately by a presentation from the TA union rep about how we could access food bank assistance because “most graduate students will need this at some point.” Doesn’t that tell you something is wrong?

  30. +29 Vote -1 Vote +1AngryGradStudent
    March 10, 2014 at 9:43 pm -

    These sessional instructors are absolutely justified in their anger and frustration. We all should be. This is not acceptable and until Western (and other universities relying heavily on precarious academic labour) put their money where their mouth is (i.e. hiring sufficient tenure-track faculty so that “limited duties” instructors are not heavily relied on by many faculties), they really can stop with the whole “best student experience” garbage. Don’t students deserve better? Don’t highly-educated and highly-qualified workers at our universities deserve better? Stop the degradation of post-secondary education Western and take a leadership role – properly compensate adjunct faculty, hire more tenure-track and stop the erosion of quality education in this province!

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