The Royal Military College of Canada (RMCC) is the only university under direct federal control, thus recent developments there indicate the Harper government's vision for post-secondary education.
This CAUT-commissioned report, whose authors include eminent economist Robin Boadway (an RMCC grad and ardent supporter of the college), describes a number of developments that merit close attention.
The principle of academic self-governance has been eroded at RMCC. For example, promotion decision are being made on the basis of budgetary, rather than academic, considerations. Although in recent years a number of faculty members have been recommended for promotion, the RMCC
declined to action these promotions because of the monetary implications of incumbent based promotions, and that they would not be finalized until the CMCFA [the faculty association] agreed to a new incumbent based promotion policy that includes quotas for professorial ranks
As I understand it, a quota system would not allow any new promotions until existing professors retired. This policy has been implemented in part because the RMCC pay scale mimics that of the federal public service, where a promotion is always accompanied by a salary increase. This is not true in other Canadian universities.
Academic control over hiring is also in question. According to the report, "On at least one occasion the choice made by the appointments committee was over-ruled by an HR participant."
Finally, the RMCC report is consistent with the theory I advanced in this previous post, that Prime Minister Stephen Harper would, if he could, like to end tenure. The reports' authors chose their words carefully:
UT’s [University teachers] do not have tenure, even if they are classified “indeterminate” (vice term) in the federal public service. This was made clear in two legal positions obtained by the CMCFA [faculty association]. The distinction between tenure and indeterminate status is small but real and becomes material when there are federal budgetary issues and Work Force Adjustment requirements.
In civilian universities, as Nick Rowe describes in this superb post, it is very difficult to fire faculty members. Hence the only way to introduce a new, high-demand program is to expand the university. Indeterminate term contracts solve this problem. No demand for classics? Close the classics department, fire the classics professors, and hire new, young, dynamic professors to teach Leadership Studies.
Some readers might be thinking "But it's RMC. It's not a real university. It couldn't happen at ...." Take a look at these two charts from Statistics Canada's publication Education Indicators in Canada 2012 . The first shows Canadian per-pupil expenditures on primary education. Except in the territories, where the sheer remoteness of many communities makes education very expensive, our costs are only slightly above the OECD average.
The Canadian numbers in the chart above were calculated by taking total spending by universities and dividing by the number of full-time equivalent students. The Canadian average was $25,000 per year in 2008/9, in purchasing power parity adjusted US dollars, whereas the OECD average was under $15,000.
There a lot of problems with this chart. The Canadian numbers are for universities only; the OECD numbers are for the entire post-secondary sector. The numbers confound research, administration, and teaching expenditures. Professors may not be to blame for rising costs - salaries of senior administrators have been increasing more rapidly than professorial salaries in recent years.
But think of how this looks to the average Globe and Mail National Post reader. His son or daughter is an undergraduate student at one of Canada's "leading" universities - sitting in classes of 100, 200, 300, 500 people, having work evaluated by minimally trained teaching assistants, brushed off by indifferent faculty members. He sees this and thinks $25,000 per student? Really?
That the costs are justified by world-class research, world-class faculty and top-notch administration professional and student services will be a hard sell.