Here’s our weekly round up of things we’ve noticed across the web that are relevant to understanding casualisation in Australian higher education. This week, insights from the way casuals aren’t mentioned at all, and some data from the US.
What happened this week?
The University of Melbourne released Growing Esteem 2014, a discussion paper on its strategic direction. We’d love to report that this outlined plans for timely and respectful recruitment and development of casual academics, but the discussion paper suggests the opposite: that there must be no casualisation at all at the University of Melbourne. Can this be true?
What Growing Esteem 2014 said about student learning was this:
Better use of technology can allow students to be more self-directed through self-service options, self-help resources and social networks, and simultaneously enable staff interactions to focus on the provision of higher quality, more individually relevant advice to students.
This view of learning as a lightly supervised self-service checkout aligns with emerging research reported in Canada this week that may encourage the belief that in online courses, teaching is an overhead that students can do without.
But where actual teaching is needed, Growing Esteem 2014 has a focus on actual academics supported by actual professional staff:
Again it may seem paradoxical amid exciting new online technologies to focus on investment in teaching quality. Yet everything we know about the new world of blended learning emphasises the importance of academics who can interact with students and work with teams of professional staff to support learning.
Comment on the discussion paper is invited from staff and students at the University of Melbourne. Staff at other universities are likely to recognise the increasing substitution of “technology” for “teaching” as a solution to volatility in student enrolment.
Meanwhile in Sydney, blogger and higher education researcher Hannah Forsyth wrote a strong rebuttal of James Allen’s Quadrant essay on what’s wrong with Australian universities, and suggested a wide look at executive remuneration, bonuses, salary top-ups and travel perks:
Add THOSE things up and reduce them all and I reckon we could start by giving every PhD student a desk and every casual academic at least a small grant to help them survive the summer and get some of their research done – those are the places the really innovative research is being done anyway.
Not all casual academics are researchers, but has any university realised how smart it would be to offer paid opportunities to experienced casual academics to make other kinds of contributions to the universities they know so well, between November and the end of February?
From Brisbane, academic casualisation researchers Professor Glenda Strachan and her colleague Dr Kaye Broadbent wrote to The Australian about the impact on research output of the widespread casualisation of research work, and the creation of Australia’s “research workforce diaspora” as early career researchers lose hope of securing real employment here.
What happened elsewhere?
US adjunct activist Ana Maria Fores Tamayo has launched a MoveOn.org petition to demand Better Pay for Adjuncts.
The MLA Research Office produced a substantial humanities-oriented post on the data tracking post-PhD employment, matched by this personal account from Patrick Iber who was awarded a history PhD in 2011 and who has more or less given up looking for an academic job. Tenured ally and blogger William Pannapacker’s piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education confirmed this discouraging message, and concluded straightforwardly that
I think there is a consensus that graduate education—and the academic labor system—are in need of substantial reforms. And I would argue that prospective [postgraduate] students and their advisors should seek out programs that are implementing them.
One suggestion for reform of the labour system was discussed by Community College Dean and Inside Higher Ed blogger Matt Reed, in response to a reader question about the creation of teaching-focused positions. The advantages and risks of these kinds of academic positions, and their impact on shared governance in universities, are highly relevant here.
There’s a strong focus on the Humanities through these posts, so do look out for coverage of career casualisation on the agenda for the upcoming “Future for the Humanities and Social Sciences in a Global Era” conference coming up at the University of Melbourne. See it?
Bits and pieces
Adjuncts at Broward College are organising themselves for strike action, and adjuncts in the California system have launched an online community radio broadcast, Adjunct Underground.
And also in California, class actions are being commenced against McDonalds for “wage theft”. The summary of workers’ claims may resonate, as will the statement by their co-counsel:
“McDonald’s is unlawfully failing to pay its workers for all the hours they work and for necessary expenses they incur relating to the uniform they’re required to wear,” he said.
Just replace uniform with computer and home internet costs, and you’re there.
Once again, thanks to everyone for supporting CASA and a warm welcome to this week’s new subscribers. If you’d like to write for us but you’re not sure what, just email us at casualcasa at gmail dot com. We’re particularly aware that there are casuals and their allies involved in industrial action at Australian universities at the moment — please let us know if and how we can cover these issues in a way that is safe and appropriate for you.
@katemfd and @acahacker
Thanks for this interesting round-up. Sometimes it helps just for sessionals to know they’re not alone in what is happening to them. As I see it, one of the main problems is that we need somehow to get academics with continuing positions to support those without them. In most Australian universities, casuals do 50% or more of the teaching, so we are a large and important group. In my experience, about 90% of “tenured” academics have no interest whatsoever in their sessional colleagues’ workplace conditions or pay, and wouldn’t support or even consider industrial action when it’s a matter affecting sessionals. I heard one say recently in a meeting that many of “her” sessionals “didn’t prepare at all for classes”—yet in my experience, every sessional I’ve met (at least 100) works incredibly hard for very little reward and does a large amount of unpaid work. Somehow, we have to change the perception by academics lucky enough to have continuing jobs that sessionals are a lesser species.
Caron that must be disappointing, but I think reflects the divides that are increasingly apparent in our sector. For my research I interviewed academic staff who managed casual staff and I have to say I found the majority of the academics were very supportive of their casual staff and appreciated that their career trajectories depended on casuals doing much of their teaching work. Some academics though, probably the ones I would describe as very ambitious, had a very hands-off approach and had little to do with their casuals. Different disciplines and different faculties certainly have different cultures. I think it is heartening though that casual conversion provisions have proven sticking points for bargaining at a number of universities – Sydney has good provisions I know and universities generally put up enormous resistance to anything which threatens their capacity for ‘flexibility’ so its a hard ask in bargaining. Many casuals are scared to join the union and scared to speak up as they are too easily not asked back for more work, these are huge barriers to unionisation and activism. Inclusive forums like this where we can share experiences and support each other to not feel alone are very important.
“Some academics though, probably the ones I would describe as very ambitious, had a very hands-off approach and had little to do with their casuals.”
I’m just interested in passing in the way that the possessive functions here: “their casuals”. It feels a little like “their household staff”. And I think this is unintentionally quite revealing: there’s a sense in which casual staff seem to be counted as institutional resources. But what would it mean if casual academics in particular operated as (and were treated as) freelance consultants or contractors? The big shift that has yet to happen is for casual workers to manage their own work, but there have been a couple of small colleges in the US that have seen this happen with interesting results. It turns out that an agency or collective approach can manage the hiring approach more efficiently than a higher education institution.
‘their casuals’ sorry sloppy language but reflecting I think my own experience of working as a casual academic where my only real connection in the university was to the individual academic for whom I worked – the one who offered me work and the only one I talked to in the school, such was the highly devolved and disassociated nature of the work. Many casuals I interviewed highly valued the relationships they had with ‘their academic managers’ and it was the one thing which kept them coming back for more work. Its a tricky relationship, often bound up with supervisor/student status too, so power imbalances abound.
I think the whole idea of conceptualising casuals as freelancers and contractors is very dangerous – the imposition of a third party employer would be a backward step and the very discipline specific nature of much of the work makes it hard for more formal organisation of work, such as casual banks, to occur. This is not to say that many universities could do a much better job at centrally managing the basics of casual employment such as paying people on time and issuing contracts with reasonable notice and so on. But its hard to imagine how a fundamentally hourly basis of employment could ever form the basis of a ‘portfolio career’ – it is far to inherently insecure.
Absolutely. This is a great forum. Every sessional should join the union. It’s cheap and there really is power in numbers!
Oh my goodness, yes! Thank you for gently raising the issue of support by those in ongoing positions for those who are doing (exactly) the same kind of work, just without a regular salary, sick leave, carers leave, annual leave, professional development opportunities and support .