York University looks to hire teaching-only faculty

The Gazette —

ONTARIO — Most students are aware that an extensive amount of their professors’ time goes to research in addition to their teaching duties. York University, however, has become the first university in Canada to announce extensive hiring of teaching-only professors, who will focus on teaching almost exclusively while doing little or no research.

Though almost all Canadian universities have some faculty who teach exclusively, York is the first to hire them on a large scale.

James Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, spoke out against the hiring.

“It’s our view that what distinguishes a university is that people are both teachers and scholars,” he said. “What they’re trying to bring in under the guise of teaching is teaching-only appointments, where you can’t do research [that’s supported by the university].”

Representatives from York University were not reached for comment by publication time.

Turk explained that York already has both “alternate” and “professional” streams for its faculty, with those in the alternate stream focusing primarily on teaching, while still having the ability to engage in university-supported research.

“So they already have a provision for those who want to have a greater emphasis on teaching,” he said.

James Côté, a professor of sociology at the University of Western Ontario and co-author with Anton Allahar of Ivory Tower Blues and Lowering Higher Education, expressed his belief that the hiring is symbolic of an overall decline in education quality at universities.

“In the short run, it doesn’t matter because standards and expectations are so low in many courses and universities that it doesn’t matter who teaches them (which is an implicit rationale for doing this on the part of administrations),” he said in an e-mail.

“In the long run, it is bad for students who want to be taught by people doing cutting-edge research, and bad for Canadian universities as they continue their slide into becoming the equivalent of ‘junior colleges,’” Côté continued.

With the budget cuts on the horizon for post-secondary institutions, universities are looking for ways to cut costs, including contract and sessional faculty positions.

Turk believes that similar intentions motivated the York hiring changes, and that the result may be lower-quality education for students.

“Really what it is is cheap labour,” he explained. “It has nothing to do with commitment to teaching or to provide students with quality teachers or anything, it’s a way of getting cheap labour.”

“I think the effect of this, in my view in a broad sense, would be lower quality education,” he said.

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