May 20, 2004  
Volume 98, Issue 01  

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Prestige over professors?

While thousands of Canada’s best and brightest professors continue to head south of the border looking for work as part of the “brain drain,” it appears that many who want to stay and work in Canada are not being given the chance.

Questions are being raised about the hiring practices and obligations of Canadian universities after two American professors were hired at UBC and McGill, each being chosen over Canadian candidates. This growing trend of hiring foreign professors could leave many qualified Canadians flipping burgers or teaching sessionals.

Technically, universities are required to attempt to hire faculty domestically, but many larger Canadian schools seem more concerned with increasing prestige than providing employment for home-grown profs.

At universities such as Western, where 30 per cent of the faculty is from outside Canada, acquiring professors who taught at or were educated at Ivy league schools or other world-renowned universities improves the school’s reputation. Meanwhile, Canadians are being left on the bottom rung, even if they are equally qualified.

Some Canadian universities appear to have an inferiority complex, and assume that to garner prestige they need professors from Harvard, Yale or Oxford. Most students don’t take the faculty into account in their decision about what school to attend, but for some top-of-the-line students, prestigious faculty can be a deciding factor.

The centre of the issue is straightforward: should the most qualified individual be hired or is there an obligation for Canadian universities to hire home-grown professors?

For some programs (such as languages and culture-intensive positions) it only makes sense to look abroad. It may be part of a mandate to draw in different experiences from around the world.
If this is the case, then where are Canadian PhD graduates going to get their experience? This presents a bleak outlook for current undergrads.

Meanwhile, no standards exist to hire Canadians in other fields in Canada — but should there be some?

Perhaps there should be a minimum percentage of Canadian faculty in Canadian universities or in any industry. This requirement could be regulated in the same way the CRTC ensures a minimum of Canadian content on the radio.

These two hirings may just be the beginning. This could be the start in a race to secure foreign profs in a battle of prestige among Canadian universities. If this is going to be a continuing trend, Western and all Canadian universities should take a look at what they are really selling to students. Or perhaps the onus is on students to realize that they may someday be unemployed if they continue on an academic path.



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