Age attrition in U of C faculty

By Natalie Sit

Professors retiring at the U of C could cause some changes within the institution.

Currently, the University of Calgary has 334 faculty aged 45-50 and 292 faculty aged 55-60. And according to Dr. John Baker, President of the University of Calgary Faculty Association, most faculty like to retire between the ages of 60-65. Data from Dec. 2001 suggests the university could lose over 600 retiring professors in the next five to ten years.

With the potential $37 million budget reduction, job cuts have been suggested. It is unknown what could happen to faculty hiring processes.

“There is no question that the current challenges will have an effect on hiring,” said Dr. Bond, U of C Vice-President Academic. “I can’t see at this stage that what those effects will be nor can I say whether there will be a formal moratorium on hiring.”

However when the university does not continually hire new professors, it can cause problems within the institution. During the 1970s and early 1980s, many universities did not recruit due to budget cuts, a situation that could occur again.

“The consequence was when people decided to recruit the senior professors–because they had lost people to retirement and given the opportunity to appoint a mid-level professor–there were no faculty around they could recruit because no people had come into the system during the ’70s,” said Dr. Baker. “You need to keep faculty going in and faculty going out the other end in an ongoing way. Blips in the system really screw the system up.”

This leads to potential problems like limited experience. Both TUCFA and university administration would like to see a wide distribution of faculty ages but for slightly differing reasons.

“[We] are interested in the right mix of senior, experienced people, on the one hand, and the ‘fresh blood’ who will rejuvenate our teaching and research activities, on the other hand,” said Dr. Bond.

Dr. Baker sees younger professors bringing new ideas and ways of thinking while older professors would know the history of the institution.

“Every new generation of people think they can redesign the undergraduate program better than it was,” said Dr. Baker. “But often the ideas they think are new have been tried. You need a spread of ages in the department so you can have a variety of perspectives brought on the issues we face on a daily basis.”

Another situation, which could cause the university some problems in replacing retiring professors, is a shortage of PhDs who choose not to teach at a university and thus replenish the professor pool. Often faculties like engineering, management, medicine and law have trouble recruiting and retaining faculty when a career in those fields outside of universities offers better pay.

And when a faculty cannot find a person who is highly qualified to fill a position, the faculty must wait another year to try, which brings potential problems like an increased workload for other professors. Another concern is for faculties that are not clearly articulated in the academic plan.

“The university won’t put the same emphasis on attracting high quality faculty and perhaps put that toward finding high quality faculty in medicine or law because they are the priorities currently under the plan,” said Students’ Union VP Academic Rosie Nagra.

Another solution is sessional instructors, however, sessionals have many issues surrounding their employment at the U of C. Nagra sees two sides to sessionals. On one hand, many sessionals do not research, which conflicts with the university’s academic plan to bring research to undergraduates but the lack of research work could also help students.

“I know students who have positive things to say about sessionals,” Nagra. “They don’t have that extra burden of doing research so they can concentrate on what they’re here for which is teaching.”

Dr. Bond said sessionals often conduct research but aren’t paid for doing so. As well, sessionals fill teaching spots when a faculty member unexpectedly leaves or when a position is not filled.

“In a perfect world, we would undoubtedly have more regular faculty on campus than we do now and all of those people would be doing research,” said Dr. Bond. “But in that perfect world we would also have need for sessional instructors.”

Sessional instructors are not paid for their research under Article 23 in the TUFCA collective agreement concerning faculty employment. Article 23 states ongoing academic work should be done by ongoing academic staff. According to Dr. Baker, it’s a shame the U of C Board of Governors wants to gut Article 23. Allowing academic work such as research to be conducted by tenured and tenure-track professors, it offers academic freedom to those who wish to question the status quo.

“[Academic freedom] is valuable to the community, students and university,” said Dr. Baker. “We can question the received opinions that are the standard opinions in an academic setting. That’s fundamental and we question the directions the university is going because academic freedom is in three areas: teaching, research and in university governance.

“It’s not clear if a sessional can feel in a secure enough position in academic freedom,” he continued.

As well, sessionals, according to Dr. Baker, are vulnerable due to renewal process of contracts and the fact their academic freedom is not protected.

In the end, professors retire. As Dr. Baker said, it’s the biological life of the university. But to recruit new professors and retain current ones, salary is a very important factor. And perhaps, there has been enough financial sacrifice by faculty–something Dr. Bond and Dr. Baker agree upon.

“The senior administration is onside on faculty recruitment and retention,” said Dr. Baker. “We can’t address the staffing needs by bringing in sessional instructors. On that note, the faculty association and senior administration may not be in so much agreement.”


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