It's Time to Reinvest in Western's Core Mission: A Bargaining Issues Update - Vol. 7 No. 8

Western’s financial position is extremely strong, and yet the Board of Governors and administration consistently choose not to reinvest in the core mission of quality education, teaching and research. As our examination of the university’s budget reveals, the university has accumulated close to $700 million in surplus over the past 9 years. It recently completed a fund-raising campaign that raised over $800 million. Student tuition has been rising steadily over the past 5 years. In February of 2018, Standard and Poor’s affirmed Western’s AA credit rating, noting the university’s “high levels of cash and available financial resources.” According to the rating agency, Western’s “financial assets are sufficient such that it would likely not default on its obligations under a provincial stress scenario in which all government funding was temporarily disrupted”.

Western can easily afford to reinvest in the university’s core mission, but they have repeatedly failed to do so. Instead, the administration has regularly imposed budget cuts on all faculties over the past decade (3% cuts are being demanded again this year). These cuts have degraded the quality of education and research at Western, increased class sizes, and reduced the amount of support staff and resources. Contract faculty have lost their jobs, while many others still lack any kind of meaningful job security. As a recent report by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) indicates, precarious employment disproportionately affects women and racialized faculty. In addition, full-time faculty members’ salaries and benefits have steadily deteriorated; Western is ranked 11th in the province for average full-time compensation.

There is a clear pattern here. During each round of contract negotiations over the past decade, the administration tells UWOFA that it can’t afford to pay or support its faculty, librarians and archivists fairly. It’s the same story this year. The priorities and choices set by Western’s annual budget have already ensured that there is no money available to meet our compensation and job security proposals. It doesn’t have to be this way. Every budget, especially a budget during times of surplus, is a choice.

Compensation and Benefits

Faculty members across the university have been more than patient with Western’s administration. Under the guise of ‘austerity’ or ‘political uncertainty’, we have seen our wages stagnate and decline, with yearly scale increases falling below the rate of inflation. As of 2016, based on the latest available University and College Academic Staff System (UCASS) data, Western sits at 11th place in the province in terms of average full-time salary for its professors.

The administration is now offering a 1.25% scale increase for all faculty-- part-time and full-time-- over 4 years; well below the average rate of inflation of 2%., and well behind recent settlements at other universities (1.5% at Guelph, 1.7% at McMaster, 1.75% at Queen’s, and 2.6% at Waterloo). If we accept the administration’s offer, Western’s salaries are certain to fall even further behind our comparators’ in the years ahead. UWOFA estimates that beginning to close the gap would have a negligible impact on the enormous surpluses accumulated by the university. For the health of the university, however, the impact of reinvestment in faculty compensation would be huge; it would boost morale and deter faculty from seeking jobs elsewhere.

It’s difficult to imagine that Western would find an 11th place ranking acceptable in any other sphere of university operations. When it comes to faculty compensation however, they are fine with being far less than ‘extraordinary’.

Job security for contract academic staff

Approximately 30% of UWOFA academic staff currently have no meaningful job security. This lack of security not only negatively affects our contract colleagues, it affects all of us. It makes curricular planning and development difficult and increases the service and supervisory load for probationary and tenured faculty. It also means these colleagues lack academic freedom, which has serious implications for their pedagogical decision-making and for the future of academic freedom in general.

While there has been some small movement at the table recently, the administration remains reluctant to engage substantively with UWOFA’s proposals to improve job security for contract academic staff –colleagues with limited-duties (LD) and limited-term (LT) appointments.

There is no doubt that Western is flush with cash.  Similarly, there is no doubt that the university’s financial well-being is, at least partially, built upon the hard work, low compensation and lack of job security of UWOFA members. 

It’s well past time to re-invest in Western’s core mission of teaching and research. Our students and faculty deserve better, and the resources are there to make it happen. Western’s Board of Governors and administration simply have to choose to make it so.