Austerity in academia

There’s been some shocking news lately from Alberta, of all provinces, in terms of budget cuts and changes to post secondary education. Thursday’s provincial budget announced a three percent funding cut, or a cut of $147 million. This is a pretty serious threat to the quality of higher education and to the student experience.

Cuts have already begun. For example, the University of Alberta has eliminated 10 faculty positions . These include the three vacant faculty positions and–incredulously–seven tenured faculty positions from professors who have accepted retirement packages. Eight support staff also left voluntarily.

Over at Athabasca University, several top executives have resigned, including Margaret Haughey, whom I’ve had a the pleasure of meeting when she was VP Research and also the President of the Canadian Society for Studies in Education. The President of Athabasca University also resigned. “Precarious finances” seem to the blame, since a union member from the school stated that the school had gone from a $30-million reserve fund to annual operating deficits, according to the CBC.

Budget cuts have also hit closer to home, in Ontario. At my own institution, ten academic appointments (tenure-track, limited-term appointment, ancillary academic staff and sessional) were funded through the Strategic Priority Fund for the 2013-2014 year (approximately $1.1 million). Unfortunately, these are the only positions that are available, and unfortunately, my Faculty did not receive this funding. The Faculty of Education is facing declining enrolment and there is a climate of austerity. In fact, I found out Friday that my own position has been eliminated. So, I’m out of a job in July 2013.

Big changes ahead. My spouse and I have now started looking for opportunities elsewhere. I would like to land another faculty position, but these are tough times. There are a lot of PhDs on the market who want to become professors, but getting hired into and staying in a tenure-track position is like going to LA to become an actor and making it big. A whole lot of competition and not a lot of jobs. Many qualified folks are out of a job.

My spouse and I wanted to stay put for a while in this small university town of Windsor, ON, but alas, it was not meant to be. We were tired of moving for work as we moved ten times in the past five years (Toronto, Paris, Copenhagen, Windsor), but now we are embracing the spirit of adventure yet again, this time with more family members in tow! In some ways, it might be good timing since our older daughter is starting kindergarten. If we are lucky, we may be able to settle down somewhere in time for her to start elementary school. Our trusty old dog, an international traveling pug of mystery, should be able to help our younger Golden adjust to the new arrangements. My younger daughter is a good trooper, so I’m not too worried about her. Chris and I are willing to move to wherever opportunity awaits us, hopefully at a research university in an urban centre, possibly at an institute, maybe public service, or even a private company. Our skill sets are complimentary and we collaborate impeccably well together, so we remain hopeful.


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