By Wing Hong Tse
On the first day of Joice Thian’s geography course last year, her professor announced he was cutting one-third of all future classes.
The course, Global Environmental Issues, was scheduled for three hours a week–two hours for a lecture period and one for tutorials.
“Initially I was a bit surprised,” said Thian, a fourth-year Journalism student. “If you have a three-hour class, it’s a three-hour class for a reason.”
Thian’s instructor reasoned that by cancelling the tutorial sessions, students could use that free time to work on their essays.
Her prof wasn’t doing anything wrong, according to the rules for full-time staff. That’s because full-time faculty don’t necessarily have to make up the time as long as they cover the curriculum.
Thian’s prof managed to cover the course after 13 sessions, thanks to a “fully-used two hours” a week. For the average full-time Ryerson student who pays thousands of dollars in annual tuition, time is money.
Full-time student tuition is currenlty based on how many hours of class students have a week. If such is the case, then, are students paying for their professors’ time in class?
About 37 per cent of Ryerson’s $281 million in operating surplus consists of student fees, according to an external audit for the 2003/2004 academic year.
The same audit states that 64.2 per cent of Ryerson’s $250 million in operating expenses consists of salaries and benefits for staff.
That means students are paying wages for their full-time profs, regardless of whether sessions are cancelled or not. Currently, no Ontario university has a system to reimburse students when professors cancel class.
Fourth-year Social Work student Cheryl (who preferred not to have her full name published) had all her classes cancelled last week.
She says she wouldn’t have minded if only one of her classes were cancelled, but the fact that she had to miss a week’s worth of lectures translates into lost cash she wants back.
“Two days in a row of nothing,” she said outside of her cancelled Politics and Public Administration classroom. “That’s two days I could have worked.”
Cheryl said the way the current system works, students lose either way because they’ll still be missing time they could be learning:
“If we miss our prof, it’s our problem; if they miss class, it’s still our problem.” But fourth-year Business Management student Stephanie Parkinson said that option isn’t realistic.
For Parkinson, compensation means getting back time, not dollars. “I don’t think you could put a monetary price on it,” she said. “What are they going to do, give us cheques for how much class was cancelled? That’s just really complicated.”
Although she acknowledges losing money, Parkinson thinks the system should reimburse students with time instead. And that’s exactly what the Continuing Education division at Ryerson tries to do.
When sociology prof Jean Golden’s daughter hit her head and had a concussion last year, class was over before it started.. Golden took her daughter to the hospital and cancelled the three-hour lecture she would have been teaching that night.
A week later, she gave her students a choice: Either she would tack on time to each remaining class or add one lecture to the end of the course to make up for the cancellation.
“You have to give back to the students those three hours you’ve taken away,” she says. Continuing Education has a collective agreement with its instructors that cancelled classes be made up, said Amy Casey, associate director of CE.
Both full-time and CE instructors have the option of shifting course content around and proposing other option to make up cancelled classes, Casey said that CE has a standard of giving time back whenever possible.
This usually means adding another class or adding more time to remaining classes. “(Time) is the first remedy we look for,” she said. “It’s not only the first remedy; it’s also the best.”
In full-time day class, it’s a different story. While Golden (who also teaches full-time) is required to cover the entire curriculum, she isn’t obliged to make up time for a cancelled class, she says.
Michael Dewson, vice provost of faculty affairs, says every division at Ryerson has its own way of handling cancelled classes.
In general, every professor who cancels a class is encouraged to report their asbence, as well as ensure notification is posted on the door of the room where the class would have taken place.
Cheryl, whose prof cancelled a Tuesday class, said that no e-mails or phone calls were made. Sure enough, though, a sign was posted on the door.
For James Norrie, director of the school of Information Technology Management, having students get their money back isn’t the real issue.
Norrie poses a counter-question: If a student misses exams and needs to be re-examined, should profs get paid for that time?
“There are a whole lot more of student make-ups than missed classes by professors,” he says. “More of you are away than us.”
Some full-time faculty argue that the best solution might not be with financial compensation, but something similar to CE. Art Pierce, who teaches full-time marketing, addresses the problem much like Golden does in CE.
“My position on it has always been–and always will be-that I make up another time,” he says. “I cover the material that was missed…by tacking on an extra half an hour to the end of a lecture.”
Profs can also make themselves more available in their office hours, he said. Still, Golden said it’s important to remember that profs miss class because they, like students, have lives outside of the classroom ,too.
Professors’ children may get sick, or perhaps they’re just swamped with work.
In such cases, Golden said the chair will pull a professor out and have a substitute if necessary. “Sometimes things go wrong,” she said. “Faculty have private lives, too.”