Here’s this week’s roundup of higher education and other news items with some relevance to casualisation in Australian universities.
What’s happening in Australia?
From Stephen Matchett’s Campus Morning Mail on April 4:
In Arts at UNSW eight PhD students are going to get six paid teaching hours per week for two years to provide then with experience that should help them compete for academic jobs when they graduate. Good oh, but I wonder if any casual staff member, say somebody who has completed a doctorate but survives on sessional teaching, will lose work because of the plan. … and here’s hoping the teaching experience the postgrads rack up will help them get full time jobs, rather than just add them to the sessional pool.
The tiny numbers in this program are quite revealing, as a job market prediction.
If you’re an Australian academic leading a teaching team that includes casual teachers, Slapsista’s new post “Academic Allies” spells out how you can avoid thoughtlessly increasing their workload.
In this presentation, Australian edtech identity Allan Christie (now General Manager, Blackboard ANZ) calls out the casualisation of the academic workforce at the top factor affecting technology take-up in universities. If our education technology colleagues get this, surely our campus leaders can’t be far behind?
And thanks to Unicasual for this link to the Economic and Labour Relations Review 23 (4) special edition on precarious work, edited by Shaun Wilson and Norbert Ebert of Macquarie University–putting academic casualisation in its broader economic and social context.
What’s happening elsewhere? Strikes and students
In the UK, an “efficiency task force” will look at options for reducing overheads, including teaching only contracts, and contracts where academics are paid over only nine months of the year.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, UK academics are moving on from strike action to a marking boycott. The student union at the University of Hertfordshire is running a counter-campaign through Twitter: #markmywork, that’s a painful read. Plashing Vole has a strong rebuttal of their assumptions about academic work on his blog, drawing attention to something students often don’t realise:
So many people are on part-time or casual contracts. Marking is often done for a very nominal fee utterly divorced from the real time spent on it. … You would not believe how many of the people marking your work are paid by the hour, struggling from one semester to the next and driving up and down the country trying to find a few hours here and there.
In the US, unionised graduate students working as teaching assistants in the UC system have taken strike action, and there’s a beautiful piece of writing here that explains why. At UC Santa Cruz where 20 were arrested, campus administration sang along with #markmywork that striking “only hurts other students and their ability to get their education.”
The United Students Against Sweatshops movement has been organising student protests at working conditions on university campuses since 1997, on behalf of fast food workers, janitors and others in low-wage university work; their current Campus Worker Justice Tour includes actions on behalf of adjunct academics. Here’s a resonant paragraph from a USAS member at Northeastern on the Worker Speak Out convened by the Empower Adjuncts Community Coalition:
As a student, a majority of my day revolves around my professors in the classroom and their treatment affects my education as well. Adjunct professors are hired for their experience in the field. With adjuncts working at multiple schools, juggling enormous course loads at each school, and lacking basic resources, the quality of education that we students receive is compromised. With no job security, the focus at the end of a semester is sending out resumes for a new job rather than how to improve the course for students. Can a professor give students the kind of attention they want to give if they’re running to another campus and meeting students in coffee shops?
It’s not just in strike action that the question of impact on students comes up. This week, tenured academic Terry McGlynn asks some tough questions on the Small Pond Science blog about how departments offset the impact of adjunctification on the quality of the student experience. He’s careful to explain that the quality issue isn’t about what happens in the classroom, but that adjunct academics aren’t hired to do the additional service and mentoring work that happens the rest of the time, and that the courses that are assigned long-term to adjuncts are effectively “deprioritized”.
For those with a bit more reading time, there’s a useful list of news posts and links from the Coalition for Contingent Academic Labor.
On staying or going
Three pieces by Josh Boldt this week focused on making the decision to quit long-term adjunct work. In the first for Chronicle Vitae, he looks at the “sunk cost fallacy“—staying in a bad situation because of time and money already invested. In the second, on his own blog, he wonders if he’ll be back to adjunct teaching next year.
It’s getting to the point where teaching isn’t worth it to me anymore. The extra hours and low pay don’t make sense. I really think this is it for me. … It’s a little bittersweet, I have to say. I will miss the college campus, but I know I’ll stay involved with the world of higher education. After all, I still love to read and write about it, which I’m sure I’ll continue to do on a daily basis.
And in the third very short piece, he extends this to think about higher education as a burning building that it’s time to escape. It’s not a negative post: his point is that academic casuals often don’t notice the skills that they have to take with them if they choose to leave. Our question: have institutions begun to recognise the risk that some of their most experienced and effective teachers, who are this committed to higher education, really are looking at other options?
Writing for the American Association of University Professors, philosopher Chris Nagel describes this moment as one of “personal exhaustion” with long-term adjunct work, in a longer piece on the ethics of tenuous employment.
Anyone who’s wondering why adjuncts are thinking of walking away might read this little piece from the m p & g s blog, on responding to the academic booty call. Yes, it’s what you think.
And finally, is it time to spread the benefit of casualisation to administration?
In the US, there’s strong criticism directed at the increase in administrative positions and associated salary costs, on the assumption that these can be reduced in order to pay for more tenure-line academic positions. This is the basis for a post by Christopher McMahon and Jason King on the Catholic Moral Theology blog: “Time for Adjunct Administrators“. They’ve got a few suggestions for things that adjunct administrators could do—what about hiring someone by the hour to run meetings, give your graduation speeches or write your strategic plan?
Fun ideas, but worth remembering that many of those in low-paid insecure work in Australian universities aren’t teaching or researching; they’re in administration, IT and service work. As for those who are charging by the minute for their strategic consultancy? Oh yes, we have them too.
That’s it for this week. Hello to new subscribers, and thanks to all who pass on the news. This week we have a contribution from an Australian Vice Chancellor as well as a discussion of casualisation in research. New contributors are always warmly welcomed, so if there’s something you want to get off your chest, just email us at casualcasa at gmail dot com, or get in touch on Twitter.
@acahacker and @KateMfD