My last article made painfully obvious how UW is contributing to the housing problem by over-enrolling students without making plans to scale its residences or work with the region to ensure its tuition paying lackeys (that’s us) can get housed. Today I make a new claim about over-enrollment: it is killing the university culture and academic standing of the school you are one day going to be presenting a diploma from.
Are your classes over-capacity? Were your classes even available this semester? Are you noticing a concerning lack of services like counselling, academic support and academic advising on campus? How about study spaces – are there ever enough of them? The truth of the matter is that the university is over-enrolling to get more of that sweet, sweet tuition money — yet the dollars never seem to get where they are needed most. At the end of the day, the numbers paint the picture, and oh boy does UW have some great numbers to look at.
By the university’s own admission, enrollment has increased by 147 per cent between 2008 and 2021, with some faculties and programs expanding by more than 200 per cent. For example, the CFM faculty has grown by 242 per cent and the health science program has increased by 213 per cent since 2008. Meanwhile, in that same time period, the number of faculty staff has only increased by 73 per cent, and academic support staff has increased by a mere 71 per cent. Even the total amount of sponsored research has failed to keep up with enrollment since 2008, sitting at a paltry 57 per cent increase — likely the result of lackluster attempts to hire professors at the same rate it gouges students.
Let’s start with staff. Staff are the people who run your university. They clean the libraries, they teach your courses, they prepare your labs, they set your schedules, and they generally make your little world go round. Without them, the university would die a slow and painful death, taking its reputation for academic excellence along with it. That sort of makes you wonder why UW would even bother billing itself as a reputable university if it had no intention of investing in the necessary staff. Yet, the university continues to run and, as the numbers show, staff simply are not increasing at a comparable rate to the student population.
Now, there are four kinds of staff at a university: faculty, academic support workers, functional staff, and administration. Right now, the university is stocked up on administration and approaching critical deficits everywhere else. As of November 16, 2022, the university had 161 positions it was looking to fill, the majority of which are not administrative.
As far as faculty is concerned, the lack of professors, TAs, and RAs translates to bigger class sizes, fewer classes offered, longer wait times to receive grades, less availability for office hours, and an increase in classes taught by intelligent, but less-seasoned academics – think Masters graduates and PhD students. All this makes classes harder to succeed in and introduces capacity issues that can result in students needing to delay graduation or rethink their degree.
As for the deficit of academic support staff, these are the people who work as counsellors, academic advisors, co-op coordinators, and research managers among other similar jobs. The deficit of these kinds of staff results in ridiculous wait times for appointments with counsellors and advisors across campus. For example, on November 21, 2022, I called Counselling Services to enquire about the wait times and was informed that an estimate could not be provided. When I asked if I could be waiting longer than 6 months for service, the operator responded by saying quite possibly. As a result of these excessive wait times and the lack of transparency surrounding the program, the student body does not know where or how to get help, and it may result in more students failing to meet requirements, being unaware of their options, delaying graduation, or even dropping out due to insufficient support systems.
Finally, we come to functional staff. These are the people who clean your classrooms, man the Turnkey Desk, and otherwise handle the daily operation of the campus. Without them, students would be unable to access the spaces and services that they pay for. Failure to hire functional staff results in incidents like the closure of the E7 study rooms from Oct. 27 to Nov. 14 of this year. In an internal email sent to engineering students, UW claimed that students were leaving a mess in these rooms, forcing them to temporarily shut down the space — something that could have been avoided had the university hired enough janitors to manage the increased mess caused by the increase in students.
Now, staff is not the only way that UW is failing to keep up with its own over-enrollment — the campus itself is standing tall, ugly, and proud at about the same size it was a decade ago. By failing to scale its premises with its new student population, UW’s space is now limited. The gym is always full, despite the new addition to PAC, and study spaces are scarce. The solid booking of all private study rooms on campus every single day should be enough to show that UW needs to invest in new real estate. Without it, student life is going to continue to decline as students elect to spend more time off-campus and feel less able to participate in university culture. When students feel less involved in their campus community and spend less time on site, they are less likely to engage with learning supports, less likely to stay focused and motivated, more likely to lose their stabilizing sense of routine, and more likely to experience declines in mental health. All this leads to lower grades and higher WDF rates which impact the university’s academic standing.
So listen, I get that we are “beyond ideas” now, but maybe UW could switch its brain back on before it is also beyond its means. We need more staff (not admin!), expanded services (counselling that doesn’t take a billion years to get into would be nice), and new spaces (especially spaces that don’t get closed because of staff deficits) at a similar rate with which the school is increasing enrollment. Particularly, UW, we need you to do your job and maintain this academic hub so that the degrees we graduate with will still be valuable by the time we show them off in interviews.
One of the 147 per cent