As a follow up to my recent article on the realities of ‘systemic irresponsibility’ in universities, which has also been picked up in Richard Hall’s UK blog, this week I’m reflecting on my personal experience of being pitted against my YIYO colleagues in the search for work after the long drought of summer.
Speaking from my personal experience of Week 1, many like me were pitted against our fellow teachers, reduced to pestering full time subject coordinators for work. We did this with the hope of not losing face, by keeping our composure, containing our frustration, concealing our emotions and without jeopardizing future work by revealing our disappointment at missing out.
By late-mid Week 1, I had been offered one tutorial at the 11th hour which – as it turns out – had been taken away from another tutor. Having discovered this a few days later by chance conversation, I have been conflicted, remorseful and confused, with a feeling of sickness in the stomach.
Stewing on it for a few days I was asking myself: “What do I do? What should I do? “Practice what you preach”, I can hear you saying, and “give the work back.”
But what would you do – if refusing to take on that class meant not having any work at all?
This is the very problem with systemic irresponsibility at universities: no one with the capacity to prevent this kind of circumstance takes any action to do so.
In a free market society, it makes sense that YIYOs (‘suppliers’) will sort out their own work arrangements by conforming to the realities of market availability (‘demand’). In this scenario the system takes a back seat.
But that is also why the free market makes complete nonsense when administrators instinctively suggest it should be left up to the market and not people to intervene and create a workable solution.
So, survival during Week 1 for YIYOs came down to playing a sort of ‘Hunger Games’ at the learning and teaching coalface. The experience exposes that the EOI system is not achieving anything like a clear or fair process for appointments. I can’t wait to see a student film about this.
Am I Not Good Enough?
It is often difficult for those who are not or have not been YIYO casuals to understand how much grief and anxiety there really is associated with the Week 1 Tutor Hunger Games. On top of a misguided Australian culture of anti-classist backlash against the ungrateful ‘middle class’ (ironic, because miners and skiledl labour typically earn quadruple the average YIYO), there seems so often a sense of shame in speaking out for us.
Thus, the solution which is imbued with these kind of classist/cultural tropes is a simple one: “If you’re good enough, you’ll get offered a full time position”, or “there’s plenty of jobs out there, just keep applying”. But when people say it’s a market of opportunity out there, what they really mean is that its a free-market of opportunity, which isn’t free at all because it privileges the most cunning, the least empathetic and those with the most effective personal networks within the university bureaucracy. The meritorious, the patient, the passive, and the aspiring newcomers to academia miss out.
If this was the Hunger Games, the survivalist rationale underpinning casual recruitment might be conceived as a logical training ground for recruitment to full time. But it’s not.
I have applied for at least 60 full time academic positions in Australia and internationally in the last two years. Only a handful ever replied – regardless of whether I was short-listed or not.
You hear that the job market is “saturated” with PhDs. Recently, a Sydney University reportedly received 70 applications for a history fellowship. At another university, there were 200 applications for a lecturing post in Humanities.
So you begin to wonder: “am I not good enough?” You question whether the application even makes it past HR. “Are academics in the Faculty even looking at my resume, or is the application process left solely up the HR manager who knows little about or places little emphasis on teaching?”
I have kept long paper trails of teaching evaluations going back a decade or so in my career as a YIYO. They seem to indicate I have exceptional teaching capacities. According to a formal teaching evaluation by the learning and teaching unit:
‘Because [he] has some outstanding skills it would be ideal if he could share some of his own methods… and share some of his expertise and interest with colleagues.’
‘[He] certainly contributes to the creation of a welcoming classroom through his effective communication, good planning and empathetic, intelligent approach.’
‘[He is a] skilled teacher to enable the students to transcend the limitations of their physical location and become immersed in the interesting issues and debates that the teacher has drawn them into.’
My teaching evaluations are very good. So what am I doing wrong either when I apply for a job or try and get tutoring work? What is my problem?
One answer is that academics aren’t hired to teach, at least not the full time academics. They are there to research and bring revenue to the university through grants. Teaching is more and more the sideshow to what full time academics are doing, even a distraction for ambitious academics.
I love teaching. The joy is unparalleled. But at what price? Does there have to be only one winner in the Tutor Hunger Games?