Politics professor Mike Burke. PHOTO: TAMSIN MCMAHON

Ryerson faculty’s great divide

In Features, News /

By Tamsin McMahon

The Ryerson Faculty Association’s low-profile office is in the one-storey building at 55 Gould St., next to Oakham House. You can’t get much further on campus from Jorgenson Hall’s ivory tower, where faculty and administration work.

John Morgan, the RFA’s chief negotiator, has been working for close to a year with a negotiating committee to iron out a new contract for Ryerson’s 500 full-time faculty.

Although the association is trying to settle the contract dispute between faculty and administration, their small office is, ironically, far removed from Jorgenson. Problems have hounded relations between Ryerson’s faculty and administration since the school’s transition to a university.

Low morale has plagued Ryerson’s faculty for years. Some members say they feel overworked, unappreciated and alienated from the university.

Part of the problem lies in what happened before Ryerson achieved university status. Faculty was split into two groups, which exacerbated the problem of low morale. Newer members complain they receive lower salaries, while some professors feel unappreciated for their work.

“The morale issue stems from this split of faculty,” RFA president Michael Doucet says. So as part of the contract negotiations, the RFA is trying to bring and end to the split.

Faculty and administration agree to resolving the contract dispute so that both sides are satisfied is one way to boost faculty’s morale.

Faculty members say they leave their problems behind when they step into the classroom, that what happens in Jorgenson Hall doesn’t have an effect on their students. But students, like those who attended a fireside chat with Ryerson president Claude Lajeunesse last Monday, have noticed.

During the chat between the president and students from the faculty of engineering and applied science in the Oakham House Cafe, student questioned Lajeunesse on rising tuition, overcrowded classrooms and unhappy faculty. The president answered all questions except those on faculty morale.

Faculty members say morale was low even before Ryerson became a university in 1993, and was aggravated by federal government cutbacks to postsecondary education in 1995 and a temporary salary freeze. Since then salaries at Ryerson have fallen behind other Ontario universities and increased enrolment has meant bigger classes.

Board Gives Lajeunesse Mandate to Improve Morale

The problem of low faculty morale recently came to light as Ryerson’s board of governors undertook a review of president Lajeunesse’s performance before offering him a second term. The board recommended the president focus on improving morale in his next five-year mandate.

The November review came in the middle of negotiations between the RFA and administration, which had just resumed after talks broke off in late August after five months. Ryerson’s faculty have been without a new contract for almost eight months, leaving the old contract, signed in 1994, in place until the two sides can agree on a new one.

Morgan hesitates to talk about the negotiations and what has been keeping both sides from making a deal for almost a year, saying things change from day to day. But one thing is certain — this hasn’t been the easiest nine months for the five members of the RFA negotiating committee, including Morgan and four other professors from different faculties.

“The administration has been very, very slow to realize what they have to do to get a negotiated settlement,” Morgan, a history professor, says. “Getting things from them has been an arduous and frustrating process.”

Pressure to come to an agreement as quickly as possible has led to recent progress, with administration ready to recognize some of faculty’s salary demands.

The RFA wants salaries to increase and is seeking compensation going back to last July for any increase, when the contract would have taken effect.

Michael Dewson, Ryerson’s v.p. faculty affairs and the administration’s chief negotiator in the contract talks, says administration is looking at faculty’s salary concerns. “We share with the RFA the desire to see more salary increases.”

The Gap Dividing Faculty Members

Staff and faculty salaries make up 84 per cent of Ryerson’s expenses. With the highest salary set at $84,482, full-time faculty at Ryerson are among the lowest paid in Ontario. At Brock University, a school with 6,800 students, the highest salary is around $104,000 a year. The RFA is trying to raise the maximum salary to $100,000.

Ryerson recently announced plans to hire 78 new faculty members this year and the school will have to hire even more to meet the demands of rising student enrolment.

But for full-time faculty members such as Mike Burke, a politics professor hired in September, 1994, the real problem comes from the split within Ryerson’s faculty itself, which he wrote about in an article last December.

In 1991, in an effort to save money and bring the school closer to university status, the faculty was split into mode I and mode II.

Mode I faculty were those who had been at Ryerson before Jan. 1, 1992. They were mostly teachers who maintained the hands-on approach to teaching that had given the school its reputation as a polytechnic school.

Mode I faculty are required to teach between nine and 15 hours a week, and those who hadn’t reached the rank of professor were given that status in 1992.

Mode II faculty are the new recruits focusing on research. They were expected to lead the school into the future. Mode II faculty teach between six and 12 hours a week, with more time freed up for research.

While all mode I teachers were given the rank of professor, a 20-per-cent cap was placed on the number of Mode II faculty who could become professors in each department.

Mode II faculty members also took a pay cut: someone hired after Dec. 31, 1991 earned $13,000 less than someone hired a year earlier with the equivalent credentials. And it takes mode II teachers longer to reach the highest salary — 35 steps compared with 12 for mode I faculty members.

Mode II teachers also get less vacation time, five weeks compared with the two to three months awarded to mode I faculty.

Burke says the split has given the university a reputation among newer faculty of not being friendly.

“The position of the university is, they tell everyone they value the new faculty, and they’re ready to value us as long as it doesn’t cost more money,” he says.

And it has cost Burke money. As a mode II professor his starting salary was $46,000, but if he had been hired a few years earlier he would have started at $59,000.

If Burke had mode I status, he would have received a total of $52,000 more than his mode II pay scale over four years.

“If I had an extra $52,000,” he says, “I could get out of debt and buy a house instead of renting.”

Although being a mode II professor requires fewer teaching hours than being in mode I, Burke estimates he spends 60 hours a week working on research and his teaching duties, with two weeks vacation time last year.

Mode II faculty must also submit an annual report listing at least 10 accomplishments in the past year, while mode I faculty do not.

“I think we should be held accountable for what we do but we’re forced to account for every waking moment,” says Burke.

He says if the right offer came along, he’d take another job. “I don’t want to leave Ryerson,” he says. “But the cost of living here, it’s really unjust. The cost may be a little too much to bear.”

The Problems Established Professors Face

For mode I faculty, the problems are different but equally demoralizing. The main complaint among mode I faculty is that they’re not recognized for their role in getting Ryerson its university status and are being excluded as Ryerson expands.

“When Ryerson got full university status,” says Doucet, a geography professor who has taught here for more than 20 years, “there weren’t any mode IIs present. We got that status on the basis of the efforts of the people who were here at the time, and I don’t think there’s enough recognition of that.”

Even though they’re not require to, mode I faculty say they still do research to keep current. Plus mode I faculty have to teach more class hours and don’t get the marking assistants that mode II faculty do.

For some mode I faculty members, like English professor John Cook, who has been at Ryesron for almost 30 years, the heavy workload is an indication of how out-of-touch Ryerson is with other universities.

“I could have easily had 15 hours of teaching [a week] this semester,” says Cook. “There’s no university in the country that asks a senior faculty member to teach 15 hours a week.”

Doucet says the division among faculty is detrimental. “You’ve got the worst of two possible worlds — you’ve got a group that feels unappreciated and another group that feels they’re overcrowded.

Administration says they’re willing to discuss getting rid of the mode structure. “It’s something we’ve been talking about and something we’ll continue to talk about,” says Dewson.

The Dispute Over Bonus Pay

Coupled with the problems of the mode I/mode II split is a dispute over merit pay.

Any full-time faculty members who are active in their field — by publishing their work or participating in conferences — can apply for a bonus on top of their salaries. Professors must prepare a dossier of their accomplishments that is judged by their colleagues, who can recommend to the dean of the faculty that a professor receive more pay.

For many mode II faculty the merit system is a way to earn extra money, but more importantly it’s a way to feel recognized and appreciated for their work.

But administration says the merit system hasn’t been agreed upon and shouldn’t be applied. Before administration recognizes the system it may eliminate colleagues’ say, so only the chair and the dean can decide who gets merit pay.

The dispute is the subject of arbitration separate from the contract negotiations between the RFA and administration, but until it is resolved it remains a major source of frustration for faculty.

“It’s one of the factors that really alienates me from Ryerson,” says Burke, who has never received merit play.

Hope For a “Fair and Equitable” Collective Agreement

With negotiations over salaries making headway, faculty and administration hold out hope they’ll achieve a contract suitable to both sides.

“The best way to combat low faculty morale is to find a fair and equitable collective agreement,” Burke says.

“Clearly getting a new contract would be a major step for both parties,” says Dewson.

But some faculty members are looking to president Lajeunesse to fulfill his new mandate and address faculty’s morale problem. Most want Lajeunesse to acknowledge the part he’s played in aggravating low morale.

“I think there’s a widespread opinion that he doesn’t know the faculty, that he’s quite remote and not terribly visible,” Doucet says. “Faculty don’t really know him and feel he doesn’t know them. It’s part of the morale problem.”

Lajeunesse refused an interview. His assistant, Debbie Chant, said he did not want to talk about the issue of faculty morale which, she says, he has spoken about in public recently. “He just wants to get on with things,” she said.

Lajeunesse spoke about the issue in an address to Ryerson’s board of governors on Jan. 25, where he said faculty morale is at the top of his agenda.

“It is faculty who have a large part to play in ensuring that Ryerson continues to be the number one applied university in Canada. This means, of course, supporting our newcomers, but it also means recognizing the contributions and loyalties of those who have spent their careers at Ryerson, and who know and understand our history,” Lajeunesse said.

He also outlined his plans to combat the morale problems. “We are looking at ways to develop new space on campus, improve labs and infrastructure, and establish a budget and a plan to do it within the next few years,” he told the board.

Ryerson recently purchased the building at 111 Bond St. and plans to move the campus’ physical plant department into the space, freeing up room in Kerr Hall for the engineering department.

Lajeunesse also said administration has introduced a package into the faculty’s contract negotiations that will bring salaries in line with other universities.

Aside from negotiating a new contract, Doucet says the president will be the key to solving the morale problem in his next five years at Ryerson.

“I expect him to take very seriously the directions given to him [by the board of governors],” said Doucet. “He could be a good president if he responds to those recommendations. But the ball is very clearly in his court.”

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