It is commonly understood that postsecondary education ought to focus on fostering curiosity, creativity, critical thinking, and vigorous debate, with the goal of generating new knowledge and informed citizens. As it happens, cultivating a culture of learning that embraces these values also requires robust public funding and complex academic structures to determine how this money is distributed.
This funding is fundamental for universities to pursue their mission—through quality education, illuminating research, providing good jobs on campus, and ensuring that all students, regardless of socioeconomic background, can pursue a degree and thrive.
As much as we might like to think that academic decisions are all made based on merit and the altruistic values of the academy, the question of money and how it is distributed permeates our universities and their decision-making structures.
In Ontario, institutional decisions about who gets money and who does not are being made with less and less consultation, transparency, and accountability. This has coincided with the stagnation of public funding for postsecondary education, increased reliance on private capital and tuition fees, and a shift towards corporatized university administrations.
As a result, small groups of administrators are making decisions that have far-reaching implications for higher education in Ontario, with little to no meaningful input from faculty, staff, or students. In some cases, these decisions have substantially impacted equity on campus and systemically entrenched economic inequality.
While the erosion of collegial governance has garnered significant attention in recent years, in this issue of Academic Matters we tried to shift focus to specifically consider the economic and equity impacts of institutional funding allocation for students, faculty, and staff at Ontario’s universities.
Kimberly Ellis-Hale and Glen Copplestone examine higher education’s increasing dependence on precariously employed contract faculty, who face low pay and unfair working conditions. Meanwhile, Janice Folk-Dawson highlights the corporatization of the university and what it has meant for academic support staff whose working conditions are deteriorating and jobs are being outsourced. Both articles argue that, despite the steady erosion of public funding for postsecondary education, Ontario’s universities are financially well-positioned to address precarity on campus and provide good jobs.
Michelle L.A. Nelson and Ross Upshur consider inequities in the distribution of research funding and the struggles faced by faculty at various stages of their careers. They propose that, with some changes to the existing research ecosystem, it is possible for researchers at all career stages to be productive while supporting, instead of competing with one another.
Felipe Nagata looks at the Ford government’s Student Choice Initiative, a policy that threatens student organizations across Ontario and seeks to silence student voices already struggling to be heard. He argues that silencing the student movement might only be the first step towards silencing other voices that are critical of the government.
Mariana Valverde scrutinizes the University of Toronto’s pursuit of alternative funding sources and questions whether the institution is benefiting from its real estate schemes and intellectual property policies. She suggests that, although Ontario’s universities are trying to make up for falling levels of government support, perhaps these other funding sources aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
Finally, following his recent retirement, Donald C. Cole reflects on his career as a faculty member and suggests different ways in which faculty might be better supported in understanding their role promoting equity on campus.
This issue of Academic Matters has been a fascinating opportunity to explore the decision-making structures that shape Ontario’s universities. The challenges are clear. However, this issue’s contributors all agree that Ontario universities need to become more consultative, transparent, and accountable by providing real opportunities for faculty, staff, and students to engage in institutional decision-making. This is how more equitable universities can be realized in Ontario.
A reminder that all of the articles in this issue, and many more, are available on our website: AcademicMatters.ca.
Thanks for reading.