Brantford Campus Faculty – Canaries in a Coal Mine
by Gary Warrick
Between 1911 and 1986, canaries were used in British coal mines as early warning detectors for dangerous levels of carbon monoxide because the metabolism of a canary will respond to even very low levels of the gas. If the canary showed signs of distress, the miners would be alerted and would have time to evacuate the mine before they were asphyxiated. A miner who ignored the canary’s warning did so at his own peril. In a similar way, faculty at the Brantford Campus, both Full-time and CAF, are – unfortunately – serving as proverbial canaries in our own academic mine. Failure at the Waterloo Campus to address this canary’s distress will, inevitably, lead to similarly dangerous ends for all parties concerned.
Since the Brantford Campus opened its doors in 1999, faculty there have laboured under a far heavier workload – for less pay – than our Waterloo faculty counter-parts. Over the last few years, Brantford faculty have raised their concerns with the administration but nothing much has been done to remove or even to alleviate workload and pay inequities at the Brantford Campus. Brantford faculty are growing impatient, however, and have become increasingly vocal in their opposition to IPRM and other university initiatives that require Brantford’s participation. As a result, Brantford’s commitment to collegiality has been questioned by our own administration.
The service workload situation at Brantford was reported in a previous issue of the WLUFA advocate. Brantford faculty are responsible for two to four times the service workload of their Waterloo colleagues. For example, I have served on 28 DAPCs for tenure track and LTA position hires in 12 years of employment (this involved a couple of summers of attempting to direct field research and attend hiring committee meetings at the same time). But workload issues at Brantford extend far beyond service. In the “Bilateral Committee on Brantford Campus Workload” filed with WLU in April 2011, it was found that Brantford faculty teach large writing-intensive classes with no teaching assistants, receive relatively few course releases for research and for program development and program-coordinator service, and have less administrative support from staff. To compound the problem, in July 2011 a WLUFA-commissioned consultant report found that Brantford faculty, on average, earn $3000.00 less than their colleagues in the Faculty of Arts in Waterloo – more work for less pay. And yet, despite the troubling working conditions, Branford faculty continue to attract students to the Brantford Campus, fulfilling the multi-campus university dreams of the senior administration and board of governors of WLU. The Brantford Campus has grown from 39 students in 1999 to 2,700 students in 2012-2013. It is considered a success story and is held aloft by WLU administration as a model for how to build a multi-campus university. Former VP for Brantford, Leo Groarke, published a book in 2010 about Brantford’s downtown campus (Reinventing Brantford: A University Goes Downtown), praising WLU for a job well done.
While the Brantford Campus may be a financial success story, it is not an educational one. Its greatness has been achieved through the hard work of faculty and staff strangled by a shoestring budget. While the campus has managed to attract increasing numbers of students because of the reputation of its professors and their development and delivery of innovative and exciting one-of-a-kind programs, Brantford still has no academic library, lacks study space for students, has no food services, has an over-crowded recreational/ athletic centre, has centralized undergraduate advising, and delivers about 33% of its courses with CAF (who, in some cases, have been forced to share office hours when consulting students). Staff assistants in various programs in Brantford deal with anywhere from two to thirteen times more students than their colleagues in Waterloo’s Faculty of Arts. Brantford faculty teach large classes in the liberal arts with no teaching assistants. Marking assistance is provided as per our collective agreement, but with only senior undergraduates available it is problematic (if not impossible) to have them assist with grading their peers’ term papers. Writing-intensive courses with enrolments over 200 students, such as English and Contemporary Studies, have become more common. Instructors of such courses face a cruel choice – either demand writing assignments and spend a full three weeks grading at the end of term or dispense with written work altogether. But how does one, in good conscience, teach liberal arts without written assignments? The reality of the Brantford Campus and its attending cruel choices, however, means that sometimes students must be dreadfully short-changed in their education.
Faculty are expected to conduct research, attend conferences, and publish. At the Brantford Campus, research takes a back burner to teaching and service. Two faculty members who were hired to develop programs for Brantford sacrificed their research and publishing in order to help to build the campus and were rewarded with the termination of their employment – both had been denied tenure due to poor publishing records. Other faculty who have helped to build the Brantford “success story” have traded research and writing time for program and curriculum development and designing; most are teaching new courses annually as well as attending countless committee meetings. For pre-tenure faculty, this is a recipe for disaster. Tenured faculty at Brantford, in an effort to lighten the workload of their tenure-track colleagues and help them to avoid career-ending tenure denial, serve on numerous extra committees at the expense of their research and writing – all with no possibility of future course release.
In addition to heavier workloads, full-time faculty in Brantford receive lower salaries than their Waterloo counterparts. In preparation for negotiating the full-time collective agreement that expired in June 2011, WLUFA commissioned a study of Brantford salaries. The consultant hired found that, compared with the Faculty of Arts at Waterloo, Brantford faculty received $2,500.00 – 4,500.00 less on average, adjusting for sex, age, rank, and type of appointment. WLUFA was unsuccessful in securing salary increases for Brantford faculty in the last round of collective bargaining, so Brantford faculty will continue to be underpaid until at least July 2014.
Those reading this article from the safe confines of the Waterloo Campus, must be counting yourselves lucky that you’re a ways up river from here – but you need to know that this is not just a “Brantford Issue”. The “canaries” in Brantford are in distress (have been for some time, actually) but the WLU “mine” is still making a healthy profit and, worse yet, few faculty in Waterloo seem to have their eyes on the gasping bird (even in the face of IPRM). The question for the future may not be whether or not Brantford will be given equity with Waterloo, but whether or not the administration can find a way to make sure that Waterloo is given equity with Brantford. The warning signs are here and they are clear. If you ignore Brantford, you may find yourself in the same place a few years down the road.
WLU, Brantford Campus, has been very important to our city. At the top of the list should be our students and they are safe if faculty is safe. “Canary” observers seem to be everywhere in the news on a myriad of topics around the world. Warning signs should be heeded. Appreciation should be given to those that take “their” time, in what seems to be an uncaring world, to help others. Sharing, caring and being equitable used to be the norm. What happened?
” Brantford still has no academic library, lacks study space for students, has no food services, has an over-crowded recreational/ athletic centre, has centralized undergraduate advising, and delivers about 33% of its courses with CAF (who, in some cases, have been forced to share office hours when consulting students).”
This statement I agree with, but I definately disagree that our quality of education is lacking. Our professors work very hard to give us the best one-on-one interaction and knowledge they have. We are seriously lacking in resources and services, as well as teaching assistants, but we do have an amazing class structure and we get a better quality of teaching and closer relationships with the faculty than bigger universities do. Its gauranteed that a good majority of Brantford student’s tuition dollars are going to the Waterloo campus and, in the future, the building of the new Milton campus instead of into our own in Brantford. We have such a rapidly growing student population, yet the services (food, library, study space, exercise facilities etc.) remain inadequate. Its frustrating to pay the same amount of tution (or more) than other larger universities, and receive only a small fraction of the benefits. We actually pay a “cafeteria” fee on our tuiton, which is ironic considering we do not have food facilities. Our tuition money at Laurier Brantford is clearly not being fed back into our own campus, or these issues would have been resolved already.
Wilfrid Laurier Brantford 3rd Year Undergraduate Student