PM should heed Mulroney’s career advice

Published Sept. 29, 2014, in the Waterloo Region Record and the Guelph Mercury.

Imagine, if you can, that you are Stephen Harper.

You’ve had quite a career. You’ve gone from being an obscure economist on the political right to the leader of a national political party. You’ve fought four federal elections and won three of them. You’ve been prime minister of Canada for nearly nine years, and you love the job. There is nothing you would rather be.

The storm cloud on your horizon is a general election that must be held by next October. The polling gods are not smiling on you. They suggest you have lost a quarter of your electoral support since the 2011 election, leaving your Conservative party far behind the Liberals and barely ahead of the New Democrats. In an election today, you would be demolished in Atlantic Canada, decimated in the Greater Toronto Area and wiped out in Waterloo Region, for example.

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For reasons not entirely clear to you or your close advisers, you have been unable to win the hearts of the Canadian people.

What can you do? Well, you are not very good at taking outside advice (and that’s an understatement), but you could do worse that take some that was offered earlier this month by Brian Mulroney. Everyone knows you have issues with Mulroney and he with you. But you have to admit he has made a quite remarkable transition from polarizing prime minister and national embarrassment to elder statesman. “Lyin’ Brian” has become “Brian the Wise.”

In a CTV interview marking the 30th anniversary of his first landslide election, Mulroney offered these bits of wisdom.

To start with, treat the opposition leaders with some respect. Mulroney called NDP leader Thomas Mulcair “the best opposition leader since John Diefenbaker.” As to Liberal leader Justin Trudeau: “He’s a young man, attractive, elected two or three times to the House, attractive wife, beautiful kids — this is a potent package. …You’d have to be foolish to sit back and not recognize if somebody’s leading in the polls 14 months in a row, this is not a fluke.”

And don’t heed those who say Trudeau has no program: “His program is that he’s not Stephen Harper.”

Stop picking fights with the Supreme Court: “You don’t get into a slagging contest with the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, even if you thought that he or she was wrong. You don’t do that.”

Get your foreign policy in order: “When Canada, for the first time in our history, loses a vote at the United Nations to become a member of the Security Council … to Portugal, which was on the verge of bankruptcy at the time, you should look in the mirror and say: ‘Houston, I think we have a problem.’”

Mulroney said Canada’s foreign policy should not be one-sided: “(It) has to be enveloped in a broader and more generous sweep that takes in Canadian traditions and Canadian history in a much more viable way. We’re in the big leagues … so we have to conduct ourselves in that way. We can’t be out-riders.”

In particular, Harper needs to nurture Ottawa’s relationship with Washington and his personal relationship with President Barack Obama. Close ties matter: “If you can’t do that, you don’t have much clout internationally. The relationship with the United States is something the prime minister alone has to nurture the same way he would tend to the most delicate flowers in a garden. It’s that important.”

Recognize that a “pristine environment” is important to the middle class. The prime minister needs to get personally involved in the issue, make the environment a top government priority and commit the necessary funds.

Mulroney was prime minister for nine years, just like Harper. In the end, he overstayed his welcome and his Tories went down to crushing defeat in the 1993 election. If he has any retirement advice for Harper, he did not offer it in the television interview. That would have been fascinating.

Access to Information and Research Road Blocks

In the Winnipeg Free Press, perspectives and politics editor Shannon Sampert (who is also from the University of Winnipeg) has a great article about the challenges many journalists have in getting information from government. She describes road blocks put in place by government that are disturbing, yet far too common: obscenely high fees for receiving documents and filing Freedom of Information (FOI) Act requests, insufferable delays in getting information and rampant inaccessibility.

Those of us doing research in political science also experience the challenges that Sampert describes. Getting government documents and accessing budget figures are often far more challenging than they need to be.

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Gaining access to information from municipal governments is particularly challenging. Over the past three years, I have been conducting research on inter-local agreement use in Canada – basically agreements for shared servicing and contracting among municipalities. Part of this work is building a database of inter-municipal agreements. Getting access to these documents has been incredibly challenging. Very few of these agreements are publicly accessible. Those that are not need to be requested, often with FOI requests. Copying and delivery charges are applied. More concerning, many of these documents arrive redacted with basic information removed, making them practically useless for research purposes. Often information provided by city staff is incomplete. Needless to say, this is usually a frustrating and costly experience.

Many would refer to this as an occupational hazard (this, of course, is the cost of doing research), but consider the fact that these are documents that address servicing for local citizens. If I, as a curious researcher, do not have access to documents detailing the contracting and shared servicing agreements a municipality has in place, how are members of that particular community supposed to know how their local services are delivered? As an example, do they not have a right to know that when they turn on a tap their water is being delivered from another municipality? Do they not have a right to know how much their municipal government is paying for that water? Or how it is administered? Or under what conditions the other municipality could shut off that service?

Most people are simply satisfied that water comes out of their tap and are not concerned its the source. But the fact remains that those interested need to have access to that information.

The information blocking strategies that Sampert describes in Winnipeg are common across the country. Below are a few that require the attention of government.

1) The filing fees for FOI requests are modest (between $5-$25 for getting the process started), but when filing multiple requests, the cost can become prohibitive.

2) Far too often, the manner in which information can be accessed is inconvenient and one can only imagine designed to impede transfer. Sampert describes a reporter being made to transfer information about municipal campaign donations by hand at city hall – no copying, no taking photos. Everything needed to be transferred by hand. This is unacceptable, but far too common. Municipal staff should not necessarily be responsible for digitizing documents for us, but researchers should be allowed to copy public information however they wish.

3) In municipalities where access to information is granted, fees for copying and distribution are often prohibitive. Estimates for certain sets of documents can run into the hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of dollars. Sampert describes how much journalists are spending up to $500 a year on access to information fees and charges. It’s the same for researchers. Depending on the size of the project, perhaps two or three times that amount. Fees placed on information provision needs to be examined and standardized.

4) There are always options for fee waiver by an FOI commissioner. However, the conditions for granting a fee waiver are quite arbitrary. One condition for a fee waiver is that the information would be used to enhance the “public good.” There is no set criteria of what constitutes enhancing the public good. I have personally had fee waiver approved in some cases because I was conducing research (after I could prove conclusively that I was not financially profiting from the publishing of this research), but in other cases I have been rejected for fee waivers precisely because I was publishing in academic journals. The reason given here is that academic journals are not publicly accessible. In most cases, a fee waiver is denied with little explanation as to why. The fee appeal process needs to be examined and hopefully standardized.

As Sampert argues, journalists need to have access to government information to do their jobs. So do researchers. In both cases, we’re providing the public with information they should have access to already. Roadblocks put in place to access information need to come down. The process needs reform.

Press Freedom, Journalism and the Duty to Answer Questions

Recently, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau announced that he would no longer deal with any journalists from the Sun News outlet because of a particularly virulent report from Ezra Levant.

While this is serious inside baseball, it does touch on an important point in press-government relations: Does the freedom of the press imply a duty to answer questions? Although the Trudeau-Levant kerfuffle is small-ball, the question is a larger one.

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My first reaction is that, no, a free press does not imply a duty to answer questions.

Press freedom is usually justified on the grounds that citizens require information about public affairs that does not stem from the state itself and that a free press is a useful check on state power. On the face of it, I don’t think that the latter reason for a free press gets you at all close to justifying an obligation to answer questions. The former reason might get you closer in that in a hypothetical world where no politicians took any questions from any journalists, the citizenry might lack sufficient information to serve as citizens. But it fails on a couple of other counts. First, the obligation seems wholly impractical to implement. Second, though, even in the hypothetical scenario I described above that did involve the executive being held to account to the legislature in debate open to a free press and the legislature being held to account to the people in open elections, with a free press operating, you’d be hard pressed to argue that citizens had no access to information.

This comes up pretty often, whenever a politician gets in a fight with journalists. Politicians rarely win out when they do get in these conflicts. But it’s one thing to say that it’s good sense for politicians to deal with journalists, and another thing to say that there’s an obligation to answer questions. While most journalists are reflexive enough to be aware that a free press does not imply an obligation to answer questions, a lot of the coverage of events like these gets pretty close to implying that there is a duty which is being shirked.

Of course one of the main reasons many journalists often push this interpretation is that it’s in their interests to. I’m currently working on a research project with a colleague that will put forward some survey data from politicians and journalists that will show the competing standards for particular democratic standards differ greatly. Journalists in particular hold to standards that, surprise, surprise, emphasize the importance of their own role.

Harper keeping his options open

Published Sept. 22, 2014, in the Guelph Mercury and Waterloo Region Record.

The politicians and the pundits seem to be agreed. Like it or not, the campaign for the next federal federal election has already begun. True, the actual election is not supposed to happen until Oct. 19, 2015, roughly 390 days down the road, but that’s irrelevant. It was clear when MPs returned from their long summer recess that the business of the coming 13 months will have much less to do with legislating and governing than it will with electioneering.

Normally, with Parliament about to resume, as it did last Monday, the prime minister would assemble the government caucus on Parliament Hill to brief his MPs and senators with earnest words about the parliamentary timetable. This time, however, the Conservatives abandoned their caucus room for a rented hall in downtown Ottawa where they could whoop and holler in what looked like a cross between an old-time revival meeting and a high school pep rally. Their head cheerleader (aka prime minister) strode the stage, whipping his energized troops into what might be described as a bit of an excited lather.
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The election excitement doesn’t mean, as some pundits suspect, that the Conservatives are plotting to call an election earlier than next October; that’s possible but, barring a dramatic turnaround in the polls, the odds are heavily against it. It also doesn’t mean that there is something happening on the leadership front – either that Harper is preparing to leave politics or, alternatively, that he has made up his mind to fight the election and carry on when it is over.

My sense is that Harper, a cautious man, is keeping all his options open – maybe an early election, maybe not; maybe a leadership convention, maybe not. He knows he has a leadership window that, although it is narrowing, will remain open until late February or early March next year. If he resigns by then, there will be time for a hurried but not-too frantic transition: a convention in late May or early June, followed by a short parliamentary session in which the new prime minister could establish himself or herself, followed by the election on schedule in October.

There is no indication, however, that Harper will go that route. Whipping the troops into election mode does not commit him to leading the party into his fifth election. But it serves as an opening gambit to see if he can move the polls and voters, especially in Ontario, away from Justin Trudeau’s Liberals and back to the Tories.

That’s not going to be easy. To do it, he is going to have to change the so-called “ballot question.” The Conservatives want the ballot question to be the economy and their success in managing it by finally turning years of deficit into a surplus. But, as they are acutely aware, the ballot question they would face in an election today has little to do with the economy. It is all about Stephen Harper himself. As people tell pollsters, they are tired of him. They don’t like him. He bores them. They just want a change of leadership.

This is not a new phenomenon.  It happened to Pierre Trudeau and to Brian Mulroney.

By election time next year, Harper will have been in power for virtually a decade. In the internet age, a decade is an eternity. If the desire for change is strong enough, the presumed deficiencies of the other national leaders won’t save Harper. People will vote for whichever party and leader they think offers the best chance of getting rid of Harper and his Tory government.

It’s a fascinating situation. You would think that Harper would have to change, to re-invent himself. But how would he do that? He is not a political chameleon. He cannot make himself as charismatic as Trudeau or as passionate as Thomas Mulcair. Like his political soulmate, Britain’s Margaret Thatcher, Harper is not for turning or changing. He is what he is, for better or worse.

Explaining the Emergence of Indigenous–Local Intergovernmental Relations in Settler Societies: A Theoretical Framework

Authors: Jen Nelles and Christopher Alcantara.

Published September 2014 in Urban Affairs Review.

Abstract: There has been growing interest among practitioners and academics in the emergence of intergovernmental relations between local and Aboriginal governments in Canada. Initial research has focused on describing the nature of these relations but has yet to develop any theoretical expectations regarding why some communities are more likely to cooperate than others. We address this lacuna by developing a theoretical framework for explaining the emergence of cooperation between Aboriginal and local governments. After identifying a set of variables and specifying how they are likely to affect the propensity of communities to cooperate, we conclude with a discussion of how future researchers might use this framework to investigate cooperation and noncooperation between Aboriginal and local governments in Canada and in other settler societies.

Identifying Difference, Engaging Dissent: What is at Stake in Democratizing Knowledge?

Authors: Loren King, Brandon Morgan-Olsen and James Wong.

Published September 2014 in Foundations of Science.

Abstract: Several prominent voices have called for a democratization of science through deliberative processes that include a diverse range of perspectives and values. We bring these scholars into conversation with extant research on democratic deliberation in political theory and the social sciences. In doing so, we identify systematic barriers to the effectiveness of inclusive deliberation in both scientific and political settings. We are particularly interested in what we call misidentified dissent, where deliberations are starkly framed at the outset in terms of dissenting positions without properly distinguishing the kinds of difference and disagreement motivating dissent.

Scapegoating: Unemployment, Far-Right Parties and Anti-Immigrant Sentiment

Authors: Christopher Cochrane and Neil Nevitte

Published: January 2014 in Comparative European Politics.

Abstract: Far-right parties blame immigrants for unemployment. We test the effects of the unemployment rate on public receptivity to this rhetoric. The dependent variable is anti-immigrant sentiment. The key independent variables are the presence of a far-right party and the level of unemployment. Building from influential elite-centered theories of public opinion, the central hypothesis is that a high unemployment rate predisposes citizens to accept the anti-immigrant rhetoric of far-right parties, and a low unemployment rate predisposes citizens to reject this rhetoric. The findings from cross-sectional, cross-time and cross-level analyses are consistent with this hypothesis. It is neither the unemployment rate nor the presence of a far-right party that appears to drive anti-immigrant sentiment; rather, it is the interaction between the two.

Saving Canada’s “marriage”

Published Sept. 17, 2014, in the Winnipeg Free Press.

Aboriginal leaders often quip that modern treaties are like a marriage, but that Ottawa treats them like a divorce.

Recently, a new constellation of respected aboriginal leaders, politicians, judges of the highest rank, experienced civil servants, philanthropists and others came together to try to help save the marriage. Its brightest stars include two former prime ministers and several high-profile First Nations, Inuit and Métis leaders.

Calling themselves Canadians for a New Partnership (CFNP), they declared in their founding declaration they would “bring a new energy and reconciliation to the project of building a better Canada.” In their view, government and civil society have so far failed to “embrace the notion of partnership fully and place it at the very heart” of the relationship between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians.

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Death of Research Papers? Maybe. Death of Long Assignments? Definitely Not!

My colleague, Derek Hall, responds to my blog post about the death of research papers at the undergraduate level.

As usual, he’s written an excellent, and well-reasoned response to my blog post.  When I interviewed at Laurier in 2008, I didn’t know him at all except he was the “shrimp” guy (he wrote a number of academic papers on shrimp farming in East Asia). As a colleague, I’ve come to appreciate not only his productivity and research interests (which sometimes and surprisingly dove-tail with mine, although he approaches these topics from a political economy perspective), I’ve also come to appreciate his interests in zombies and board games, oddly enough!

Enjoy!

Guest Blog Post by Dr. Derek Hall. 

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So I’m the guy who went through all of our department’s syllabi a couple of years ago to see what kinds of assignments we’re giving our students. (I was our undergraduate officer then – I hope that excuses this weird behaviour.) Chris asked me whether I’d like to respond to his suggestion that the “death of the term paper may not be such a bad thing.” I’ve enjoyed thinking more about this topic and will try to put a few arguments together.

I should say first that going through all those syllabi left me impressed by the range of assignments we ask our students to do. We have definitely left behind the days in which the default grading scheme for an Arts class was midterm-paper-final-participation, and I think that’s fantastic. I try to mix things up in different ways in my own classes, including through frequent use of my favourite assignment – sets of analytical reading response questions (the burpees of social science). I also agree with Chris that moving towards more assignments that prepare students for the kinds of writing they’re likely to have to do in the workplace is a good thing, and it’s something we’re doing already.

I should also note that the main goal of my survey of syllabi was to see whether we were still asking our students to do relatively long pieces of writing of, say, more than 4000 words. Longer assignments don’t need to be term papers; students can build some of the same skills doing policy reports, say, or critical literature reviews. But I do think that the research essay specifically is something we should hold on to – that is, I think that a student coming out of an Honours BA in Political Science should have had to write at least a couple of research essays of over 5000 words. That’s so for a bunch of reasons, but I’ll mostly focus here on ones that relate to what I think it means to prepare students for the workforce.

It’s easy to assume that shorter forms of writing like policy briefs and opinion pieces are simpler and less involved than longer forms like research essays, and that asking students to take on the more baroque form is unnecessary if what they need to learn is how to deal with the simpler ones. I’m not sure that’s right. A good op-ed or policy brief is going to be the distillation of an enormous amount of focused and organized research. The grad students I teach in Laurier’s International Public Policy MA write policy briefs, and one of the things I try to convey to them is that pretty much every sentence they write needs to have a paragraph or more of thinking and analysis behind it. Put differently, a 3000-word policy brief written by someone who only has 3000 words to say on the topic is not going to be very good. Writing a strong brief presupposes that you can absorb, integrate, and structure enormous amounts of information, and that you can grapple in a convincing way with both empirical and argumentative nuance and complexity. It seems to me that the best way to learn to do those things is to do them – that is, to write the kinds of longer pieces in which you go through those exercises.

I would also argue that putting together a research paper, rather than being a more involved exercise than writing a policy brief, is actually a sub-component of writing one. A policy brief needs to have at its heart some kind of causal model of how things work in the relevant policy area – of what the effects of past interventions in the area have been, and what future interventions are likely to do. This model will need, again, to be comprehensive and nuanced enough to convince people who know the literature that you know what you’re talking about. Here too, then, writing a research paper involves learning to do this stuff – identifying precise questions, reading widely, assembling evidence and structuring information, making an analytical argument, dealing with counter-arguments and alternative explanations – by actually doing it, and doing it on a canvas that is broad enough that you can’t avoid coming to terms with nuance and complexity. Again, if your policy brief doesn’t have all of that behind it, it will show.

Put more generally: Even if we assume that our job as professors is to prepare students for the workforce, it doesn’t follow that we do that by asking them to write exactly the kinds of things that they might be asked to write on the job. It’s a standard feature of learning to do complex things that you spend a lot of time on training exercises that aren’t themselves the thing that you want to learn to do. Great 10k runners don’t become great 10k runners by running 10k as fast as they can every day; they mix up all kinds of speeds and distances (including ones much longer than 10k), along with form drills, stretches, and cross-training.

Writing policy briefs may work the same way – that is, it’s possible that you don’t develop the “real world” skill of writing a policy brief by writing policy briefs over and over again. I see my analytical reading response question assignment as a very short example of this kind of skills-building, and as fitting in with Chris’ emphasis on the very real benefits of more and shorter writing assignments. The assignment asks students to work on critical thinking in a focused, intense way, and I think that it helps students to develop these broadly relevant skills despite the fact that our graduates will never have to write reading response questions in the workplace. Term papers work the same way – they’re just longer than policy briefs rather than shorter.

It’s possible, then, that the fact that students are unlikely to be asked to write research papers in the workplace is an argument for, not against, our asking them to write them in university. If the experience of grappling with a really big, analytically focused, empirical assignment builds critical work-related skills that employers are unlikely to give you a chance to develop, then surely we need to give our students that chance while they’re still in school.

Mounting a coalition of the embarrassed

Published Sept. 17, 2014, in the Waterloo Region Record.

In a world that has become increasingly safe for tyrannical aggression to go unchallenged, as evidenced by the Russians in Ukraine, the Crimea and Georgia, and the Chinese in the islands of the South China Sea, the recent expansive activities of the militant group the Islamic State might all seem to be cut from the same cloth.

Most nations, including our own, have appeared to prefer to utter some pious denunciation, then keep our heads down and turn the page. If the United States wants to get involved, so be it, but we have been quick to judge if things go awry, as frequently happens. All this, so long as we are disengaged.

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Western leaders struggle with crises

Published Sept. 15, 2014, in the Waterloo Region Record.

There are times when one wonders why any sane person would want to be the leader of a nation committed to democratic values. Last week was one such time as Western leaders struggled to navigate their way through at least a trio of crises.

One, of course, was the confrontation with the fanatics of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, known as ISIS, who are waging war in their own repugnant way – by beheading their captives and doing it on video for the world to see. On Saturday, British aid worker David Haines became the third victim in recent weeks, following the murders of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. “An act of pure evil,” British Prime Minister David Cameron called the Haines assassination.

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There will be more beheadings – ISIS has already served notice of that – leaving world leaders appearing impotent as they confront an enemy that does not observe any acknowledged practices of warfare. ISIS does not negotiate, although it will accept blood money, as it did when the weak-kneed government of France paid to ransom French captives. It does not hesitate to kill its victims, fellow Muslims as well as foreign “infidels,” in the most gruesome manner possible. It does not care what damage it does to the Islamic movement in the world.

It does not worry about retaliation from horrified Western leaders. It knows Western intelligence gathering is weak, probably as weak as it was back in 2003 when George W. Bush led the United States into war against Saddam Hussein on the strength of erroneous intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. ISIS even welcomes retaliation, because for those twisted fanatics retaliation serves to validate their cause and to attract recruit disaffected and misguided youths in the U.S., Britain and Canada, too, to join their struggle.

Of course, ISIS can be stopped. According to Western estimates – which may or may not be accurate – there are only about 30,000 militants in ISIS. That doesn’t seem like very many for the combined forces of the Western allies and sympathetic Arab countries to dispose of. But the movement feeds on publicity and its numbers are growing. They are not soldiers. They are terrorists who are fighting on their own territory with the support and protection of the Sunni population.

They cannot be bombed out of existence without causing incalculable civilian casualties. The only way, as President Barack Obama and other leaders must surely suspect, is with boots on the ground, by sending in soldiers in overwhelming numbers to capture or kill the terrorists. But no one wants another Iraq war. Everyone knows it could drag on for years, as Iraq and Afghanistan did, and might, in the end, solve nothing. And there’s a real risk that ISIS, following the example of Al-Qaeda, would export its murderous ways to the civilian populations in other parts of the world, including Canada.

As if ISIS were not enough crisis enough, political leaders have to deal with two others. One is the Ebola epidemic or pandemic sweeping through several countries in West Africa. There are not enough doctors, nurses, hospitals and medical supplies to contain the virus, let alone the vaccines to eradicate it. Eighty per cent of the people who contract Ebola die from it. Unless it can be stopped, it seems inevitable that it will be carried one way or another to Europe and North America.

The third crisis is posed by Vladimir Putin who seems intent on rebuilding the old Soviet empire, starting with Ukraine. NATO countries will try sanctions and threats, but in the end the world might be looking at another Cold War arms race.

Of all leaders, Britain’s David Cameron has the most worries. His biggest one is this week’s referendum on independence for Scotland. If he loses, which is a distinct possibility, his coalition government may not be around long enough to have to worry about ISIS, Ebola or Putin.

More on the Sessional Instructor Debate: Some Thoughts

In a previous post, I provided some perhaps unpopular observations and arguments to a debate surrounding the pay and working conditions of sessional instructors.

Recently, my colleague, Dr. Karen Lochead, provided some important counterarguments to my original post. Let me respond in kind.

Below, I’ve reproduced her comments, with my responses.

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Lochead: Whether a sessional instructor (or Contract Academic Staff – CAS – as they are called at WLU) is interested in a future tenure-track position is really besides the point. The working conditions and pay scale of CAS are unacceptable.

Alcantara: I think it matters to some extent in that some jobs are meant to be part-time (and short-term/medium-term positions) and some are meant to be full time careers, and so the pay and working conditions created by the employer reflect that underlying idea.  But I agree that the working conditions are generally unacceptable. The pay scale, however, is somewhat reasonable if we realize that sessional instructor positions are not tenure-stream, salaried positions.  Sessional instructors are hired on a year by year, course by course basis and are not employed by the university to do research and service. They are hired to be course instructors only.  Period. Some may do other things, and that’s there prerogative.  But when it comes down to the actual, paid duties, CAS are paid to teach the courses to which they have been hired.

Lochead: Although CAS are being increasingly relied upon to provide courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, CAS have no job security. It is true that there are some CAS who enjoy the flexibility of contract-by-contract employment, but a much larger number regularly feel the strain of being unable to predict how many courses (and which particular courses) they might be teaching in any given semester and over any given academic year.

Alcantara: I agree that CAS have no job security, much like how supply teachers at the high school, middle school, and primary school levels, don’t have job security.  This sucks.  No question.  But that’s nature of the position.  It’s very clearly a contract by contract system and nobody gives candidates the impression that life as a CAS is anything but a temporary employment opportunity.   The CAS system fluctuates according to enrollment needs and tenure-stream sabbaticals and leaves.  Individuals may decide they want to pursue a career as a sessional instructor, but then that requires realizing the nature and the vagaries inherent in the job.

Lochead: This also means that unlike tenured/tenure-track faculty who generally teach the same complement of courses year after year with only occasional modifications, many CAS are regularly teaching a new complement of courses. As a result, CAS are regularly required to dedicate a significant amount of UNPAID time to developing new courses from scratch, reviewing and selecting course materials for such new courses as well as for courses they haven’t taught in a while, organizing tutorials/labs, preparing courses syllabi, developing tests, exams and assignments, etc.

Alcantara: Why is prep time considered unpaid time? For full time faculty, 40% of our paid work is teaching. Teaching not only means classroom time during the term, but also the prep involved beforehand and afterwards.  So, again, let’s consider the $80,000 tenure-stream example.  In this example, the tenure stream faculty members is getting $32,000 to teach four courses.  The sessional is receiving $28,000 for his four courses.  In both cases, that portion of the salary includes prep time, right?

It is true that sessionals have to teach many more new courses (although that rapidly becomes less true every year that a sessional teaches in a department because they build seniority in certain courses and therefore get them everytime they are advertised).  But it’s also misleading to say that full-time faculty members do only “occasional modifications” to their existing courses.  That may be true for some, but for most young and mid-career faculty members, course curriculum is constantly changing even when the same course is taught by the same tenure-stream faculty, given new research finding, new teaching technologies, new pedagogies and new insights into how we learn, etc.  This year marks the fifth time I’ve taught PO 263 but the course structure, lectures, tutorials, assignments, and even pedagogies have changed dramatically every year as I seek to incorporate all of the things mentioned above.

Lochead: Making this situation even more unacceptable is the fact that CAS contracts are only extended 2-4 weeks before the start of each semester. This means that all of this important course prep work has to be accomplished in a very short amount of time AND well after the final submission date for textbook and coursepak orders. Consequently, it is much more difficult for CAS to ensure that course materials are ready for students on the first day of classes than it is for tenured/tenure-track faculty.

Alcantara: I agree this is a MAJOR problem and ideally universities need to address it by hiring well in advance of the term.  In some cases, however, it is impossible to do so if only because some faculty members go on an emergency leave at the last minute, or a pregnancy leave, or the like.  Or another CAS drops out of a course because they took a better offer elsewhere.  In those cases, the university only has 2 weeks to hire before the term starts.  I’m not sure what the solution is to this problem.

Lochead: It should also be kept in mind that many CAS are in fact teaching on a full-time basis. By ‘full-time’ I mean teaching 3-4 courses in both the fall and winter semesters (and occasionally during the spring & summer semesters as well). This compares with tenure/tenure-track faculty who teach 4 courses per academic year. And many, many CAS are also engaged in a wide variety of unpaid service activities such as student advising, committee work, guest lectures, preparing letters of reference, etc.

Alcantara: Here, again, I would emphasize a CAS is not a tenure-stream position.  A tenure-stream position has a salary attached to it and a defined workload of 40% research, 40% teaching, 20% service.  A CAS is not a salaried position.  The workload and pay is on a course-by-course basis (and is 100% teaching). This is not to say that some individuals see and work as a CAS on a full-time basis (e.g. teaching 3-4 courses per term) but this does not mean that this individual has a salaried position equivalent to a tenure-stream position.  A CAS is also not expected to do committee work, guest lectures, preparing references of letter.  Student advising? Yes, as this would be part of the teaching duties but only for those courses they are hired to do.

Lochead: Using Alcantara’s calculations I don’t think it is difficult to conclude that the work load of ‘full-time’ CAS is equal to the 40% (teaching) + 40% (research) + 20% (service) required of tenured/tenure-track faculty. Or is there an assumption that tenure/tenure-track faculty should be paid more for the time they devote to research? I don’t agree with this assumption but even if one does, this discrepancy is easily rectified through the additional teaching many full-time CAS do during the spring and/or summer semesters.

Alcantara: Again, I would emphasize the fundamental difference between a tenure-stream position and CAS.  CAS is a contract by contract, course-by-course position. it is not a continuing or permanent salaried position, and so there may be some differences in pay. I agree, however, that tenure-stream positions should be paid the same, whether it’s a teaching tenure-stream position (e.g. a workload of 80% teaching and 20% service) or the traditional regular tenure-stream position (e.g. 40/40/20).

Lochead: Universities like WLU have committed to significantly increasing the number of students in their programs while keeping the number of tenured/tenure-track faculty the same. At the same time, the teaching requirements of tenured/tenure-track faculty have remained the same or decreased. It is high time that CAS were given the respect and compensation they deserve for the role they are playing in the changing arena of university education.

Alcantara: I agree! But the solution should be for universities to hire more tenure-stream teaching positions, which provide more stability, better working conditions, and better outcomes for instructors, students, and administrators.

Scotland Independence and Implications for Quebec’s Sovereignty Movement

Some notable Quebec sovereignists are making their way to Scotland to observe the Sept. 18 vote with the hope that a victory for the independence movement there will provide pointers on a repeat performance in a future Quebec referendum. While sovereignists may derive some inspiration from their Scottish counterparts, the real lessons might begin Sept. 19.

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If Scotland votes to secede, apart from the jubilation in the streets of Edinburgh, the real show will be about how Scotland manages its independence transition. The implications of this process are potentially profound. In some ways, the Quebec referendum of 1995 was fought by arguing the risks of the Oui side winning. There was talk about whether an independent Quebec could continue to use the Canadian dollar, whether Quebec “citizens” would still be able to hold on to their Canadian passports, whether Quebec pensioners would still be eligible to draw from the Canada Pension Plan, and so forth. Before the actual vote, all that political leaders do is debate these matters. So a “pre-independent” Quebec or Scotland functions inside a context of great uncertainty.

Should Scotland vote to secede, what happens next will be vitally important to Quebec’s sovereignist and federalist leaders. The fate of any future Quebec referendum partially hinges on whether the transition moves along relatively smoothly or whether Scottish (and British) society descends into major political (and economic) chaos. If there are long disputes about what it would take for an independent Scotland to continue using the British pound (and there is some indication this is a already main point of contention), or disagreements about access to oil reserves, or other inter-governmental entanglements, then Quebec sovereignists would look at this mess with discouragement. This transition, therefore, provides Quebecers with a simulation, of sorts. A positive and peaceful transition will add substance to any drive to regenerate Quebec’s sovereignty movement.

Gender Roles in the Classroom: Time for a Rethink?

Recently, in my first year seminar, I asked my students, all of whom were sitting in these new, rolling desks/chairs, to form groups of three.  Interesting, the groups were mostly aligned by gender (e.g. all male or female groups) and ethnicity.  Indeed, this groupings existed right from the beginning of the first class.

There are a lot of reasons why this may have happened and I’ll leave it to the critical theory scholars to tell us why.

But I wonder to what extent is some of this the result of the type of socialization that goes on in schools these days?

My oldest son is in grade 2 and over the last two years, I’ve asked him about what he does in school.  Every month or so, he describes how in math or science or gym, his class would play a game and frequently, the teacher structures the opposing teams in terms of gender (e.g. boys vs. girls).

I never understood why teachers divided teams along gender lines. And now, I worry and wonder about what kind of effect does this have on young people in terms of their in-group/out-group identity as they develop?