I’m Karina, I’m a geographer, and I’ve been a sessional-casual academic (lecturer, tutor, unit convenor, academic developer, project officer, project manager, research assistant, postgraduate student, research officer) for nine years. I’m up to job contract number 22. That’s a lot of time sheets.
I’ve worked as such in the sciences, arts and humanities, education, social sciences and in business faculties. I’m the embodiment of multi-disciplinarity but my head and heart belong to human geography – the study of people’s interactions with environment. I’m a social geographer so I’m particularly interested in how people work to belong, even in isolated, alienating, precarious situations.
For me, this is what it is to be a casual academic worker in higher education. You are always working (hard) to belong, to make a good living from this place that has so much potential to provide all anybody could need and want from a workplace: a (very) decent standard of living, intellectual stimulation, professional development, sincere collegiality, exciting collaboration, service to your community and to other generations of scholars.
But job insecurity is the enemy. Because of job insecurity, your efforts at belonging are consistently thwarted. On a casual contract – hired and fired by the hour – you cannot belong because you are so easily disposable. When you are a casual worker, you can never really feel safe or at home.
CASA means ‘home’ in Spanish.
And this is what we hope this site will be – an online home for casual, adjunct, sessional and ally academics and students where rich and productive conversations can be had about the reality of casualisation in the academy and ways to belong, in spite of it, alongside it, or maybe even, because of it.
Now these are the conversations about casualisation I’ve had and heard:
“Do you want to start teaching this semester? Here’s the unit outline and just sign here. It’s a contract for 70 hours over the semester and that includes three hours – one hour for prep, one for face-to-face teaching, and one hour for marking… approximately, 150 students.”
“Excuse me, is there a teacher training program available?”
“So, can you teach for me this semester? It’s just four one-hour tutorials in a row per week. No, not in the same room; different rooms and I think one’s actually off campus. It’s the last tute though. The one at 7pm. And if we have the student numbers, we might put an extra tute on Friday morning…”
“ Yep, just put those papers over there, shove that laptop over…yeah, brand new. The faculty gives a new laptop to all its PhD students. No, of course, tutors don’t get one, are you mad? How much do you think they’d have to spend to do that? The casuals can bring their own.”
“I don’t suppose you have any research assistant work I could do over December and January?”
“Before the tutors get access to their online classes, they have to do 8 hours of training and pass a test at the end. No, they are not paid for the training. No, they cannot work unless they have passed that test.”
“Hi Ashley, how are you? No, no that’s fine. I’m just sorry we have to talk about this in the middle of the quad but as I think I mentioned in class, I don’t have an office. Yes, it does make it totally awks. Now about this paper you’ve written…”
“Please let us know if the marking takes you over the allocated time of 9 minutes per essay.”
“Is it okay if I give no written feedback, just the grade at the end?”
“We can’t guarantee there will be funding for your position next year. We’ll do all we can but you know, the faculty budgets have been slashed.”
“Where do the sessional staff fit into this learning and teaching plan?” (*crickets*)
“I’d like to apply for the Newstart allowance please.”
These are the kind of conversations I’m all too used to having and hearing as someone who works at a university.
I’m here at CASA because I would like to start having different conversations about casualisation in the academy; conversations that foster collegiality, co-operation, and professional support for what could very well be the majority of teachers in higher education, depending on how and when we count ‘em . I want to have conversations that acknowledge the divide between tenured academic life and casual academic life; and conversations on ways to ease the burden and the risks of casualisation on all who are involved in learning and teaching at university. I want conversations that may be difficult, but that nonetheless, let others working as sessional and casual staff members know that they are not alone in their successes and their frustrations.
My thanks in advance to all those who will join us in conversations here ‘en CASA’.
Please make yourselves at home.