University of Western Ontario Faculty Association president Steven Pitel discusses the results of a study that raises concerns about the precarious employment of faculty, April 3, 2018. Nathan Leili

Faculty associations from Western University and Ontario gathered on April 3 to discuss the results of a study that had overwhelming support of more fair working conditions for university teaching staff in relation to the increasing use of contract labour.

The event took place in Talbot College with representatives from the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations and The University of Western Ontario Faculty Association.

The meeting showcased the results of a recent study, commissioned by OCUFA, which explored southwestern Ontarians' views on precarious labour in the classroom as well as quality of education. The study had roughly 2,000 respondents and revealed the following:

  • 68 per cent of southwestern Ontarians prefer that securely employed faculty teach university classes
  • 76 per cent at least somewhat agree that declining working conditions would negatively affect the quality of education
  • 89 per cent at least somewhat support the idea that contract professors should receive the same pay as their full-time colleagues for teaching the same courses

OCUFA, which represents 17,000 academics in Ontario, includes faculty members and librarians at Western, who presented the data within the context of their push to secure better working conditions and opportunities for non-tenured professors.

UWOFA is preparing to negotiate a new collective agreement with the university later this month. Steven Pitel, president of UWOFA, said they will be pursuing different goals, including compensating part-time members for extra contractual duties, ensuring part-time faculty are paid fairly relative to their full-time colleagues and ensuring experienced part-time faculty receive salaries that recognize their teaching experience. Negotiations are scheduled to start later in April, with the current faculty agreement expiring on June 30, 2018.

Gyllian Phillips, president of OCUFA, noted there has recently been a steep rise in the use of contract faculty in academic settings. OCUFA estimates that since the year 2000, the number of courses taught by contract faculty has doubled. Phillips said that over 50 per cent of courses at Ontario universities are taught by contractually or precariously employed faculty.

“The problem is that these same faculty who are often key to their programs and their departments, are not receiving the same pay as their full-time colleagues.... They have very little job security, if any, and very little access to benefits, and it’s just simply not fair,” Phillips said.

This increased use of contract faculty in classrooms may be related to decreases in funding from the Ontario government. Phillips stated that over the course of the last 10 years, Ontario’s funding of post-secondary education has dropped significantly, with Ontario’s current per student funding being the lowest in the country. He also called on the provincial government to do more for post-secondary education.

Pitel acknowledged that while the lack of funding is part of the problem, the university should make a greater commitment to providing good jobs for teachers.

When asked about the potential TA strike, Pitel commented that TAs and professors are expressing similar concerns about precarious work. UWOFA has publicly pledged its support for Public Services Alliance of Canada Local 610, the organization that represents Western’s graduate TAs.