PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 May, 2009, 12:00am

University instructors are not of the same calibre as professors

As a graduate student, the City University instructors' contract renewal debacle has compelled me to share my perspective on this matter.

First of all, I prefer to be taught by a professor as opposed to an instructor. In academia an instructor is perceived as not being of the calibre of a professor (hence, the title of 'instructor'). Instructors either possess a master's degree or have a doctorate but are not able to land any professorial titles after earning their PhDs.

So why would any student benefit from learning from instructors who failed to make the academic cut when they could benefit much more by learning from professors who have? We are, after all, at the highest level of education and should be taught by the authentic and not the wannabees.

The protestors keep chanting that the university was sacking good teachers but are they really that good? If they were they would have no trouble getting their contracts renewed.

If they feel they really are such good teachers, they should have no problems finding new teaching jobs.

Dr Mak, the staff representative in council, was of the opinion that a six-month renewal was insulting and harassing. He was also of the opinion that locals were losing their jobs to foreign talent. However, I felt the committee were not even obliged to renew these contracts but were caring enough to give them a six-month grace to sort out their career strategies in this economic climate.

As for locals losing their jobs to foreign talent, it is only the professorial staff (those not substantiated) in danger of losing their jobs since instructors are a dime a dozen. I believe none or only a negligible handful of instructors are foreigners.

Professors who are not substantiated spearheading such protests is unheard of. This is what the failed instructors were trying to do - intimidate the committee by their numbers. Instead of self-reflection, these instructors 'invited' students and the media to join their protest.

Therein is the potential conflict of interest, where students' grades are tied to the instructors' whim and fancy and where the Provost and the committee were not sacking these instructors but were exercising their right not to renew their contracts.

Another poster that caught my eye said that the university only cared about rankings and not the students.

On the contrary, I believe that caring about the rankings actually helps students in the long run. Just look at HKUST, for instance. They are such a young university and clearly they are managed with ranking as the highest of priorities. Just look at how popular HKUST is with undergraduate and postgraduate students, and how sought-after their graduates are.

As a student, I look forward to an elevated ranking for CityU as well, because it certainly increases my chances of employment, if I come from a better ranked university. So I fail to understand the protesters' rationale.

Furthermore, I also believe that the university should take this opportunity to assign graduate students (who have been around for two years, for example, since that would be roughly equivalent to a master's degree title or those who are already reading their PhDs) to fill in the roles of instructors, tutors and the like as part of their graduate studies.

This is a very logical, practical and economical strategy for the university to consider, not only because graduate students require teaching experience but, further, this experience is going to go down well on students' r?sum?s.

Realistically, there is no such thing as an iron rice bowl. If you are at the bottom of the food chain, you are basically dispensable. Being an instructor is really not an ideal career goal in the long term. In the short term, of say two years, an instructor would know if they really have a passion for teaching and they should seriously consider teaching in lower education levels where the job at hand is to disseminate static knowledge.

I would like to think that university-level education should focus on disseminating dynamic knowledge. So those who recognise their calling would have left the university and made their contributions elsewhere where their career options were positive in relation to their calling. The university should not be a safe haven for wannabes with 'iron rice bowl syndrome'.

I applaud the management for promoting academic freedom by allowing the brouhaha to be held on campus, even though it is evident that these instructors do not have a case. It makes me proud to say I am a student at CityU.

BRENDA CHEANG, City University

Extra week's holiday in October not the solution to term change

Several international schools in Singapore and Bangkok follow a three-term calendar, with a three-week break in December/January, and a six/seven-week (as opposed seven/eight-week) summer break.

I believe the students are restless at the end of term one not because the term is too long but because it is the end of the calendar year. Everyone is winding down at year-end and it is the season for celebration and festivities.

Who wants to be stuck at work or in school with so much distraction? Also, for a lot of families, this is a time when parents can take leave for a family vacation (or for expats, go home to be with family).

Having an extra week in October won't solve this. What difference would a one-week mid-term break against a two-week term break make for students? In October, they've barely been back at school for two months (after a long summer break). I don't think the extra week in October will perk them up any more at the end of December. They will feel better let off a week early in December, to enjoy the festive preparations and activities.

I think the Model C proposal, which cuts down the summer break by two weeks, won't go down well with the students or expat parents. Apart from home leave, many apartment leases end in summer and families use the summer break to resettle into their new apartments, have a short vacation and get ready for the new school year.

Shortening the summer break by two weeks is considerable for families going through this process. With a large expat population, this is an important consideration. I think retaining the three-term structure but having a three-week term break in December/January (shortening the summer break by just a week) is a good compromise.