Fighting to bring back the university’s competitive edge on the job market

Professors and professionals at the Université de Saint Boniface are taking long overdue measures to create a better learning environment and ensure the university’s long-term sustainability. If APPUSB members are asking for better working conditions today, it is first and foremost because they are concerned about the University’s future.

The Academic World Is Less and Less Competitive in the Job Market

The academic world has always competed with the private sector for faculty, particularly in higher-paid professional disciplines. USB is no exception, but for years it was still  able to attract highly-qualified talent driven by  the university’s mission and vision in research, teaching and community service. In 2014, USB  was named one of  Manitoba’s Top 25 employers  for the fifth consecutive year. USB stood out for its organisational style and culture which favored work-life balance and provided opportunities for professional growth, among others. Employee satisfaction was at a high. However, working conditions have deteriorated considerably since and job satisfaction has reached a staggering all-time low among many APPUSB members.

Early Retirement Sounds Nice But…

Unfortunately, current working conditions have already led to the loss of critical existing talent as experienced professors and professionals leave the workplace while they are still in the prime of their academic careers. Some adjunct faculty have been teaching courses at USB for over ten years. But they sometimes leave without receiving the accolades they deserve for their exceptional contribution to the University’s mission. Oftentimes, these passionate and dedicated faculty members end up leaving because the continued colossal efforts of an ever growing workload is no longer viable for their well-being and that of their loved ones. These departures negatively impact  student learning  and disrupt the work environment at  USB, especially amid faculty hiring challenges.

Hiring is a Challenge

The academic job market is going through an unprecedented crisis. At most universities, postings for faculty positions attract dozens and sometimes hundreds of applicants. As a result, securing a tenure-track position as a professor or a professional is considered a near-miraculous feat nowadays.

In spite of fierce competition for academic jobs, subpar working conditions at USB are making it harder and harder to attract good talent at the expense of the quality of higher education. 

Information shared at Faculty Council meetings offers a glimpse into the extent of institution-wide hiring problems at USB. During the 2021-2022 academic year, USB  failed to fill a limited-term faculty position in French literature after the only candidate withdrew their application. A year later, the search for a Science faculty position had to be postponed to the following semester, after failing to attract enough qualified applicants at the first attempt. Similarly, a tenure-track position at the School of Business Administration attracted no applicants twice, in 2018 and 2020. More recently, only one of two vacancies for academic positions was filled at the Faculty of Education. The situation is dire, and a solution is needed urgently.

The Case of Adjunct Faculty

Recruiting adjunct faculty  is hardly an easier task. Adjunct faculty are contract academic staff members hired to teach one or more courses. They are  essential to the proper functioning of  University programmes, as they take over some of the teaching workload of permanent faculty members who take on additional research activities, administrative responsibilities, or internship supervision, among others.

Most  universities are fortunate enough to be able to count on a pool of local candidates (mostly through their graduate programmes, where students are very eager to acquire some teaching experience). However, as a French-language university in a minority setting, USB must recruit francophone adjuncts far beyond the Manitoban borders. As a result, newly hired out-of-province adjunct faculty incur relocation costs that local candidates do not.. The current compensation offered to adjuncts does not remotely take into account these extra costs. In the face of these challenges, USB’s go-to solution is to offer online courses. Although the University acknowledges that this is far from ideal, it had no choice. In 2022-2023, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences had to offer no less than six courses online.. This situation was a huge disappointment for students who were looking forward to fully going back to in-person classes. Many felt bitter about this experience. Continuing on this path would prove concerning, especially for a university whose motto is to offer a human-centered learning environment. By refusing fair salaries for adjunct faculty, the University is regrettably deviating from practices that used to set itself apart. A University’s mission is to teach and produce research. It must therefore do what it takes to achieve this mission. APPUSB members are sounding the alarm: Losing the University’s competitive edge has a direct impact on the student learning environment. Continuously growing constraints on its workforce and unfair compensation will  compromise the quality of  teaching and research, and endanger the future of the institution. Do we want to jeopardize French-language training for tomorrow’s workforce? We MUST act now before it’s too late.