Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Student Protests and the Academic Job Market

I guess I am surprised it took this long for people to start to speculate about the impact of the student protests on the ability of Quebec's universities to recruit faculty
Alex Usher, president of the Toronto-based consultancy Higher Education Strategy Associates, thinks it’s a distinct possibility.
“If I were a Quebec university president right now, I’d be terrified about what’s going on,” he said on Tuesday. “If you’re trying to lure a professor to Quebec, it’s going to be a problem. If you have a choice between an offer in Quebec or elsewhere, you’d go elsewhere.” And he thinks the damage could last five or six years. “Who’s going to want to go to Montreal?” he asked. “For McGill, Concordia and U de M (Université de Montréal), it’s a disaster. The damage is done.”
I wouldn't worry so much if I were he for a couple of reasons:
  • on the positive side, the academic job market is still pretty weak.  Indeed, the numbers are quite clear that there are simply fewer tenure track positions than in the past.  So, people are still post-doc-ing and looking for tenure track jobs or took jobs that they want to escape (as I did after the weak job markets and my weak record in the early 1990's).  So, there will still be plenty of applications for tenure-track positions at McGill, Concordia and UdeM.  
  • on the negative side, it has always been challenging to attract professors to Quebec schools.  The taxes are very high and yet wages are lower than in the rest of Canada. Language politics complicates not just the education of a potential's prof's kids (discussed at the Spew ad nauseam) but also employment for the "trailing" spouse.  These are very significant barriers, they are not new and they are not temporary.  
Will potential professors be turned off of Quebec employment opportunities by this spring's events? A few here and there, but those are probably folks who would have already been deterred from applying due to the obstacles mentioned above or would have turned down a job offer after they learned about the complexities involved with moving to Quebec.  We moved to Quebec with our eyes mostly shut: we were so eager to get out of Lubbock that we were willing to take a paycut, that we didn't notice that Quebec was about to close the loophole for the rules governing the education of immigrants, and because the opportunity presented by McGill was so good.

We are not leaving in a month because of the student protests.  No, we made this decision last fall partly due to the long-term and structural challenges of Quebec--less resources for universities (including lower pay), infrastructure that is falling apart, high taxes, language politics and its implications (including very little accountability for good governance).  To be clear, the move is more about pull than push--Ottawa and Carleton are attractive for a variety of reasons including both professional and personal opportunities.  The spring political mess makes it easier to justify the move, but the reality is that I and academics like me respond not to temporary events (few, if any, moved north with Bush's election despite the claims otherwise) but to the long-term realities.  McGill continues to present excellent opportunities, but it will also be frustrated in many job searches where non-McG factors kick in to prevent people from taking the job.  And those non-McG factors are often tied up with the long-term dysfunctions of Quebec, which are partly manifested in these protests.

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