English, Film, and Theatre Students Support our Professors, Librarians, and our Future

Earlier today, pAGES (the Association of Graduate English, Film, and Theatre students) sent the following letter to the President of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. We wrote in support of our professors and librarians as they attempt to negotiate their collective agreement. Tomorrow they will strike if an agreement is not reached.

Dear President Barnard,

We are writing on behalf of pAGES (the Association of Graduate English, Film, and Theatre students) to state our position of support for the University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) as they continue in the process of collective mediation with the University of Manitoba administration. As graduate students in one of the largest departments in the Faculty of Arts, the proposed cuts not only adversely impact our current studies here, but make it less desirable to attend the University of Manitoba at all. Current and future Arts students will flock to more robust programs in other provinces or states. We are the future of the U of M and future academics in universities around Canada and the globe. As such, we feel that we too have a stake in the outcome of these mediations.

There are five issues UMFA is advocating against that we would like to highlight from the perspective of graduate students in the Department of English, Film, and Theatre: 1) The cuts to library staff; 2) increased classroom sizes, which includes graduate seminars; 3) budget cuts to departments, but specifically the Faculty of Arts; 4) the increased corporatization of the university which we believe is adversely thwarting the goals of university education; and 5) the increased reliance on sessional instructors for teaching.

The job cuts amongst the library staff on campus undermines the very purpose of our institution — the acquisition and maintenance of the history of ideas in our societies. It also makes our work as graduate students more challenging, as many of us work long hours in the libraries, hours which have now also been cut because of understaffing. The quality and timely completion of our research will suffer as a result of these cuts. Since the university has been intent on ensuring timely completion of graduate programs, we feel that this reduction in library staff is counter intuitive to the university’s asserted goals. Librarians are one of our dearest allies in our education. We need more of them, not fewer.

Graduate students come to the University of Manitoba for a first-rate education. Particularly in the Faculty of Arts in recent years, the number of classes offered to graduate students have been limited, a direct result of the budget cuts to the Faculty. New professors have not been hired. Course allowances have decreased, and the number of students required in each class has increased. Because of these measures taken on behalf of the university against our department and others, graduate classes have now been cross-listed with undergraduate classes which make them disjointed, and make it challenging for all students to be heard. The conversation in these spaces, as well as the work that can be done therein, is altered drastically given this environment. The result is that graduate seminars are no longer graduate seminars. Our education suffers. The University of Manitoba cannot consider itself a leader in graduate-level education if this trend continues.

By cutting funding to the Faculty of Arts you are fundamentally limiting the value and effectiveness of the university. We implore you to take into consideration the seriousness and value of an arts-based education, and to see the importance of having thriving faculty within the Faculties that encourage it. It is within English classrooms, Women’s and Gender studies classrooms, Native studies classrooms, and so on, that students are most often encouraged to face their biases, their pre-conceived notions of race, of sexuality, of gender. It is where we, as graduate students, found our passion not just for literature, but for people, for stories, and for living the university’s proclaimed vision to pursue reconciliation and justice against past histories of abuses. It is why we were inspired to become the professors that could help students change themselves, and change the world. It is not an overstatement to say that it is in these classrooms that students become better people. This is where the “visionary” conversations you base your ad campaigns happen. How unfortunate that these departments are the ones facing the biggest cuts.

We suppose, President Barnard, it really comes down to what you believe a university should be. If you believe that a university’s main goal is to make a profit and that the success of university education is best measured in terms of numbers and figures, then it might be time to consider the attractions and magic of the university that set many people like you into the profession of university education.

We concede that the university understands itself to be under significant financial pressures. But, given the recent fundraising campaigns and promises of capital projects, we feel the monies, if not available, have been wrongly allocated. Money should be spent on what the university does, not what it can physically build. That said, the maintenance of existing buildings should also be a priority.

We strongly believe that it is the university’s role in society to maintain a record of thought, to teach new students the history of ideas, and to encourage them to have new ones. We believe it is the university’s job to interrogate how we have gotten to this place in society, and how we can make our society better. We do our best work by giving professors, the holders of this knowledge, time to work on their research and to meet and collaborate with students; by having small classes, so students feel they can approach their professors and work through complex ideas; by involving academics in the decision-making processes of the university, rather than relying on algorithms or profit projections; and by not deferring much of the academic labour that was traditionally done by tenured professors on to contract employees or sessional instructors.

President Barnard, graduate students are sessional instructors. We take these jobs because we have to, to professionalize, and to pay our bills once the funding has run out, or because the funding was never enough in the first place. But, let us be very clear: we want tenured professors teaching the majority of classes because we want to be those professors. In our futures we want secure jobs, with benefits, where we can do what we love — teaching students, doing our research, collaborating with our colleagues — in an environment of career security. We want to know there will be these kinds of jobs for us in the future. In the environment you are creating by cutting departmental budgets so they cannot hire new professors, you are choking out the hopes. It is within your abilities to make our future brighter.

In brief, we believe and agree with UMFA that the university’s priorities need to be reoriented. We ask that administration remember the most important element of the university — the professors and librarians. They are a significant reason the university exists. In fact, they are the soul of university. Without them there would be no students. It is the administrators’ role to support professors and librarians, not stand in opposition to their success as teachers and researchers. As graduate students, we want quality education for our present training. And, vitally, we want to know the future is safe for us as the future professoriate.

Respectfully,

pAGES (The Association of Graduate English, Film, and Theatre Students)

pages.info@umanitoba.ca

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