Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) Executive Director, David Robinson, made some interesting statements recently about the way universities hire foreign professors. He made them in response to an announcement that the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) had negotiated an agreement to be exempted from certain rules of the new Temporary Foreign Worker program. To quote in full from CAUT’s press release:
The national organization representing Canada’s professors says that special exemptions from the temporary foreign worker program for universities are unjustified.
“The program is intended to fill temporary labour market shortages and not to be a recruitment tool for permanent posts” said David Robinson, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT). “Universities are using the program to side-step proper procedures for recruiting.”
Universities and the federal government agreed this week to exempt institutions from a rule in the program requiring employers to submit plans ensuring Canadian citizens can move into positions held by temporary foreign workers. Under the new rules, universities and colleges will self-regulate by reporting to their national organization only.
Robinson says there may be a lack of qualified Canadian candidates for some specialized positions, but that the temporary foreign worker program is not the way to fill these posts and that universities should have to “make the case and provide the evidence to the government like every other employer.”
“The reality is there are scores of qualified Canadian academics who are employed on temporary and part-time contracts who should be considered for full-time openings,” Robinson said. “There is simply no evidence of a generalized labour shortage of professors in Canada. It seems that universities want to play fast and loose with the rules, at the expense of qualified Canadians.”
Two points here:
First, over the last few years, some universities have indeed been using the TFW program to get new full-time professors into the country. The main reason they have done so is the backlog in the regular work permits application system; it was simply faster and easier to use the TFW system instead. Because these were permanent hires, universities would subsequently go through the regular process; TFW was never more than a temporary means of expediting the process of getting new professors into the county. When the TFW system was effectively suspended a few months ago, this procedure was no longer possible. But since the regular work permit system is still a mess, it became difficult for universities to hire the foreign professors they wanted – hence, the need for a deal to get the pipeline moving again. Thus, use of TFW is not evidence of university chicanery, as Robinson insinuates, but rather of a deep uselessness at Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
Second, the last two paragraphs in that excerpt from the CAUT press release are intriguingly ambiguous. Is Robinson suggesting that Canadian universities are deliberately excluding Canadians employed as sessional lecturers, and that there is some sort of connection between this and the TFW rules? If so, he should provide some evidence. And specifically, it should be evidence that university administrations are doing this rather than, say, his own faculty members who usually form a majority on hiring committees.
Or is Robinson perhaps suggesting something more aggressive: that because there is “no generalized labour shortage of professors” that we should be actively excluding foreign candidates? The phrasing of that last paragraph is convoluted, but it can be read this way (or possibly he just wanted to dog-whistle this solution – letting people infer it without actually saying it outright). This might seem an odd position for a union with as many foreign-born members as CAUT, but our academic left has always had a strong nationalist streak going back to the days of the Canadianization movement of the late-60s.
The argument that we should be giving jobs to “qualified” Canadians over foreigners is not a crazy one: after all, it’s what employers in pretty much every other industry must do. But universities typically don’t view their job as finding someone “good enough” for the job description; they view their job as finding the person who is the best for the job (or, in practice, the person they think will be the best in about 5-7 years’ time). Basically, academia doesn’t think of “the job” as being a set of defined tasks that could be filled by many different people as it is in most other industries. Rather, hiring in academia is more akin to professional sports: it’s looking for the best talent to fill some pretty vaguely defined roles (e.g. “defender”). And at the moment, Canadian employment rules back the academy on this issue.
An honest, open discussion about how and why we hire professors, and whether or not they deserve such a large exemption from the rules that govern other professions, would be interesting and useful. It would be even better, though, if it were not begun by faculty associations hurling what are basically groundless accusations of bad faith at universities. We can do better than that.