Some lament the loss of great faculty, some just want to be able to graduate
Students are not happy with the recent sessional cuts, voicing concerns that they are affecting course selection and limiting options.
“I feel like the school is really letting me down in my fourth year,” said Craig Trarup, a philosophy student in his final year.
Trarup has been dealt a frustrating start to his 2014 fall semester due to the recent cuts to sessional staff.
Toward the end of the 2014 winter semester, word made its way through campus that TRU would be cutting 60 per cent of positions in the arts, specifically the sessional and limited-term faculty. It left students not knowing how their schooling would be affected. The backlash of this decision has greatly affected course availability.
Trarup began his fourth year needing an upper-level metaphysics course in order to graduate with a philosophy degree. Without this course, his only choice would be to graduate with a degree in general studies.
Dr. Jenna Woodrow, an associate professor in philosophy, and the usual professor for upper-level metaphysics, recently took maternity leave. TRU made the decision to not replace Woodrow with a sessional faculty, resulting in the courses on logic, metaphysics and epistemology that she had previously taught to be taken from this year’s course registration.
“I was all set and registered in metaphysics, [with a] ‘to be announced’ beside it. Shortly before the semester started, it was cancelled. I started freaking out,” Trarup said. Concerned that he was not going to graduate on time, Trarup emailed Robin Tapley, another philosophy professor, looking for answers. Tapley is now facilitating Trarup through a directed study in metaphysics.
“The faculty is going out of its way to make up for the mistakes of the administration,” Trarup said.
Trarup is not the only TRU student unsettled by the cutbacks. The political science students started a petition to get Robert Hanlon back after his contract with TRU was not renewed. The petition was a success, and Hanlon will be teaching four courses in the 2015 winter semester.
Matthew Klassen, a fourth-year accounting and finance student, has also watched in disappointment as two faculty members in the business and economics department did not return to TRU this semester.
“John Zubach and Coby Fulton were branding the economics department the best and getting out into the community and forging relationships with the organizations and companies and not-for-profits in town. These guys were the front-runners for the branding of TRU,” Klassen said.
“[Fulton is] an amazing guy and for him to have his contract abruptly ended … when most of us students had heard he was leaving, everyone was shocked. He’s an amazing asset to have at TRU. So why they would get rid of him is mind-boggling to say the least.”
Both Trarup and Klassen are left with the same unanswered question: Why is TRU making these drastic cuts?
TRU administration told CBC on April 23, 2014 that “the cuts are directly related to a [7%] decline in enrolment within the Arts.” However, in a document titled “The TRU Faculty Vision for Strategic Priorities 2014- 2019” published by the TRU Faculty Association (TRUFA), it’s stated that “during the same years that administrative payrolls were skyrocketing, faculty payroll plateaued and then started to drop.” The data is based on audited financial statements from 2008 to 2012.
TRUFA president Tom Friedman believes this is counterproductive.
“The priority is to attract students. You don’t do that by cutting sections and limiting choice,” Friedman said.
The Thompson Rivers University Act includes the mandate that the university must prioritize “the educational and training needs in the region.” According to Friedman, this commitment is not being fulfilled.
Similarly, Friedman sees the irony, as sessionals cost the university a lot less than tenured professors. TRU has a 70 per cent rule, which ensures that 70 per cent of courses in a department are taught by tenured professors or those on the tenure track. This leaves 30 per cent of courses to be taught by sessional faculty in what Friedman calls a “no risk situation,” where departments can try new courses without commitment.
Sessional faculty are hired on four-month contracts, and responsible for re-applying for the next semester.
“It’s so unstable, and the future is so unpredictable. Why [would we] continually stress about this situation and not just move on?” Klassen said when describing his empathy for Fulton looking elsewhere for job opportunities.
According to TRU’s “Sessional and Continuing Sessional Salary Scales” document, sessional faculty are paid $1,887 per credit and continuing sessional faculty are paid $1,980 per credit, with an annual increase.
“They would love the ability to endlessly hire short-term contract people, but that is not how we are going to run this institution. If they want the highest level of credibility and qualification, we have to compensate people adequately,” Friedman said.
According to Friedman, TRU is moving to a hybrid zero-based budget model. In the past, government funding would be allocated to specific areas and departments at the university’s discretion. Now this funding is sent with minimal directives, allowing the university to determine where the money is allocated.
“[The hybrid zero-based budget is] a year-to-year core allocation of money to a department based on tenured faculty, so they know they can pay tenure salary,” Friedman said. Departments that are seeking more funding beyond that will have to be ready to fight for it. Friedman has suggested that departments create budget committees at both the department level and faculty level. Ultimately this becomes a bitter fight for what a department’s students should be getting.
“It certainly could cause one department to be pitted against another with a lot of time and effort spent on justifying what we do. It plays into an administrative agenda. It ensures everything we do is being tested all the time, with no funding automatically,” Friedman said.
Not only does this model have the potential to create department-to-department tension, but it also suggests that faculty will have to take time to seek money for their departments while teaching and maintaining the requirements in their contract. Similarly, the budget being allocated to departments for tenure salary causes inter-department separation between tenure and sessional faculty, which, according to Friedman may already be there.
“[This will take] a lot of effort out of what we should be putting into instructing and administrating.”
While TRUFA and the 40 per cent of the arts faculty still employed at TRU are three weeks into the new semester and 60 per cent emptier, the effects on students will continue, as not all students have registered for the 2015 winter semester.
“I want to graduate from this institution, from [these professors], and it feels like the school is doing everything in its power to stop that from happening sometimes,” Trarup said.