Hunting For New Academics
By Dahlia Reich
June 02, 2005
Nothing illicit, mind you. The commodity is jobs. As the largest annual academic gathering in Canada, the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences is a hot spot for new scholars searching to settle and universities looking to lure.
With a looming faculty shortage a major concern across Canada, the Congress is a well-known venue and a prime opportunity for universities to promote their wares. It also offers graduate students and new scholars a chance to feel out research and job possibilities.
Up to 30 per cent of the 7,000 Congress delegates are graduate students and new scholars -those who have completed or almost completed a doctorate degree but are not yet established, says Congress Director Denis Guertin.
"It's a chance for the universities to meet face to face with some of these students. It's a chance to explore some potential fits between the research a student is conducting and the strength of a program at a particular university."
To help universities and new scholars take advantage of the recruitment potential at the congress, a "career corner" has been set up. Established two years ago at the Nova Scotia congress, the career corner is a place for universities to promote themselves, explains Guertin. Workshops for new scholars are also held on finding employment, negotiating contracts, research and publishing, and other issues of professional development.
According to the Canadian Association of University Teachers, half of current faculty at universities across the country are age 50 or older, with almost one-third over age 55. With mandatory retirement at 65 in most provinces, as many as 30,000 university faculty members in Canada will retire over the next decade creating an unprecedented academic labour shortage.
In Ontario alone, it's estimated that 15,300 new faculty members will be needed by 2010.
"Recruitment is one of the issues universities are facing going forward, "says Guertin. "So the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, as a service to its membership, created this career corner so that universities can have a venue and forum to meet future faculty face to face. The congress is a natural place to do this."
This year, Western has the hometown advantage giving prospective new faculty members from across the country and abroad a taste of the campus, facilities, and the city.
"The perceptions of Western have changed in recent years," says Alan Weedon, Vice-Provost (Policy, Planning and Faculty). "We're now seen to be much more of a scholarly, academic enterprise than we used to be and nothing brings that home more to people than when they actually visit. The experience of being here will help them realize that this is a major research-intensive university. They will get a better appreciation of what we really are and that will help with our recruitment."
For the past several years, Western has been hiring 70 to 100 new faculty members annually to combat the academic manpower crunch -- a rate that is expected to continue, says Weedon. The goal is to replace retiring faculty as well as increase faculty numbers.
"We're hiring faster than we're losing people through retirement or resignation" in an attempt to reduce the student/faculty ratio, says Weedon. A major problem nationally, however, is an insufficient number of students completing doctorates to replace retiring faculty. At the same time, many people with doctorate degrees don't choose academic careers.
Western's recruitment efforts include encouraging graduate students to pursue academic careers, increasing the number of students in entry graduate programs, increasing the representation of women in academia, and expanding areas of research at the university.
"We're looking at renewal with respect to ideas as well as renewal simply of people."
When it comes to recruitment, Weedon refers to the congress as a "clearing house" for academic positions. It's not unusual for universities to conduct interviews and pre-screening of faculty candidates during the event.
"It is a way for new scholars looking for academic positions to make themselves known and to make contact with universities who are hiring. I wouldn't call it a market but it has that element to it."
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