College Education and Trees on Madison Avenue in Toronto
Here is a letter that nicely sums up the issues of quality from Allan Esser
A few weeks back, I was walking down Madison Avenue in Toronto’s Annex Neighborhood. Madison Avenue is a beautiful tree lined street that is the envy of many. The massively big tree canopies that stretch across the roadway are a sight to behold. I had noticed that under the stress of a recent windstorm, that one of these great trees had fallen and shattered across the street into many pieces. Upon closer inspection, at the core of this tree, most of the inner trunk was highly perforated and weak in many sections due to advanced rot and decay. It appears that, although the tree looked healthy and majestic on the outside, on the inside, the inner workings of the tree were quite stressed and weakened and unable to support itself under more demanding conditions.
When I look at the outside numbers, the Ontario College System has a remarkable story to tell. Enrollment growth, creative, innovative programs, technology adoption, outstanding KPI’s, new buildings and centres, start ups, applied research, the list goes on.
However, at the core our education system is the relationship between it’s faculty and students. And it is at this very core that I am most concerned about the future health of Ontario College education. My desire is that our college system focuses on the inner strength of the core relationship between faculty and students and builds outwards from strength to strength.
Having worked in the private sector for my 20 plus years as a financial services executive, I have a keen sense of ensuring that maintaining both a profitable and sustainable business models is the ultimate bottom line objective. However, one of my main motivations for transitioning into the field of education, was the recognition that we cannot only govern with a single bottom line. I’ve learned that a truly sustainable model must manage to a double bottom line; financial and social. The challenge here is that in the short term, if the financial bottom line is negative, it’s “game over”, and because of that, financial considerations will always over-ride social issues in the immediate term. However, if social considerations are ignored in the longer term, although the system, can continue to operate, it will at some point fail catastrophically and irreversibly like the trees on Madison Avenue.
At the heart of that faculty student relationship, is a business model that is driven by flexibility, and reduced costs through a high proportion of precarious contract faculty. I’ve taught under the full range of regimes from; part time, to partial load, to sessional, and now currently full time. Colleges save money when hiring contract faculty. I believe the reason that they save money is in knowing that most contract faculty strongly believe in the social value of what they do, and have high quality education as their goal. Contract faculty believe in a double bottom line, and if they do, they will continue to trade off the reduced financial benefits they receive from the college with the social dividend that they create with their students. But why must a system create efficiency in such a manner? I’m truly honored with the privilege of being able to do what I do, and I believe that our contract faculty are as deeply committed to this cause, and will continue to do so on an ongoing basis. However, because many people are willing to create value without getting paid for it, should our business model be based on the charity and goodwill of our contract faculty? Although it may be fiscally prudent, is this a socially responsible model for education?
Please help me make college education stronger. In an age where we’ve witnessed public resources going towards a list of private interests including; bank bailouts, airplane manufacturers, sports arenas, automotive companies, etc. I truly hope that our governments can see the value of investing our public resources towards strengthening our public institutions. Help us create a college system that is; financially sound, socially responsible, agile, and built on principles of equity. Why should Ontarians (or the College Employer Council, or College Faculty) settle for anything less?