Calling All Professors!

The total number of professors employed by Ontario's universities will need to nearly double in the next 10 years to accommodate a rising tide of new students, concludes the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) in a report released on January 15. Although the report--titled "Less Isn't More: Ontario's Faculty Shortage Crisis"--identified the problem, it can't guarantee that the government will put up the money to remedy it.

Ontario universities have been limping along with a reduced staff for several years. In 1996, the Government of Ontario cut $280 million from the operating budgets of Ontario's universities. In order to cope with the cut, Ontario's universities did not fill vacancies or renew contracts and offered early retirement packages to faculty members, leading to a net loss of 15% of the faculty. Consequently, the ratio of students to full-time faculty at Ontario universities has increased steadily from 17.1 in 1988-89 to 21.3 in 1998-99. Ontario's ratio is now the highest in Canada, more than 10% above the average of the other nine provinces. Similarly, when compared to 170 peer institutions in the U.S., Ontario's ratio is 39% higher. "The devastating government cutbacks severely hurt the universities," says Henry Mandelbaum, executive director of OCUFA.

The problem could soon get much worse. A third of Ontario's aging faculty, 5500 professors in all, are expected to retire by the year 2010. The faculty attrition will be exacerbated by a massive increase in university enrollment anticipated over this same period. Thanks to a baby boomlet of 8- to 14-year-olds now working its way through the Canadian educational system, PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) predicts that enrollment in Ontario Universities will increase by 90,000 students or about 37% by 2010 (see PWC's report, "Will there be room for me?").

That is bad news for the already overloaded system. Despite the Ontario government's recently announced $660 million cash infusion and the federal government's decision to fund an estimated 900 faculty positions (see the report from the Council of Ontario Universities), the PWC report concluded that the Ontario universities do not have the financial resources to shoulder the increased enrollment burden over the next decade. The PWC report suggests that in the absence of substantial new funding for the universities, the next wave of students considering the Ontario Universities may wonder "will there be room for me?" Shortages in the ranks of the science faculty are expected to be the most acute.

In the face of the looming crisis, administrators remain hopeful that the government will come through with the money the universities need to hire additional faculty. Alex Wooley, the head of media relations for the University of Guelph, tells Next Wave that he believes the Government of Ontario will provide the necessary funding for the 400 new faculty required over the next few years at the University of Guelph. "Through hard work and creative efforts, manageable solutions can be found despite competing priorities [for taxpayer dollars]," agrees Annice Cadieux, the executive director of public affairs for the Council of Ontario Universities. Mandelbaum isn't so optimistic. The government officials who are responsible for planning the provincial budget are extremely "tight fisted" and "not sensitive" to the needs of faculty conducting basic scientific research, he says.

A hard copy of the OCUFA report is available online or by calling the OCUFA office at (416) 979-2117 ext. 30. To keep the issue before the public, OCUFA is hosting a conference "Hire Education" Friday January 26 at the Toronto Delta Chelsea Inn highlighted by an address by Globe and Mail columnist and author Jeffrey Simpson. Contact the OCUFA for information on registration for this conference.

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