April 2, 2018
On the Matter of “Open” Searches, Academic Excellence, and Student Success: A Radical Proposal
A Discussion Paper
Lykke de la Cour
Department of Social Science
The “Open” search process for academic appointments is heralded in the university community as a central pillar, if not the flagship marker, that undergirds the achievement of research and teaching excellence at universities – and indeed so it should be … in an ideal world.
Data repeatedly demonstrates, however, that despite decades of equity initiatives, academic “open” searches regularly re/produce structural inequalities linked to gender, race, class, sexual identity and disability, evidenced by the fact that these groups remain under-represented among tenured faculty and, when appointed to tenure-track positions, they tend to be disproportionately concentrated in lower ranks of the profession, are often paid less than their peers, and are only marginally included in programs such as Canada Research Chairs. What this suggests is that academic appointment processes are not, in all instances, as impartial, objective, or unbiased as the term “open” suggests. Instead, all too frequently hiring practices replicate particular forms of power and privilege, with attendant knowledge production and pedagogic practices, styling this as a demonstration of academic “excellence.” “Open” academic searches, hence, are not as unfettered as sometimes implied.
Similarly, exhortations around the importance of “open” searches are neither unencumbered nor innocent when raised in the midst of a labour disruption that centers on the problem of precarious academic employment. In such moments, refrains around the inviolable principle of “open” academic searches become deeply political, chiefly deployed to reinforce divisions between tenured and contractualized faculty, while perpetuating a stigmatized association with appointment processes connected with contractual academic work.
Just look at how many times in the current labour disruption at York the administration has deployed references to “open” searches in its communications relating to Unit 2’s job security proposals. Each message from the administration, including letters from the President and the Interim Provost to OCUFA, etc., have repeatedly underscored “open” hiring practices as a “hallmark” of academic appointment processes that absolutely cannot be breached by permitting greater numbers of conversions at York. In the administration’s most recent March 27th communication on a supervised (forced ratification) vote, they make this point even more fully:
We have made every effort to reach a fair and equitable agreement with CUPE 3903 while preserving and protecting:
- Academic excellence,
- Student success, and
- The vitally important role of open searches for full-time tenure stream faculty.
What are the issues?
We have offered CUPE 3903 the best pay and benefits package of any university in Ontario, but there are two key non-monetary issues on which we can’t compromise:
- The number of tenure stream positions that will be given to CUPE 3903 members without an open search: York is committed to the principle that in all but exceptional cases, full-time tenure stream appointments must be made through open searches as they are at all other Canadian universities. To balance this principle with CUPE 3903’s interests, York is offering six tenure stream positions for contract faculty over the life of the new collective agreement. This is being done through the conversion program, which is unprecedented in the country … 
Count the number of times that the phrased “open” search is referred to in this statement. Apparently, over the past several months, the administration has also devoted considerable time informing departmental chairs and other tenured faculty at York that any promises around potential new hires would, of course, be mitigated by the number of conversions negotiated CUPE 3903. Talk about playing the two faculty groups off one another.
But let’s unpack the administration’s statement even further.
First, it presents yet another misrepresentation, this time not about the number of conversions offered as being “not concessionary,” but about the process surrounding conversion appointments. In their statement, the administration writes that tenure stream positions “will be given” to CUPE 3903 Unit 2 members. Will be “given”?
At York, contract faculty have always had to participate in a competitive selection process to get a conversion appointment and, if fortunate enough to be selected, what they are actually then “given” is a probationary tenure stream position whereby they will be required to fulfill the same criteria for tenure and promotion as any new hire. Tenured positions are not being benevolently doled out here – and let’s be clear, any modicum of meaningful job security provision (including conversions) that Unit 2 has managed to obtain over the years has not been “given” to them. These have been hard fought for gains, often only attained by going on strike.
The second problem with the administration’s statement concerns the association constructed between “open” searches, academic excellence, and student success. Again, the logic is not clear here.
In the context of a rapidly collapsing faculty infrastructure, where new tenure-stream hires are not keeping apace with TT faculty “departures” – and haven’t been for quite a while, despite enrollment growth – how on earth will a handful of new hires selected through “open” searches be able to achieve the goals of academic excellence and student success? The university is either going to have to dramatically increase class sizes and introduce other pedagogic innovations in order to cope with enrollment growth in a setting where TT faculty attrition is significant. Or York is going to have to continue to rely on a large cadre of precariously employed contractualized academic staff. Neither of these options is optimal for academic excellence or student success … and, in either case, it leaves a diminished proportion of TT faculty responsible for fulfilling the university’s required service obligations.
In her recent article in The Globe and Mail, Simona Chiose notes:
After hovering between 55 and 60 hires for the past several years, next year York plans to hire 88 tenure-stream professors, according to numbers provided by the university, renewing just under 6 per cent of its total permanent faculty ranks.
Where did these numbers come from?
According to York’s Multi Year Budget Plan 2017-18 to 2019-20, the administration is projecting only 65 new hires for next year. When faculty departures are taken into account, this will yield an overall increase of 33 faculty to the TT complement. The figures are roughly the same for the following year, 2019-20. The overall ‘in-year’ increase/decrease to YUFA faculty ranks, however, is 27 and 28 when the reduction of 19 and 23 CLAs, respectively, over 2018/19 and 2019/20, is taken into account.
Source: Finance Department, York University, “Budget Highlights,” Multi Year Budget Plan 2017-18 to 2019-20
What this chart doesn’t capture is that an increase of 33 faculty to the TT complement still leaves faculty numbers below what they were in 2008/9 (1,424) – and faculty FTEs were already significantly depleted even by 2008/9. As “A Sixteen-Year Snapshot of York University” demonstrates, undergraduate and graduate enrollments at York grew 36% to 38% respectively over the course of the 2000s, but tenure stream faculty increased by only 20%. Data suggests that the TT faculty collapse at York dates at least to the mid-1990s. The above chart also obscures the fact that, in recent years, York has relied on an unprecedented number of contractual positions (CLAs) to artificially boost tenure-stream faculty numbers. As the table below indicates, CLA positions have increased significantly over the past four years, but not the number of TT faculty. The increase in CLAs has simply facilitated a ‘smoke and mirrors’ game, giving an overall impression of TT faculty complement growth when in fact, since 2008/9, there has been none:
Source: York University Fact Book 2015-16 and York University Quick Facts 2016-17
The Report on Appointments, Tenure and Promotion, presented last October to the Board of Governors by the Chair of the Academic Resources Committee, paints a worrisome picture as well. In this document, the Appendix D chart on “Changes in Tenure Stream Complement 2009-10 to 2017-18” indicates a total of 65 appointments made or in progress for 2017-18 (not the 98 projected hires cited in the Multi Year Budget Plan). Eighteen searches (beyond the 65) are listed as “Failed/Deplayed/Cancelled Searches” [sic], which does bring the total number of authorized new hires up to 83, but still not 98. However, these 65 new appointments pale when weighed against confirmed departures, which for 2017-18 are reportedly 45. So 65 – 45 = 20 additions to the faculty complement for 2017-18. Add 20 to the total number of TT in 2016/17 and you get 1401 – still below the TT complement numbers in 2008/9.
If this is the end result when the university says that hiring plans hovered around 50 to 60 new hires the past few years, what will happen in 2018-19 and 2019-20 when budget projections forecast, respectively, only 27 and 26 new hires?
What further complicates the situation around the TT faculty complement, of course, is student enrollments. While TT faculty numbers have declined significantly at York since 2008/9, both undergraduate and graduate enrollments have remained fairly stable – 46,079 undergraduates in 2008/9 versus 46,320 in 2016/17 (an increase of .5% over the period) and 5,837 graduate students in 2008/9 as opposed to 5,798 in 2016/17, a decline of 39 graduate enrollments. No doubt contractual faculty, both within CUPE 3903 Unit 2 and YUFA CLAs, have been deployed to fill the gaps in undergraduate teaching created by the constriction of TT faculty over these years. But it is when we look towards the future – indeed not even the too distant future – that the picture becomes even more fraught if we are truly concerned about academic excellence and student success at York.
As noted above, there are no major plans to increase the number of TT faculty at the university over the next few years. Yet, York’s administration is projecting significant enrollment increases, at least with respect to undergraduate and MA enrollments. It is anticipated that enrollments in each category will rise 12% by 2019/20. Only a 1% increase in PhD graduate enrollments is predicted by 2020, however. There is also, of course, the opening of the Markham campus in 2021, with an enrollment target of 4,200 students. Advertising for the new campus states that “400+” jobs will created at Markham, but it is not clear how many of these positions will be academic. Similarly, the children of the “echo boomers” (i.e. the grandchildren of the baby boomers) are set to begin enrolling at universities in Ontario in the early 2020s.
So who is going to teach all these students?
Here is where we get to the crux of the CUPE 3903 strike, especially with respect to Unit 2 job security proposals: the administration’s utterly inflexible position on conversions, in my estimation, is fundamentally about the erosion of tenure through a simultaneous process of atrophying new TT hires (precisely in a period where both student enrollments and TT faculty departures linked to retirements are expected to grow) while inhibiting mechanisms through which contractualized faculty can be shifted into tenure-track positions.
In addition to misrepresenting conversions as something benevolently granted to contract faculty and, ultimately, antithetical to academic excellence and student success, the other recurrent theme in the administration’s messaging around Unit 2’s conversion program is about the uniqueness of this program, calling it “unprecedented in the country.” However, the only aspect of CUPE 3903’s conversion program that differentiates it from similar programs at other universities (such as Queen’s University Faculty Association’s collective agreement provisions around Continuing Adjunct Appointments) is that the CUPE 3903 program transfers successful applicants into probationary tenure-stream positions, thereby bolstering tenure-track ranks. In this sense, yes, the CUPE 3903 Conversion Program does stand out as exceptional. But this extraordinariness does not mean that the program should be dispensed with. Rather, isn’t this a program all university faculty unions should embrace in response to the growing problem of precarious academic labour? Could this, perhaps, be the real reason that the province is not intervening and pushing York University to resolve the strike?
The route that many universities in Ontario have followed to deal with the tenure-track “faculty crisis” is to create non-tenured teaching-stream positions. Half of the twenty publically-funded universities operating in the province have done so, variously designating these positions as “Instructor Employees,” “Teaching-Focused Faculty,” “Continuing Lecturer,” “Professional Teaching Positions” and, in York’s case, “Alternate Stream.” Of the ten universities that have a specially designated teaching stream, only three have established these streams within the tenure-track faculty complement: Lakehead, Wilfred Laurier, and York. In each of these instances, the teaching stream mirrors professorial appointments with respect to collective agreement rights and protections, such as sabbaticals, PTR, benefits, etc. The main differences are a somewhat lower salary and a higher teaching load, which fluctuates between a 4.0 course workload at Lakehead, 3.5 at York, and 3.0 at Wilfred Laurier. At York and Laurier teaching-stream faculty can also engage in scholarly academic (not just pedagogic) research for tenure and promotion reviews and other professional assessments. Article 15.7.5(c) of the Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty Association Collective Agreement 2017-20 states:
Any assessment of the scholarly activity of a Member with a PTP shall recognize the Member’s additional teaching beyond the teaching load norms and variations prescribed under 18.2.1 for Members not holding a PTP. A demonstrated record of excellence in teaching, or teaching and service, may be used to lessen the standards required in scholarly and/or professional activity.
Something unique to York, however, is Article 12.13 in the YUFA Collective Agreement which permits faculty transfers from the Alternate Stream to the Professorial Stream in “exceptional circumstances.”
This past January, OCUFA submitted a pre-budget report to the Ontario government, Time for renewal: Investing in the future of Ontario’s universities. This report comes at an opportune time as we ponder how to effectively resolve the strike at York. While the overall thrust of the document is to call for a reinvestment of public funding in Ontario’s college and university system, the theme of faculty renewal stands critically at the center of this report as the only way to really improve the quality of post-secondary education in the province. Its recommendations for reviving Ontario’s faculty complement, however, emphasize not only a reinvestment in new tenure-track hires, but also the creation of “pathways” to full-time secure positions for contract faculty at Ontario universities:
Universities should acknowledge their ongoing reliance on contract work by creating pathways for contract faculty to secure full-time faculty position [at their institutions] …reducing the reliance on contract faculty in the system as a whole.
In the context of the current labour disruption, we have a moment here at York to do exactly what OCUFA is recommending. CUPE 3903 has two specific Unit 2 bargaining proposals on the table that are essentially the “pathways” that OCUFA recommends – and the good news is that neither of these pathways has to be “created” at York, they already exist: the CUPE Conversion Program and the SRC Program (Special Renewable Contracts). With respect to the latter, all that needs to be changed are the dates under Article 12.32 in the YUFA collective agreement. But as both CUPE 3903 and YUFA have repeatedly stated, these dates can only be changed with the agreement of YUFA and by bringing YUFA and CUPE 3903 Unit 2 together into formal tripartite negotiations as part of current round of negotiations. Both unions are willing to do this, but the employer has steadfastly refused.
The “version” of SRCs that the employer has proposed to CUPE 3903 in this round of bargaining, represents a degraded variation of the old SRC program. It is this version which YUFA will never accept. However, the SRC program that YUFA did accept, back in the late 1990s, was very different and had considerable more integrity than what York is now forcing Unit 2 to vote on.
Negotiated in 1999, the SRC program was developed for Unit 2 AA pool members with fifteen or more years of teaching contributions to the university, who had taught at an intensity of at least 2.5 courses over the previous five years. These were contractual appointments, not tenure stream positions within YUFA. The initial term of the contract was five years, with a renewal option for one additional five year term and then a final further three year term. All SRCs were entitled to one sabbatical over the duration of the thirteen years. Faculty appointed to SRC positions had a teaching workload of three courses per year, with the same expectations around university service as required of TT faculty. SRC salaries were negotiable and, thus, comparable to YUFA members’ wages. All other provisions of the YUFA collective agreement, with respect to protections, rights, benefits, and opportunities, applied to SRC faculty. From 1999 to 2004, approximately forty Unit 2 members were transferred to SRC positions in YUFA.
In 2002, CUPE 3903 agreed to suspend the program to allow the remaining members in the pool to transfer into YUFA. A letter of understanding was drawn up at this time that indicated that the employer would examine alternative job security programs over the course of 2002-2005. This never materialized. Then in CUPE 3903’s 2008/9 negotiations, when Unit 2 proposed re-establishing the SRC program, the employer came back with a horribly corrupted TSA proposal (Teaching-Stream Appointments). These were to be 10 new full-time five-year renewable appointments (overall) within YUFA, with a 4.0 course load for $60,000 a year, and no progress-through-the-ranks (PTR) adjustments, no sabbaticals, etc. Only five of these positions were earmarked for members with ten years of more of teaching service. In the forced ratification vote of January 2009, Unit 2 resoundingly and rightly rejected the employer’s TSA proposal. YUFA similarly rejected the TSAs at an SGMM in 2010 when the employer inserted this proposal into the union’s side-bared workload negotiations.
And so here we are, years later, really no further ahead, with a low number of conversions being offered to CUPE 3903 Unit 2 and yet another butchered version of the old SRC program on the table. Only one thing has changed over this period: there now are 220 Unit 2 members in the AA Pool, while there were only 83 in 2008/9.
In the current round of negotiations, CUPE 3903 originally proposed 20 conversions and 10 SRC appointments per year over the next three years. That adds up to a total 90 Unit 2 members who could be transferred into YUFA – 60 through conversions to either professorial or alternate stream tenure-track appointments and 30 into five to thirteen-year contractual SRC positions. That’s nearly half of CUPE’s AA pool.
But could we perhaps even be bolder here? Why not bring the whole AA pool into YUFA?
While this suggestion indubitably may seem radical to some, it is nevertheless worth considering given the situation we find ourselves in at York. First, shifting the Unit 2 AA pool would inflate YUFA faculty numbers overnight and put us in line with other universities in the province where members of the full-time faculty association outnumber academic staff working on eight- and four-month contracts. As well, think about all the service work that this experience pool of faculty could begin to undertake as YUFA members.
Second, dealing in a meaningful way with CUPE 3903’s AA pool and Unit 2 job security demands would most certainly result in greater labour stability at York University. We’ve had three strikes in less than ten years. In each of these strikes, conversions and SRCs have figured centrally in Unit 2’s aspirations during contract negotiations. Each time that Unit 2 has gone out on strike it has been when the employer’s proposed offer does not deal with the matter of precarious employment in a serious manner. While the administration obviously thinks it can bully CUPE 3903 into some sort of submission with this round of negotiations, given the way the employer has handled bargaining and the strike, my sense is that CUPE 3903 is a union that is not so easily intimidated. We are only going to face more labour unrest at York if we don’t start to deal with the problem of precarious academic employment in a significant and meaningful way.
Shifting the Unit 2 AA pool into YUFA would be a good first step in correcting the gross historic wrong that has occurred here at York and the university’s unprecedented over-reliance on contractual academic faculty compared to other universities in Ontario. It would begin to restore our reputation and image as a university that is committed – not just in rhetoric but in practice – to social justice. It conveys to the public and students that social justice is not just something we say, but something we actually do.
Can York afford to do this?
In their budget plan report, last June, the Board of Governors’ Finance and Audit Committee highlighted “the significantly improved financial status of the University over recent years,” emphasizing a $1.1 million in-year surplus and a “positive” in-year variance to the 2016-17 budget of $20.2 million. The university’s statements on revenues and expenses have registered healthy surpluses for the past four years, $36.4 million (2017), $23.3million (2016), $19.9 million (2015) and$4.3 million (2014). Expenses have not outpaced revenues since 2013. Where did monies come from? According to the committee’s report, from increased tuition fees and higher international enrolments, which “provided some additional operating income overall,” and the fact that “[c]ost pressures largely associated with salaries and benefits declined due to lower compensation settlements.” So, in other words, students, faculty and staff have largely funded these surpluses. Should we not then have a say as to how these monies are spent?
In responding to CUPE 3903 on the matter of budget surpluses, the administration noted that the University “remains committed to allocating any such one-time surplus amounts to its Strategic Investment Fund, used to support the University’s key priorities of excellence in teaching and research and providing an enhanced student experience, as embodied in the University Academic Plan and related strategic planning documents.” This fund, known as the Academic Strategic Investment Contingency Fund, was established in 2014/15 to transfer excess monies from internally restricted net assets to pay for academic and strategic initiatives at the university. Since 2014/15, $75.91 million has been transferred into this fund. In 2016/7, $500,000 of these monies were directed to York’s Branding Campaign. $300,000 was devoted to the Presidential Search (spread out over 2015/16 and 2016/17) and $25 million has gone towards the SHARP Implementation.
It is from this fund that monies were allocated towards the costs associated with the higher number of CUPE 3903 conversions over 2014-2017. In 2015, 2016, and 2017, $270,000 was allocated each year to cover the expenditures associated with CUPE conversions. In total, $810,000 was paid out of the Academic Strategic Investment Contingency Fund to cover 24 conversions. You can do the math here – but basically converting even the whole AA pool would amount to about a third of what has been allocated towards the implementation of the SHARP budget model plan and less than a fifth of the total projected cumulative ending balance by 2019 ($40.41 million). York can afford to do this – and what better way is there, really, to support one of the university’s key priority areas of enhancing student experience?
We have the “pathways” here at York for dealing with the academic employment precarity that faculty organizations, such as OCUFA, are urging Ontario universities to create. The rationale for doing so is not just about “doing the right thing” with respect to contractualized faculty, but it is also about recognizing that divided neither contract nor tenured faculty are winning much here in the era of the corporatized university. Working together we will all be that much stronger, and together we cannot be so easily played off one another.
 Mary Fox,Carolyn Fonseca,Jinghui Bao. “Work and family conflict in academic science: Patterns and predictors among women and men in research universities,” Social Studies of Science (2011) Volume 41, No. 5, 715-735; L.A. Renzulli, L. Grant, S. Kathuria. “Race, gender, and the wage gap: Comparing faculty salaries in predominately white and historically black colleges and universities,” Gender & Society (2006) Volume 20. No. 4, 491-510; Judith S. White. “Pipeline to pathways: new directions for improving the status of women on campus ,” Liberal Education Volume 91, No. 1 (2005), 22-27; Yonghong Jade Xu. “Gender Disparity in STEM Disciplines: A Study of Faculty Attrition and Turnover Intentions,” Research in Higher Education (2008) Volume 49, No. 7, 607–624; Katherine Side and Wendy Robbins. “Institutionalizing inequalities in Canadian universities: the Canada Research Chairs Program,” NWSA Journal (2007) Volume 19, No. 3, 163-181; Frances Henry, Enakshi Dua, Carl E. James, Audrey Kobayashi, Peter Li, Howard Ramos, Malinda S. Smith. The equity myth : racialization and indigeneity at Canadian universities Vancouver ; Toronto : UBC Press, 2017.
 York University Requests a Supervised Vote http://labour.yorku.ca/2018/03/27/york-supervised-vote/
 43,235 in 2000/1 to 53,347 in 2016/17
 Simona Chiose. “York University, contract professors no closer to ending strike which could impact graduation for thousands,” The Globle and Mail, March 25, 2018.
 Finance Department, York University, “Budget Highlights,” Multi Year Budget Plan 2017-18 to 2019-2, p. 98.
 Craig Heron, updated by Murray Cooke, CUPE 3903, “A Sixteen-Year Snapshot of York University,” 2000-16.
 Full Time Academic Staff 1976/77 Through 2015/16, York Fact Book 2015-16, p181.
 For another interesting example of ‘smoke and mirrors’, see QS World University Rankings where York lists its Academic Faculty Staff at 2,357. https://www.topuniversities.com/universities/york-university#sub
 Henry Wu, Chair, Academic Resources Committee, October 2017 Report on Appointments, Tenure and Promotion, ,memorandum to Board of Governors, October, 3, 2017.
 Ibid., Appendix D.
 There have been a few notable surges in enrollments, however, over this period. From 2010 to 2014, the number of undergraduates enrolled at York increased by roughly 2,000. Students Registered At York, York Fact Book 2015-16.
 York Fact Book 2015-16; York University Quick Facts, 2016-17.
 Finance Department, York University, “Fiscal Context,” Multi Year Budget Plan 2017-18 to 2019-2, p. 102.
 Louise Brown, “Ontario university enrolment down for first time in 15 years.” The Toronto Star Sept. 22, 2014.https://www.thestar.com/yourtoronto/education/2014/09/22/ontario_university_enrolment_down_for_first_time_in_15_years.html
 Article 22.214.171.124, 2015-2019 Queen’s University – QUFA Collective Agreement.
 I have drawn this information from the various collective agreements of faculty associations across the province.
 Ryerson does not have a teaching stream but two levels of teaching intensity within faculty ranks.
 OCUFA. Time for renewal: Investing in the future of Ontario’s universities, January 2018: 17, and 20-21.
 For details on the conversion program, please refer to my March 20, 2018 discussion paper, “To Convert or Not To Convert, That is the Question: The CUPE 3903 Strike and Precarious Academic Labour.”
 See Article 12.32 in York University Faculty Association Collective Agreement.
 CUPE 3903 Unit 2 Chronicle, January 2009, p. 3.
 Cupe 3903. “Key Outstanding Issues of the Strike,” January 2009; Tyler Shipley, “Demanding the Impossible: Struggles for the Future of Post-Secondary Education,” Socialist Project (May 10, 2009), https://socialistproject.ca/2009/05/b215/
Academic Employee Relations, Summary of AA Pool, December 22, 2008. CUPE 3903 Conversion List 2015-16
 This is really what has been “unprecedented” in the sector, but the employer’s communications never cite this precedence.
 Finance and Audit Committee, Budget Plan and Financial Statements, Minutes, York University Board of Governors, 27 June, 2017
 York University, Financial Statements, April 30, 2017, p. 5
 Ibid., p. 2
 Chair, Finance and Audit Committee, Update to the Multi-Year Budget Plan for 2016 -17, Memorandum to Board of Governors, June 28 , 2016 , p. 77.