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UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 14 | Dec. 5, 2002

Five Questions for Richard Anstee

BY Erica Smishek

The UBC Faculty Association represents about 2,500 members, including full- and part-time faculty, lecturers, librarians, program directors and sessional lecturers. UBC Reports caught up with Richard Anstee, president of the UBC Faculty Association and a professor of Mathematics.

By the year 2005, a large percentage of faculty will retire. What do you think the university should do to renew our human resources?

The number of retirements is large. Unfortunately the same is true across North America. The university should plan for unsuccessful searches and allow units to hire as opportunities arise. We must keep our standards up in these difficult times.

The Early Termination Agreement program was established in the early 1980s during difficult financial times at the university. With little faculty turnover back then, the program -- initially funded by the provincial government -- was designed to free up money for the university. The program was cancelled by the administration earlier this year.

What is your position on the cancellation of the Early Termination Agreement program and what it means for faculty renewal?

The cancellation of the ‘ETA’ program was received with hostility by faculty. The program was viewed as an entitlement. The cancellation will not speed renewal and faculty will on average delay their retirement closer to 65. Of course the ETA plan was instituted (in the early ’80s) to achieve savings for UBC and I suspect this has not been the case for some years.

How should UBC stay competitive in the national and international market to attract and retain outstanding people?

Those units hiring must be aggressive in their recruiting; ads will be insufficient. We have much to offer at UBC including excellent colleagues and excellent students. We need to share successful recruiting strategies.

Our starting salaries are competitive in Canada but are not always competitive on the world stage on which we operate. Salaries to continuing faculty are less competitive. If the job market heats up substantially then retention issues will dominate. Preemptive actions are crucial; once people begin to look elsewhere then you probably have lost them.

An FA survey in 2001 identified a large percentage of faculty who might look elsewhere for jobs. The good news since then of increased funding at UBC will assist in retention, but action on salaries will also be needed.

In this year’s Maclean’s Magazine annual ranking of Canadian universities, we fell to 15th from 14th in the category of “Classes taught by tenured faculty.” How can the university improve this?

I would only be focused on the quality of teaching at UBC. We have sessional faculty and lecturers doing excellent teaching. I would recommend making more of these people permanent at UBC since they will devote more effort to teaching if they don’t have to worry about their next contract.

Maclean’s identified class size for undergraduates as one of our biggest problems. What should the university do to address this problem and ensure the integrity of the teaching experience?

I agree with Maclean’s that class sizes are an issue at UBC. I have seen a large increase in class sizes in my time at UBC in Mathematics. Past first year, limits of 60 were in place but averages were much lower.

As the cutback years squeezed the slack out of the system, the averages climbed until essentially every class was full. Now our limits are 100 and most classes are full. Statistics bear out that this experience was not limited to Mathematics.

The classroom experience is lessened. Some but not all faculty teach effectively to large classes. The students’ choice and flexibility are compromised. Technical innovations and online education augment but will not replace faculty in the classroom.

The so-called ‘productivity gains’ of a larger ratio of students to faculty needs to be reversed. We need a much larger faculty complement or fewer students. This must be established as a long-term goal for UBC.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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