(Note: Many Australian universities are turning to the EOI (Expression of Interest) process as a way of introducing the principles of competitive recruitment to the continuous appointment of long-term casuals. EOI processes signal that the sector is acknowledging its dependency on casual teachers, and reflect the greater attention being paid to casualisation as a QA issue. Here is one casual academic’s take on the message this process sends to those repeatedly hired in this way.)
A few years ago I learned I would have to engage in the annual ritual of submitting an exhaustive Expression of Interest (EOI) in order to be on an eligibility list to do what I had done for the past seven years. Making it onto the list by no means equated to a guarantee of a teaching contract. Rather, the outcome was a determination made by phantoms in the faculty of my suitability to continue to be considered for casual academic teaching.
This shift in thinking was made clear to us all at an induction meeting.
The end of summer had truly arrived. Usually being invited to attend a staff induction meant momentary respite from the excessive stress and uncertainty of the casual academic lifestyle. Not this time. Instead, casual academics were schooled on our apparent complacency. We were told that our hard work and loyalty to the institution had been keeping inexperienced, but potentially dynamic casual teachers out of the system.
“Who’s to say that Joe Brown out there who’s waiting in the wings can’t do a better job than you if only given half a chance. We need to know about Joe Brown before Joe Brown becomes an opportunity lost.”
A mind-blowing revelation after years of competing and scrambling to secure a scrap of whatever teaching work was around, and already dealing with the pressure of having to constantly prove myself worthy. The administrators’ perception was that up until then, the institution had offered some kind of preferential treatment and our lean staff was cluttered with deadwood. Evidently we casual academics were not understood as the ‘we’ of the institution and its heavy branding. We were seen as hitchhikers on the stream of success.
This announcement came a short gasp after being heralded as the torchbearers of the university’s reputation for excellence. According to survey data shared, it was the quality of the teaching provided that was most valued by students. All the subjects I taught were heavily casualised. The university was going from strength to strength. There was an increasing number of permanent administrative staff being hired. The chips were not down. But the message was clear; the chips were not stacked in our favor. There were to be no chips on the casual academic’s table to bargain with.
So it would now become possible to be ineligible to teach without any explanation and without colleagues having to awkwardly offer a reason why experienced teachers would be cut in order to make room for those less familiar with the system. As the induction continued a few more grenades were hurled at silenced inductees; meetings and consultation time would no longer be paid although expected. So essentially, a pay cut as well.
At first glance, one might think what’s the big deal about having to complete an EOI repeatedly? However, I can think of few professions where there is no recognition of past performance, no status, no job security, no acknowledgment of your contribution and your history with an existing employer is rendered worthless. Sure you might score a point or two with accumulated positive feedback, however the previous advantage of experience was largely nullified.
What these demoralizing changes meant was the repositioning of long-term casual academics in direct competition with all of the potential employees they were teaching. Ostensibly, if we were doing our job well we were doing ourselves a disservice. Teaching effectively, and grooming students to be work-ready, knowledgeable, networked, engaged in academia, is ultimately preparing your challenger for battle. Our familiarity with the system might not measure up so well against the youthful innocence and enthusiasm of the new Honours graduate.
Moreover, the obligation to frequently submit an EOI meant being nudged into doing more unpaid work to maintain our low paying, tenuous roles. For me, this translates into pouring countless wasted hours doing more to satisfy these requirements rather than improve and focus on teaching. Since its introduction three years ago, the EOI has brought about a whole suite of extra demands: annual copying of documentation, constant upskilling, gathering of student evaluation data and remarks, churning out published work. Each of these demands is deserving of their own exploration, which I will unpack in later posts.
The salient point for the casual academic to take away from this post is that when an institution’s administrators talk about ‘we’, ‘us’ and ‘our future’, make no mistake: they don’t have ‘you’ in mind. You are understood as being replaceable and your future is imagined as entirely disconnected from your workplace.
Yes, the notorious ‘Expression of Interest’ form that basically asks you to express interest in earning a living for the next 12 months (or 7- 8 months, once December, January, February, the mid-year and mid-semester breaks are factored in. Or worse yet, for the next 10-13 weeks until semester’s end).
And then there’s its close relative- the Sessional Academic Teaching Register.
There’s a bit of self-loathing involved with submitting an EOI each year. Why do I put myself through the weirdness of introducing myself to my workplace like I’m a stranger? Does this affirm that I’m foolishly not progressing in my career, or that the institution is not improving its treatment of employees, or both? It’s incredible to think that if I didn’t submit one, that it would mark the end of my employment there.
Reblogged this on The Scan.
The fantasy of competitive recruitment is that it’s a neutral instrument that drives up quality. But in addition to all that it does to the people who are put through this, there are uncounted risks to the institution. First, there’s the risk that hiring churn drives up the cost of induction, because if you really do hire freshly every time, then you throw out all the organisational experience, knowledge and infrastructure that long-term workers bring, and so efficiency goes down. But the second big risk is that eventually the very skilled workers you have invested in, even minimally, get so weary of the self-loathing factor that they don’t show up, and then either the standards for skills and qualifications have to be lowered, or you’re left holding a beauty contest with no contestants at all. So in the current demand-driven environment, the fantasy of competition generating increased quality becomes the exact opposite.
Hannah Forsyth has written a post about universities making entry to academia traumatic. For casuals and sessionals, however, it seems as though it’s more about universities making *staying* in academia traumatic.
For me, ‘entry’ to academia was relatively (deceptively?) easy through a PhD program. It’s the holding on (especially post PhD with no funding for continuing that oh-so-valuable research) that is becoming so, so hard.