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
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