OCUFA Response to Ontario Gov't Audit of University Undergraduate Teaching Quality
On December 12 the Auditor General of Ontario tabled his 2012 Report. It contained the results of the audit of university undergraduate teaching quality and resulted in five recommendations. OCUFA staff have had an opportunity to review the entire report, in particular the section (3.12) most pertinent to our members. The report can be accessed at http://www.auditor.on.ca/en/reports_2012_en.htm.
The text and recommendations are couched in language that is not sensationalist and encourages rather than prescribes. The recommendations are as follows:
- More information from all faculty evaluations should be conveyed to students and administrators. Course evaluation information should be aggregated by university, faculty, and department so that best practices and areas needing further professional development can be identified. A common set of core questions for evaluations should be developed to assist in comparative analyses. Faculty should be given more constructive feedback on teaching;
- There should be a specific emphasis on teaching quality in tenure and promotion processes in order to reflect the importance of teaching quality. All relevant information on teaching quality should be made available to committees. All documentation related to teaching quality should be retained for a certain period.
- More professional development opportunities and more formal encouragement to participate in these opportunities should be instituted;
- Universities should assess the impact of class size on teaching quality and study how to address the challenges posed by large classes, including weighing the impact of using teaching and sessional faculty and the extent to which they can best be used to address resource constraints;
- The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities should provide more information on student outcomes and student satisfaction and consider meaningful measures for student learning outcomes.
For the most part, the section on university undergraduate teaching quality was relatively measured and not cause for great concern. That being said, the section was not entirely unproblematic. For example, the report failed to distinguish between data that refer to full-time faculty only and data that include contract academic staff - an oversight that can lead to errant conclusions about total (full-time and part-time) faculty numbers and average compensation. Similarly, references to collective agreements in the report were generally not positive and emphasized restrictions on access to faculty information.
In his media release accompanying the report the Auditor noted: "We found that Ontario universities generally had good processes to allow undergraduate students to evaluate their professors and courses. But the three universities we visited need to make better use of this good information to assess the overall quality of undergraduate teaching and should make more of this information available to students to help them in their course selection."
We do not expect a great deal of media attention on section 3.12, given the more newsworthy aspects of some of the other audits contained in the report. Media attention, so far, has been focused on overspending at Metrolinx, untoward cost increases at the Crown Attorney's office, the OPP, and Youth Justice Services, and the $1.4 billion uncollected taxes that may be written off by the provincial government at a time of relatively high deficits and anticipated program/service reductions. There may be some reaction from special interest groups and consultants (this is their bread and butter), as well as education reporters. A story covering the Auditor's Report in the December 13 print edition of the Toronto Star noted toward the end of the article that universities need to get more information on teaching quality to undergraduates so they know which courses to take (and, by implication, which to avoid). There was also an online-only story at the Globe and Mail that focused specifically on section 3.12 and the need to use available tools for improving teaching quality better. We will track coverage and respond as necessary.
I will keep you informed on any issues raised by the report. If you have questions or comments, please get back to me.
Mark Rosenfeld, Ph.D
Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations E-mail: email@example.com