Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/11/2021 (187 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
AS someone born and raised in Winnipeg, as well as a former student and current faculty member at the University of Manitoba, I have a lot invested in its success and want to see it flourish. It is for these reasons that I and other faculty at U of M are concerned with the well-documented interference by the provincial government in the bargaining between university administration and UMFA dating back to 2016.
This interference is harming the ongoing success of the university, its students, and our province as a whole.
The primary issue continues to be adequate compensation for our faculty, which severely hinders our ability to retain and attract top talent. The U of M currently has the second lowest average salaries of U15 schools (the group of universities in Canada the U of M compares itself with). Since the provincial government’s mandate on the administration to effectively freeze salaries since 2016, this gap in compensation has only grown.
While reducing labour costs at the U of M may seem like a financially prudent measure in the short term, the long-term costs of doing so far outweigh the short-term savings it offers.
Critical to understanding these issues is the fact that the labour pool for academic positions is worldwide. Most faculty at U of M are not originally from Manitoba, and have chosen to make Manitoba their home. Accordingly, when the U of M recruits faculty, it is not primarily competing with other institutions in Manitoba, but rather with institutions around the world.
With this in mind, this compensation gap leads many of our best faculty to leave the U of M to take positions at other universities. In my faculty, I have seen a large number of excellent colleagues leave for other institutions since 2016. While some turnover occurs at all universities, this far exceeds what is normal.
When top faculty leave, they take their research grants — and all the financial benefits for the province that flow from them — with them to their new institutions. They also take their expertise, leaving the courses they’ve designed to languish without the faculty to ensure their ongoing quality.
Related to the issue of retention is recruitment. With so many faculty members leaving, departments are constantly recruiting, which is very expensive and time-consuming. Making matters worse, many excellent job candidates turn down our offers for other universities with better compensation. When you are at the bottom, it just takes one other offer for a candidate to turn down a position at U of M.
Because of this, recruitment has increasingly become a frustrating and disheartening process. The most promising candidates are unlikely to accept our offer, and if we are lucky enough to get an excellent scholar, they are likely to leave within the first few years once a more attractive offer becomes available.
It’s hard to overstate how damaging this is for the university. From a purely financial perspective, the long-term costs associated with recruitment and retention are to likely outweigh the short-term savings of wage freezes. However, the most damaging aspect of having comparatively low salaries is what it does to the quality of education and student experience at the University of Manitoba.
Losing our top scholars and being unable to attract the most promising job candidates ultimately reduces the quality of research and teaching that the university offers. It hurts the reputation of the school and lowers the university’s performance on domestic and international rankings.
All of this makes our school less attractive for prospective students, leading them to pursue their education and futures elsewhere. In doing so, it creates a vicious cycle, whereby the quality of education continues to worsen along with the financial position of the university. It is for these reasons that the faculty felt compelled to go on strike this fall. It appeared to be the only way to push back against the harm being done to the university.
From the perspective of the provincial government, these consequences may not be very meaningful, since their most damaging outcomes may not be fully visible in the short term. However, for me and others who are committed to the U of M and have a stake in its long-term success, this is a major issue that needs to be addressed.
As long as the provincial government continues to intervene in bargaining, these problems will persist. So will the conflict between faculty and the administration and the likelihood of future strikes. In doing so, it makes the University of Manitoba a worse place to be for both students and faculty.
Sean Buchanan is an assistant professor of business administration at the Asper School of Business, University of Manitoba.