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Universities are failing our students

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By: Graham Lane
Winnipeg Sun, May 19, 2017

A big scrap is coming between public service labour unions and Brian Pallister. The question behind the battle is: “Who has ultimate authority — unions or government?”

A related squabble is between the University of Manitoba’s faculty association and its administrators and board of governors.

Last fall the faculty union held a three-week strike. It ended it with a signed a one-year contract that now has expired — negotiations are already on-going. Faculty members are steaming mad, even those who didn’t follow union dictates in the past. While angry with university administrators, they also accuse the government of interfering in their collective bargaining.

Another strike is on the horizon. What will students — the pawns — do?

Some will take courses at other universities; some will not register for fall courses and get a job. Others will resign themselves to being treated badly by professors, who will claim they strike to ensure students get a proper education. This is true bunk, and students and their parents know it. So do professors, the government, and taxpayers.


The strike will probably begin in October, before it gets too cold for pampered professors to walk on cold picket lines. A strike only works when it does maximum damage to students — no use professors striking when students can still drop courses and get their tuition fees back. If they did, the University could cancel the term and leave the professors on the picket line till end of term.

If faculty members and administrators were serious about quality undergraduate teaching, they would jointly publish usable data so students, their parents, and indeed taxpayers, could make informed judgements about the quality of teaching taking place. Currently, between 20% and 30% of first-year undergraduates do not go on to second year; fewer than 60% graduate within six years.

Imagine a barber shop that didn’t produce decent haircuts for their customers. Their patrons would stop coming, refusing to pay for bad haircuts.

The government should stay tough, not only just with the U of M, but with all universities. Establish a common reporting form so comparisons can be made across faculties and universities. Make public funds dependent on universities satisfying student needs.


For example, students, parents, and taxpayers should know the percentage of first-year students who progress to second year, the percentage who graduate within four, six, and eight years. Also publish the number of students taught by faculty and professor in a 12-month year. People would be shocked by the data.

Good published information could force universities to compete with each other in getting students through their programs. Professors would begin teaching beyond their normal work day: now at best 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., two or three days a week, 26 weeks a year. They should and would begin giving courses in the evenings and on weekends, serving the needs of some students.

Universities are masters at presenting glitzy documents praising their virtues. When students present glitz instead of substance, they usually receive failing grades, rightfully so.

The universities are failing at serving the needs of Manitoba. Pallister is in position to teach a lesson to pampered over-paid professors and administrators.

— Graham Lane leads Manitoba Forward, he is a former university administrator and board member.

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