Here’s our weekly round up of news relevant to the casualisation of Australian higher education. You can also find us via #auscasuals on Twitter; and if you want to suggest anything to us, casualcasa at gmail dot com.
How smart is university casualisation?
This week, Australian author John Bartlett asked whether the casualisation of Australian university teaching is smart, sharing his sadly familiar experience of not getting a contract until week 2, not having an office, and being required to attend training sessions without pay.
These things make sense to institutions, because they’re exactly the ways in which overheads are kept low in the short-term. But as a longer-term strategy, casualisation isn’t necessarily so smart. This week, for example, several different resources highlight the impact of casualisation on the student experience—a key risk area for universities.
To kick off, The Scan covered the Regional Universities Network’s fairly positive few of uncapped enrolment as a means of bringing a larger number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. In this article, Prof Jan Thomas, VC of the University of Southern Queensland, points out that equity isn’t achieved simply by enrolling students from low SES backgrounds, but by increasing the ways in which students are supported to succeed:
… including school outreach, “just-in-time” support services, multiple access pathways, personalised learning and early identification of students at risk of failing
And yet what’s actually happening across Australian universities at first year is the widespread hiring of casual teachers who have the worst access to the resources they need to undertake this specialist transition role.
Smart? Not really.
For a US take on why casualisation matters in relation to their equivalent lower, mid level and general ed experience, try this week’s article from US adjunct activist and Slate columnist Rebecca Schuman.
Most majors require but a handful of upper-level courses; often, by the time a student major gets a face-to-face with a tenured senior faculty it’s her last semester at the university. … The only exposure to your discipline the vast, vast majority of students who study it will ever, ever get is through a few intro classes. Which are taught by guess who?
Your part-time faculty, your non-tenure-track faculty, your disposable faculty, your faculty that shouldn’t get “the wrong idea” about its place in the department? To the vast majority of people who ever come into contact with your department, they are the only representative of your discipline people will ever, ever get. They are the reputation of your department.
Read the whole thing, “Careful, He Might Think He Works Here“, on Rebecca’s Pan Kisses Kafka blog.
What’s happening elsewhere?
A big week in US adjunct organisation, kicked off with the Town Hall meeting launch of the Adjunct Action Network, supported by the SIEU (Service Employees International Union). The event was widely reported, including by Colleen Flaherty for Inside Higher Ed. The Adjunct Action website has all sorts of interesting features, including this cost of living calculator that calculates how much insecure work has to be piled up to meet the cost of living in individual cities.
— Tiffany Kraft (@TiffanySKraft) March 24, 2014
Also in the US, filmmakers Megan Fulwiler and Jennifer Marlow released their documentary for free online download: Con Job: Stories of Adjunct and Contingent Labor; and Josh Boldt covered this on the Order of Education blog.
Personal stories have played a major part in raising awareness of the human cost of insecure work. Christian Pyle wrote this week in the Bluegrass Courier about “Life In Adjunct America“, and the New York Times ran the story of Mary-Faith Cerasoli, “Without Tenure or a Home“, on adjuncting while living out of her car. Her story was also covered by The Chronicle of Higher Education Vitae section.
I see professors crying in the faculty offices because they can’t afford health insurance or handle all the stress coming from students who don’t have a good foundation in their native English tongue. Some students won’t buy the textbook because it’s so expensive. They come to me in tears and say, “I can’t afford the textbook.”
Adjuncts are on the front lines and all of these problems are getting dumped on us.
A word about words
US historian Claire Potter, who blogs for The Chronicle as Tenured Radical, wrote a post this week under the title Why The Adjunct System Hurts Students. In a brief, robust discussion on Twitter, an Australian adjunct academic took offence at this suggestion, pointing out that adjunct academics here have high levels of qualification and or responsibilities typically associated with full-time work.
Of course, this is also true of many working in roles defined as sessional/casual. But Australian universities do differentiate between “portfolio career” adjuncts who have a day job and also engage in some university lecturing, supervision, publication or curriculum development (for example, in medical schools, education faculties or other professional disciplines), and the YIYO casuals who are fronting up to first year tutorials, and who depend on this marginalised work for their main income.
At CASA we are really interested in hearing more from academics who are defined by their institution as “adjunct” rather than “sessional” or “casual”, so please contact us if this is you.
Bits and pieces
Professor Philo Murray at the University of Melbourne has launched an online action under the banner of Academics for Refugees, and all Australian academics are invited to consider adding their name to an Open Letter to the Prime Minister. We checked that this was intended to include those on short-term or casual contracts, and the answer is yes—as it should be.
Australian casuals are also warmly invited to join US allies in the weekly Adjunct Chat on Twitter. This week’s topic: how much time do adjuncts (casuals) really contribute? The chats are transcribed and archived, which is good news if you’re not an early riser. The chat happens at 4pm-5pm EDT, so next week’s chat is Wednesday 7am in Sydney and Melbourne. Which is, of course, 4am in Perth.
Last week’s chat involved something US adjuncts have put together: We Are Not Contingent: An Adjunct Manifesto, which is also worth checking out.
Have a good week everyone, and a warm welcome to this week’s new subscribers.
@acahacker and @KateMfD