Dear SFUFA members:
This bulletin provides a brief overview of the context in which we prepare to renegotiate an agreement. In short, we find ourselves beginning to emerge from a global pandemic that has had serious impacts on the mental and physical health of faculty members and indeed the entire community. Workloads for many have become entirely unsustainable, as faculty have gone to incredible lengths to provide students with a range of learning options and additional supports through this difficult time. It is no exaggeration to say that it is the extra, too-often unrecognized work of faculty members that has kept the University afloat for the past year and a half, allowing students to continue to pursue their studies across a wide range of formats, often involving personalized plans for individuals or groups of students facing particular circumstances.But while faculty members have given every ounce of extra time and energy to keep the learning environment as strong as possible through the pandemic, the University’s own data show a very concerning trend. Investments in staffing over the past decade show minimal growth in the faculty ranks, decreases in many areas that provide direct support to faculty members and departments, and shocking increases in the ranks of middle and senior management. The following table, based on SFU’s own data (publicly available through the Office of Institutional Research and Planning) make the point clear. (Note: the category “Excluded” refers to excluded staff who are typically in management roles in places like Human Resources and Faculty Relations; “Research” refers to Research Assistants and Research Associates; “Contract” refers not to term employees, but to consultants and others hired for special projects.)
We have heard from many of you over the last couple of years about concerns with a ballooning of administrative staff while academic units are regularly denied replacement faculty lines. The situation is in fact worse than we even imagined. Over the last decade, while the real number of faculty has risen by only 94 positions, the middle and upper management sector (excluding senior admin) has seen an additional 553 positions created. Some of these positions clearly do important work, and we don’t mean to discredit the contributions of SFU’s professional staff; but there is no escaping the fact that investments in administration have eclipsed investments in the core teaching and research mission of the University. And indeed, those staff positions most responsible for (non-faculty) teaching (TSSU), research support (the “research” category) and frontline support for students and faculty (CUPE) have seen decreases in investment.
The trend is alarming, to say the least. But it is not uniform across the University. Certain Faculties, for example, show far less imbalance than others, as the following chart, which looks only at staffing of Deans’ Offices, demonstrates.
We enter negotiations, then, with a University that has for the last number of years been prioritizing administration over teaching and research. And the impacts of that are widespread – they are felt in higher faculty workloads, growing numbers of part-time and temporary faculty, decreased capacity for and attention to collegial governance, and a shrinkage of the areas in which academic decision-making is given primacy. And all this while the University continues to demand ever more of faculty members while pocketing massive surpluses – over $53 million in 2020, and over $60 million in 2021 (SFU Statement of Financial Information 2021).
What does all this mean? A few things. First off, it means that while faculty members have struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic, SFU has saved incredible sums of money. It means that while some Faculties announce cuts to teaching support budgets, Dean’s offices have no shortage of funds for staff expansion. It means that the anecdotal information members share with one another regarding both ever-growing administrative oversight and ever-shrinking staff support is no illusion. And it means that year after year, the University has given greater attention to its administrative and public relations functions while real investments in teaching and learning – the very stuff the University is made of – languish.
We will continue to gather and study this data over the next months, and welcome feedback from you as we begin to consider how this context might impact the upcoming round of negotiations. In the meantime, please do join us at the SFUFA General Meeting on November 23rd for further exploration of these figures and what they mean for all of us.