Faculty criticize university management
Special collaboration March 18, 2023
Photo: Stacy Beaudoin University professors lament their work overload, linked in part to the increase in the number of graduate students.
This text is part of the special Syndicalism section
University campuses are often the scene of demonstrations allowing students to voice their concerns about a society they consider disorganized or unfair. In 2005 (against the cuts in the loans and bursaries system) as in 2012 (against the increase in tuition fees), the discontent was real, and noisy. But at present, it is rather the teaching staff who are making their grumblings heard, blaming the management of these high places of knowledge that are universities.
Among university professors, there is deep dissatisfaction and a great desire for change. Michel Lacroix is well placed to know, as interim president of the Quebec Federation of University Professors (FQPPU), an organization that brings together 18 unions and associations with more than 8,000 members.
More than a dozen unions are currently in negotiations, and three strike votes have recently been held: at the Université du Québec à Rimouski, at the Université de Sherbrooke and at Université Laval, with approval rates “between 94% and 96%,” proudly points out Michel Lacroix. “It's exceptional, says this professor at the Department of Literary Studies at the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM), and it testifies eloquently to the general dissatisfaction of professors with their working conditions, and the development of universities in the last two decades. »
If media attention is now focused on the fight of the Union of Professors and Professors of Laval University (SPUL), whose members launched an indefinite general strike on Monday, March 13, this conflict crystallizes all the important demands of a group of workers essential to the construction of knowledge.
The salary issue is at the heart of the present negotiations, but reducing it to this aspect evades several fundamental subjects. Starting with the work overload, linked in part to the increase in the number of graduate students. Indeed, according to the FQPPU, student numbers have increased by 93% in the second cycle and by 109% in the third cycle. The teaching staff, on the other hand, only increased by 19.5%. “When we dig into the phenomenon, says Michel Lacroix, we see that half of the increase represents professors in the field of health, which creates an imbalance in all the other sectors. This results in each teacher leading more and more students, without having more time to do it well.
In the popular imagination, a university professor aims to teach and do research. However, between these two major missions, the administrative tasks ended up parasitizing the essentials. “This is one of the most unpleasant and probably the furthest aspects of the work of teachers, deplores the president of the FQPPU. Whether the requests come from the institution or from the Quebec government, universities are overloaded with reporting. “Precious time that encroaches on that of writing books or articles… which they must write in greater numbers, and again, in a rush that is rarely constructive. “It's the main element of evaluation of professors at each stage of their career, from hiring to obtaining grants, so the pressure remains high”, according to Michel Lacroix.
Teachers in distress
Since the start of the pandemic, much has been said about the unprecedented context in which young people have evolved academically. Their distress is sometimes openly displayed in classrooms, including at university, but students are probably unaware of that of their teachers, victims of performance at all costs. “There are more than 10% of teachers who have suicidal thoughts, deplores the president of the FQPPU. How can tired, overworked people really help them while still being able to do research? »
Professors are also calling for greater transparency from the senior management of their institution. Choosing a rector or a dean in a vacuum, determining the main orientations on the sly, all that should be a thing of the past, and this change of culture is part of the present negotiations. In this sometimes tense context, pessimistic Michel Lacroix? “The University of Sherbrooke and the teachers' union have reached an agreement [on February 22]. When there is a concerted will to move forward, we succeed.
This special content was produced by the Devoir Special Publications team, reporting to Marketing. The editorial staff of Devoir did not take part.