Occupy Queen’s: Dear Stakeholder (9 January 2012)

This open letter was ratified by the Occupy Queen’s General Assembly on 9 January 2012.

Dear Stakeholder,

Whether you are a student, faculty, support staff, or simply a member of the local community whose business and cultural life is enriched by the continuing existence of this institution: this is to you.

Queen’s is in trouble. For the most part it’s not trouble specific to Queen’s, although our university has its share of specific problems, in particular a recent history of gross misallocation of resources leading to a parlous financial state that has been used time and again as a weapon in negotiations between the board of trustees, and everyone else to whom Queen’s means so much more than a business.

The summer passed with contract negotiations that saw professors and support staff substantially worse off. The fall saw the effective cancellation of the Bachelor of Fine Arts program, due to the inability to hire a single new tenured faculty professor to replace the one retiring to emeritus status. Across all departments virtually no new professors are being hired and adjuncts have been laid off. Tuition and class sizes continue to increase as clickers proliferate to make 1000-student survey courses ‘interactive’. Students are paying more for less, while faculty work harder for less, and both parties are told there is no money even while grandiose construction projects are started one after the other. There is money to renovate the commerce building, of relatively recent construction, while the BFA program is housed in a building with a leaky roof.

Little of this is unique to Queen’s, rather, it increasingly characterizes higher education in North America today. Tenure is being phased out in favour of single-course contracts–with devastating results for academic freedom, as well as research, teaching, and learning. Funding for humanities and arts is drying up, while schools of commerce, management and technology flourish. Increasingly, putative market-place advantages and short-term efficiencies are the sole determinants of academic decision-making.

We don’t pretend to have easy answers to the many problems confronting Queen’s. We do want the entire university community to be involved in shaping solutions.

Therefore, first and foremost, we say it is necessary to ask questions about governance structure. As in many North American institutions, at Queen’s, ultimate authority rests with an appointed board of trustees, with elected bodies such as the university senate playing roles that are at best advisory, and frequently purely symbolic. A closed decision making process leaves open the door to the many ills of autocracy: lack of accountability, failures in judgement, and outright corruption. A profit model begs the question of who profits.

Queen’s is not a corporation, but a school. We all know that, it seems obvious, but it also seems like it’s being forgotten. We are inviting everyone to a conversation about the best ways to run educational institutions … and if business is really the best model to follow.

Because this is a conversation we should be having.

For more information:

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One Response to Occupy Queen’s: Dear Stakeholder (9 January 2012)

  1. Anon. assistant professor says:

    “Queen’s is not a corporation, but a school.” I agree, but not in the way that I think the authors of that statement mean it. Consider Benjamin Ginsberg’s “The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why it Matters” (sorry, I seem not to be able to get italics). Highlights of his book were published in Washington Monthly, Sep./Oct. 2011 (“Administrators ate my tuition; http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/septemberoctober_2011/features/administrators_ate_my_tuition031641.php). Some highlights:

    ——- Between 1975 and 2005, total spending by American higher educational institutions, stated in constant dollars, tripled, to more than $325 billion per year. Over the same period, the faculty-to-student ratio has remained fairly constant, at approximately fifteen or sixteen students per instructor. One thing that has changed, dramatically, is the administrator-per-student ratio. In 1975, colleges employed one administrator for every eighty-four students and one professional staffer—admissions officers, information technology specialists, and the like—for every fifty students. By 2005, the administrator-to-student ratio had dropped to one administrator for every sixty-eight students while the ratio of professional staffers had dropped to one for every twenty-one students.

    —— A comprehensive study published by the Delta Cost Project in 2010 reported that between 1998 and 2008, America’s private colleges increased spending on instruction by 22 percent while increasing spending on administration and staff support by 36 percent.

    —— Forty years ago, America’s colleges employed more professors than administrators. The efforts of 446,830 professors were supported by 268,952 administrators and staffers. Over the past four decades, though, the number of full-time professors or “full-time equivalents”—that is, slots filled by two or more part-time faculty members whose combined hours equal those of a full-timer—increased slightly more than 50 percent. That percentage is comparable to the growth in student enrollments during the same time period. But the number of administrators and administrative staffers employed by those schools increased by an astonishing 85 percent and 240 percent, respectively.

    —— Today, administrators and staffers safely outnumber full-time faculty members on campus. In 2005, colleges and universities employed more than 675,000 fulltime faculty members or full-time equivalents. In the same year, America’s colleges and universities employed more than 190,000 individuals classified by the federal government as “executive, administrative and managerial employees.” Another 566,405 college and university employees were classified as “other professional.”

    —— Administrative salaries are on the rise everywhere in the nation. By 2007, the median salary paid to the president of a doctoral degree-granting institution was $325,000. Eighty-one presidents earned more than $500,000, and twelve earned over $1 million.

    And so on…. If cuts need to be made at Queen’s, the administration should start with their own fiefdoms.

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