Friday, December 9, 2011

Would you like fries with that diploma?

This is a comic I made for a zine, using my campus map and attempting to turn it into a factory pumping students through on a conveyor belt to McJobs or unemployement.

I have been reading and thinking a lot about privatization within universities lately. Maybe not universities so much as within the particular institution that I currently attend. In the almost 6 years I have been here, I have seen so many changes occur, and like many academics, I am getting increasingly concerned about the future of my program and university educations more generally.

I have done a few presentations lately on the cuts within the university, and the main point that I have been trying to get across is that this is an organized attack on the quality of education and the quality of jobs on campus in the name of profits.

My university, like many others, has been changing from a public institution of knowledge to a private service where students purchase a degree and investors purchase research. Within neoliberalism, an attack on the idea of public goods is rather typical -- whether it be education, health care or social services -- the idea of publicly funded anything is counter to neoliberal ideologies, and for the wealthy to become as rich as possible these ideals must permeate into other areas of our social worlds.

With regards to employment on campus, there have been many changes. The highest paid positions are increasingly becoming even more high paid (our president just recieved a $79,000 wage increase) and the lowest are becoming even lower paid (from full-time to part-time). The combined salaries of the 10 highest paid people in the university are higher than all 240 GTAs combined. This past summer, 25 unionized positions were cut, as they were deemed redundant, and yet they are being replaced by contract workers. There are rumors that there will be another 25 jobs cut this coming summer.

The cuts to services on campus have been terrible. We went from having 6 counsellors to 2, and there is currently a 4 week wait to talk to someone. Tutoring services used to be free for all students; now they only exist for those with special needs and the rest of the work falls to GTAs and professors. There used to be a shuttle to take students around campus, as the parking lot is quite far from some of the buildings and it is sometimes -40 degrees in January and February, but this shuttle was cancelled despite rising parking costs.

My undergraduate program was quite small. When I started, there were about 10 full-time faculty and several sessionals. Last year, there were 6 full-time faculty and many sessional professors. Next year, it looks like we may only have 2-3 full-time faculty as well as fewer sessionals than in previous years. We are also be one of the only sociology programs that I have heard of that does not have a (non-sessional) female professor!

If these were strictly cost-saving measures, as the university claims, cuts would be felt across the board. There would be no raises or bonuses for upper admin, and there certainly would not be more upper administrators right now than there was 3 years ago.

One of the reasons I think this is happening is because of the change from universities being run by academics to them being run by business people. The current president was just named one of Canada's top 40 people under 40, and has a background in business. He does not have a PhD, and has no experience teaching in universities. How can we expect that the needs of educators will be met when those making the big decisions are not educators, but business people trained to make a profit? Our university is not a corporation, and I resent it being run like one.

Another consequence of this is what happens to academics. Academic freedom is lost. Researchers only take up certain types of studies because searching for knowledge is no longer funded. Those that speak out against certain companies or corporatization more generally can be reprimanded as it can affect corporate donations. So, business friendly administrators receive profit and power while employees see eroding wages and working conditions and students see diminished quality and access.

The only way to fight back against an organized attack like this one is with a coordinated response. Students and workers will have to work together across campuses if we expect any kind of meaningful change.

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