Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sexy Faculties, and the McEducators?

The Alberta Government has (been forced to?) cut its funding to universities, investments are in peril, and so, faculties and departments across campus have been asked to tighten their belts. Along with the president of our faculty association, I cannot help but wonder whether the burdens imposed by the university's current financial situation are being felt evenly across campus. Has each faculty been asked to deal with the same financial constraints and to make the same hard decisions?

In Education, we have had several meetings about how to bring revenue and expenses closer together in order to balance the budget. Thank you to our Dean who is making this process as transparent as possible.

As we address the "spending problem" that appears to plague this Faculty, all manner of expenses are being scrutinized for potential efficiencies, including administrative overhead, staffing and workloads, release time and research, academic program offerings and class sizes. On the other side of the equation, new forms of revenue are being considered, current forms of revenue are being analyzed for increased potential, and good ideas are emerging across departments. Revenue generation and reduced spending have become the new normal for higher education in these uncertain economic times.

One by-product of these discussions about finances has been debate about the relative "valuation" of different disciplines and faculties across campus. Is the teaching and research done in certain faculties and departments "more valuable" than that done in others? Who decides? And, does the money flow in certain, and perhaps predictable, pathways on campus?

In these perilous economic times, I worry that the Faculty of Education and education professors are going to be written off as the McFaculty by others on campus. When administration gets a 6% increase in funding from the province, and sends a 0% increase to the Faculty of Education, what does that say about our "value" to the menu of offerings on campus?

I want to share one small story to illustrate my concern. In the context of a discussion about research funding, and how much a faculty member in education is "worth" versus a faculty member in engineering or medicine, a colleague mused that the valuation of these two types of professors is "very different" given the willingness of industry to invest in R&D. When pushed, this colleague admitted that it would cost "much much more" to fund an engineering professor's research and teaching time than an education professor's time. Wow. I have rarely felt so discouraged and so disappointed in the same instant.

As an educational technologist, I study and tend to admire inventors and designers of new systems and products; I appreciate how new technologies both improve our world and also bring new challenges. However, I also wonder whether it is appropriate and wise to rank engineering and the health sciences higher than education, and the social sciences, on campus. Why is there 9 NSERC dollars invested for every 1 SSHRC dollar? What makes engineering so sexy for research funding and endowments? It certainly isn't the engineers... (!) Okay, that was uncalled for...

The bias of the national funding agencies, like CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC, tend to be reflected in how different faculties are "valued", and therefore funded, on campus. Industry and government sponsored funding agencies still pour buckets of money into engineering, science and the health sciences, and I suspect that campuses follow suit. A miserly trickle of funding barely addresses the thirst in education, the social sciences and the humanities.

I believe that teachers and researchers in the Faculty of Education change the world for the better. As an education professor, I work with enthusiastic and innovative beginning teachers who inject new blood in the teaching profession; new teachers who cultivate creative and inspirational ideas in their classrooms; scholarly and dedicated young professionals who make a difference in their communities. Idealistically, I still believe that when you teach a child, you change the world; when you educate a beginning teacher, the potential impact of this work is exponential.

Education professors work closely with graduate students who are designing, developing and evaluating innovative approaches to teaching and learning. Through individual research, through the academic journals we publish, through the collaborative work we pursue with colleagues, and along with the graduate researchers we supervise, education professors create new knowledge and ideas about what makes teaching and learning work well, how to change present systems and policies and governance, and how to design innovative new processes as technological, social, cultural, political and economic systems change our world.

I believe professors in education make a positive difference in the world; first, through the teachers we graduate and the children whose lives they touch, and second, through the research we conduct and the new knowledge that we contribute to the world. However, despite the role education plays in the world, is a challenge to attract government or industry's attention, let alone their research funding for the Faculty of Education - society continues to need more and better teachers each year, education professors, along with our colleagues in social science and humanities, continue to study and investigate ever more complex learning needs and problems faced by an ever more diverse and global society, and we face greater hurdles than ever in funding our programs. In these perilous economic times, will we see government, industry and public re-investments in education? As we make tough financial decisions on campus, what will be the impact on the already beleaguered Faculty of Education?

"Welcome to teacher preparation and graduate research! Can I take your order?"

"Do you want fries with your BEd?"

"How about an apple pie with that MEd or PhD?"


Thank you, please come again.

1 comment:

Teresa Green said...

I agree that there really can be no more important Faculty than Education. Its reach is unfathomable, spanning communities, countries, and generations. It is unfortunate that somehow we seem to get lost in the shuffle.