FIMS’ Absent Future*: The unspoken realities of Western’s new Strategic Plan and what we can do about it


A call to action from former FIMSSC president and 5th Year MIT Student Jordan Coop. 

For many of you, it may not come as a surprise that during an era in which crude and instrumental market logic guides the trajectory of university governance, faculties whose research remains, by and large, un-monetizable, are simply not seen as a priority. After all, it makes perfect economic sense for the university, as an institution increasingly concerned with discovering ever more avenues of revenue generation, to pursue the path most profitable.

What this means for FIMS students, however, is that the future of our faculty is being rendered precarious: put simply, faculties whose research can be commodified (largely the STEM disciplines- that’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) are well-positioned to receive more funding from central administration, while those whose research is largely unprofitable (see: FIMS) are likely to suffer. While such claims may seem alarmist, perhaps conspiratorial, Western’s new budgetary initiatives, as outlined in their 2013 Strategic Plan, have confirmed that these concerns are, in fact, a disconcerting (yet unspoken) reality.

According to Western’s Strategic Plan, Western is looking to “selectively invest” in “research clusters” for certain faculties, into whose budgets—if selected—a handsome amount of money will then be channelled (somewhere between $30 and $60 million). Unfortunately, however, the incredibly vague report fails to clarify what exactly “research clusters” constitute, and which faculties, in particular, are eligible to receive investments. Lexical ambiguity notwithstanding, what is known is that in order to be one of the lucky faculties in which Western selectively invests, that faculty must have a research chair. But herein lies the problem: research chairs are expensive, so only those faculties who already receive the requisite funding to afford a chair will be considered for selective investment. In effect, Western’s proposal will end up favouring certain already-wealthy STEM** faculties (Ivey, Schulich, Engineering, etc.), while faculties whose budgets are already in trouble (FIMS, Arts & Humanities, Social Science, Music, etc.) will be selectively excluded from research investments. What’s more, the small cohort of administrators in charge of allocating investments all come from a STEM background; there is, therefore, the possibility for disciplinary bias in selecting investments.

Here it’s important, I think, to consider what isn’t being said: apparently some faculties are more equal than others. Western’s budgetary proposals, if taken seriously, would mean that certain faculties—FIMS, for example—will have to confront an austere future with potentially damaging consequences***; since one of the primary means by which faculties can cut corners is by reducing labour costs, the following consequences are likely to ensue: less teaching positions, fewer new courses, reduced course selection, ever larger class sizes, less funding for grad students, and increasingly impoverished labour conditions for our already-overworked and underpaid TAs and adjunct professors (who, it should be noted, currently comprise a significant portion of teaching in FIMS). Thus, if funding is allocated to already-rich faculties who can afford research chairs, presently underfunded faculties will continue to suffer. With this new proposal, then, we effectively encounter a scenario in which the rich faculties get richer, while the poor faculties are left to starve. Taken to their logical endpoint, Western’s proposals evoke visions of a dystopian future in which the university is devoid of all faculties whose primary function is critical inquiry. In other words, selective investments may serve to threaten the very livelihood of our institution.

We pay too much for this shit. Western’s tuition is amongst the highest in Canada, yet it seems that it is increasingly the case that we are receiving less and less quality for that exorbitant cost. Indeed, on the whole, Western’s Strategic Plan seems not to prioritize what’s in the best interests of its students but, rather, what’s in the best interest of its position on the so-called world stage; and in an era of ruthless global capitalism, this means profit, not pedagogy, takes precedence.

So, I want you to ask yourself, “are Western’s administrators operating in the best interest of students”? If the answer is for you, as it is for me, a resounding “no”, then perhaps we should do something about it. This upcoming Friday, Western’s Senate is holding a meeting at 1:30pm in UCC 56 to discuss these proposals. It seems to me that, instead of being consistently spoken for, this meeting provides an opportunity for us to have a physical presence and make our dissatisfaction palpably known. We shouldn’t sit idle as administrators talk behind closed doors and decide upon the future of our university, an institution that would be nothing without us. We’ve got to learn to say enough is enough. If you’re interested in being involved, please email the Western Solidarity Network (WSN) at westernsolidaritynetwork@gmail.com.

* Despite the title, it is not only FIMS that is likely to be affected by Western’s budgetary proposals. Other faculties, including Arts & Humanities, Sociology, and Music, may indeed share a similar fate.

** It should be noted that this is not a diatribe against STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) faculties; on the contrary, it is precisely because I appreciate their existence as academic faculties that I’m writing this call to action. Rather than pit faculties against one another, we ought to foster unity, solidarity, and resistance amongst all faculties at Western, underpinned by the recognition that the university is nothing if not a diverse and collaborative environment in which all faculties are valued equally.

*** In response to future austerity, FIMS has already had to consider various options to reduce their budget; in particular, they have come up with a couple of hypothetical scenarios, both of which entail significant cuts to teaching and quality: Scenario A (to keep a balanced budget the next four years): $300k cuts per annum; 25% cut to Graduate Resource Centre (GRC), computing and studio; 28% cut in limited duties (adjunct) hires (from 154 to 111; increases in class sizes; reductions in travel and conference funding. Scenario B (to comply with central admin’s demand that there should be no more than 2% revenue deficit): 50% cut to GRC, computing and studio; 43% cut in limited duties hires (from 154 to 88 – think of these figures as courses in MLIS and MIT); even more increase in class sizes; 10% cut to graduate funding; cuts to part-time and student employees; further cuts to travel, conference, registration and institutional memberships.

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4 thoughts on “FIMS’ Absent Future*: The unspoken realities of Western’s new Strategic Plan and what we can do about it

  1. What is a research chair exactly? This is written in such a way that makes the appearance that a faculty has to pay to hire a research chair, which it does not. Research Chairs are academics who are considered outstanding in their field and receive funding to ensure they can continue their research. Why FIMS is not longer harboring these talented individuals as in the past is another post ( but fyi only 20% of the chairs go to social sci/ humanities ).

    To be a research chair the Feds select up to 2,000 (currently only 1,800). The CRC positions are created to attract world best scholars in various disciplines to be part of Canadian university system.http://www.chairs-chaires.gc.ca/chairholders-titulaires/index-eng.aspx

    Although I disagree with the de-funding of FIMS (especially considering the outstanding quality of the education I am receiving) I would approach this slightly differently. First what are some of the reasons why this is happening? is it Western’s direction? or is it the governments (remember private corporations only fund 10% of western)

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/specialize-or-risk-funding-ontario-tells-universities-and-colleges/article14393294/

    This article leads me to believe this is part of a larger trend that driven by various levels of governments and might not be a bad thing in a holistic sense of the Ontario university education system.

    In this view another approach that could be adopted is not one of survival of the status quo but of growth, Such as: Turning FIMS into the premier faculty in Ontario and Canada for Media Studies (lets please all forget about UoT!!! lol) Western has already made a huge structural direction over a decade ago to create FIMS, a faculty dedicated to information and media studies a huge selling point in it self. I believe this is a path worth looking into although one that many in the faculty would be ideologically opposed to.

  2. True that faculties at first don’t have to pay for a research chair; the first 5 years the chair and his/her entourage are paid for through grants etc. But after those 5 years, it is up to the faculty to pay and given that any research chair will be located somewhere towards the top of the sunshine list, cash strapped faculties cannot afford to keep them. If you don’t have a research chair you can’t get a cluster and more money; but if you don’t have the funds you can’t really afford a research chair. Catch 22.

    “First what are some of the reasons why this is happening? is it Western’s direction? or is it the governments (remember private corporations only fund 10% of western)”

    It is both. The provincial government has slowly been “cutting” funding to universities in the sense that funding is not keeping up with enrolments and the costs of running a university. I think at the start of the 2000s university funding increased by about 4% per year in the provincial budget, these days it is only 1%. In any case, the funding is not enough to keep up with the costs of running a university, hence it is effectively a “cut,” especially when you look at it historically. Govt. funding used to make up about 85% of the budget, whereas today it sits at around 45%. So a large part of it is the province’s neglect of post-secondary education; it appears to no longer be much of a priority. The implication is that the university must find funding elsewhere, i.e. from private donations or through tuition fees. But the strategic plan and the new proposed budgets will not make any thing better. The rich will get richer, while non-STEM faculties will die a slow and painful death. Western admin is just as much at fault here.

    “Turning FIMS into the premier faculty in Ontario and Canada for Media Studies (lets please all forget about UoT!!! lol) Western has already made a huge structural direction over a decade ago to create FIMS, a faculty dedicated to information and media studies a huge selling point in it self.”

    If admin was so strategic about this, and would most likely want FIMS to be the destination of choice for students of media, then why is FIMS faced with such a horrible situation? Sure, I would like to see FIMS be that but the fact is that in the current climate at Western that won’t happen. A far more likely scenario (and I’ve heard rumours to this regard) is that FIMS will be split up. MIT and media studies goes one way, library and information science together with journalism another way.

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