After the Ontario government announced in its 2019 budget that it would dramatically change the funding model for postsecondary education, a group of U of T professors and alumni wrote an open letter to President Meric Gertler on April 24 to express their concerns.
Among the changes in the provincial budget are plans to tie the amount of funding a school receives to how they are performing on a number of metrics, such as skills and job outcomes. Previously, funding was mainly tied to enrolment numbers.
In the open letter, the professors and alumni called on Gertler to refuse to participate in this new model, saying that the “proposed metrics do not in fact measure educational performance,” and their pursuit would only lead to “terrible incentives.”
The signees included professors Rachel Barney of philosophy and classics, James Allen of philosophy, Jennifer Nagel of philosophy, Sergio Tenenbaum of philosophy, and Jonathan Weisberg of philosophy, as well as alumni Stephen Chen and Terri Chu.
The letter cited graduation rates as an example of a damaging incentive, claiming that pressure to increase the number of postsecondary graduates would encourage universities to further privilege the admission of wealthy students, for whom finances would not interfere with graduation. Further, professors would be incentivized to pass all students, regardless of performance.
According to the signees, indicators such as this would “achieve the remarkable feat of making an Ontario university education at once less accessible and less meaningful.”
Furthermore, they assert that other proposed metrics do not correlate at all to education itself but rather to particular knowledge streams, which align with the government’s broader goals. In short, they say, “this is a radical attempt to realign what we teach and how we teach it on the basis of a political ideology.”
The letter acknowledges that the particular fogginess of the government’s plans make a “wait and see” approach palatable to institutional leaders, but it insists that this would be a “grave mistake.”
This is not business as usual, they write, and U of T should not collaborate with such a dangerous policy. They called on Gertler and his fellow academic leaders to “step up and speak out, and to refuse to collaborate in devising a regime that can only undermine the institutions [they] lead.”
Although the signees are sparse, the group expressed an intention to launch a grassroots advocacy campaign and an online petition to further share their message.
U of T response
According to U of T spokesperson Elizabeth Church, Gertler has since sent a response to the professors reassuring them that the university, as it is renegotiating the Strategic Mandate Agreement that governs provincial funding, will attempt to shape the way “performance” is defined.
Church went on to say that each university determines the weight of each indicator measured in the new provincial funding system, and as such, the university can place emphasis on areas of strength.
According to the budget, by 2024, 60 per cent of all university funding would be dictated by their adherence to these objectives. Currently, only 1.4 per cent of university funding and 1.2 per cent of college funding is connected to performance outcomes.
The performance indicators remain unreleased by the provincial government.