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University rankings: Should Guelph get an F?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

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  • The members of CUPE 3913, the union representing sessional workers and instructors at U of G, see a very different picture than

    The members of CUPE 3913, the union representing sessional workers and instructors at U of G, see a very different picture than

Written by Trudi Lorenz

With the recent publication of University Rankings by the Globe and Mail and Maclean’s magazine, the university administration has been quick to dole out many congratulatory pats on the back.  Unfortunately, these acts of self-congratulation have obscured what is really going on at this “prestigious” and “high-ranking” university of ours.

The members of CUPE 3913, the Union that represents undergraduate and graduate teaching assistants and Sessional instructors at the university of Guelph, see a very different picture than the one painted both by the administration and the mainstream media.  Their experiences in the classroom—or, as is increasingly becoming the case, out of the classroom—positions them perfectly to be able to evaluate the university’s performance from the perspective of front-line-workers.  Our members would have to give the university a failing grade with respect to its performance in the past year based on the following criteria: bigger class sizes; less interaction between students and instructors; changes in course delivery; high student/TA ratios, substantial Sessional job cuts; a faculty hiring freeze; program and course restructurings... and the list goes on. 

What do all of these things mean for the educational experience at the University of Guelph?

Each day, as our members carry out their work—work that is vital to the functioning of this university—they face working conditions that impinge on the learning experience of their students.  As the number of students that TAs are responsible for increases from semester to semester, and from year to year, the number of exams and papers to be graded also increases.   With that increase comes a corresponding decrease in the amount of time that can be devoted to each exam or paper.  Furthermore, feedback must be minimized (often at the behest of the Professor) if TAs are to complete the grading in the quick turn-arounds that are expected.  Individual, face-to-face time and one-on-one interaction with students are fast becoming a rarity.  TAs are being asked to do the same amount of work as their predecessors, but with more students in their charge.

Sessional instructors are not faring much better.  In fact, approximately 100 Sessional jobs are being, or have been, eliminated for the 2009-2010 academic year.  What are the ramifications of these job cuts?  For starters, it has meant significant impacts on the livelihoods of our members, many of who have been teaching at this university for several years.  Many of these individuals have also been recipients of teaching excellence awards, only to find their jobs being cut shortly thereafter.  Cuts to Sessional jobs have also meant the amalgamation of courses, fewer sections of a course being offered, and the elimination of some courses.  This has meant less diversity in course offerings, and again bigger class sizes – it doesn’t take a genius to compute that the more students there are in class, the less time there is for everyone to participate in lively class

How can the university argue that all of this can possibly result in a ‘more meaningful educational experience for undergraduate students?’ How can the university justify its publicly stated position that there has been ‘no negative impact on the quality of education now being offered?’  The answer is quite obvious – they can’t. 

Not only are undergraduate students getting a much lower quality of education than in years past, but they are paying significantly higher for that education.  One need only look at the exorbitant increase in tuition fees over the past decade to see that students are paying more.  Since 1990, tuition fees have increased 195%.  One need only look at the fact that TAs are now responsible for 75, 100, or 150 students to see that students are getting less. Ten years ago they were responsible for 20 to 25 students on average. 

Given these realities, one can hardly argue that the quality of education has not decreased significantly over the years.  Clearly, the university administration forgot this crucial fact when they were giving themselves high-fives over the recent University Rankings.  Maybe what is missing in this equation is that incoming students have no way of knowing what their predecessors had been enjoying – smaller class sizes, more course offerings, more one-on-one interaction and, last but definitely not least, much lower tuition fees.

Trudi Lorenz is President of CUPE Local 3913

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question

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  1. Posted by: Gbeneteau on Nov 13, 2009 @ 3:08pm

    This posting was temporarily removed, but is now back up. I apologize for any inconvenience.

  2. Posted by: Nagster on Jan 26, 2010 @ 4:06pm

    I'm in engineering and tons of research profs with no idea how to teach or sessional profs who don't even have offices or office hours, who only come to teach on campus, and spend the rest of their time at their "other jobs". Engineering at Guelph is just a JOKE

  3. Posted by: ismenab on Aug 19, 2010 @ 7:14pm

    I emailed my Stats TA for some help and his response was "my TA hours were limited", yet he told us at the beginning of the semester he was going to have to cancel few of the labs cause he's "busy with his school". There were no Stats TA either, only one with a minor but told me straight up she can't really help me. It was really tough trying to get help, so I don't think cutting jobs is the best idea.

  4. Posted by: KINGPIN on Aug 24, 2010 @ 1:10pm

    I thought my education was fine.... My stats prof wasnt the best, neither was my fluids prof(he was one of those with "another job") but on the whole I felt it was good, i mean they didnt teach really well, but it's not really their job to teach. they just present the information and we need to study and learn it ourselves. To be quite honest I think we shouldnt be babied, and at least we dont have profs like some I've witnessed at Waterloo (One I witnessed just kept talking quielty into a tiny microphone and writing matricies on the board and took no account of the students, many of whom were not paying attention). Besides considering current budget restrictions I am quite happy with my quality of education, there are others, in women studies however (who's program suffered major cutbacks I believe), who do not enjoy the quality other get.

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