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CASA weekly news 08/14

Welcome back to CASA weekly news. We took a little breather while all the public holidays came at once, like buses.

The main action in Australian higher education over the past fortnight has continued to involve the Kemp-Norton Report on the Review of Demand Driven Funding. There’s much reading of policy tea leaves going on, as the Federal budget is coming up in May, and Australian higher education is among the 15 “largest and fastest growing” government programs that are the focus of the National Commission of Audit report to be released next week.

The Federal government has been openly encouraging the possibility of introducing more competition (and stratification) to higher education. The focus of commentary has been on the possibility of raising fees, but at the other end competition is likely to put downward pressure on costs. Casualisation is attractive, but only to the point that it doesn’t affect reputation. So far, universities haven’t had to address this question, because casual university staff themselves are already working well beyond their contracted hours to maintain high levels of support to their students and colleagues.

But as competition for students becomes a more significant factor for Australian universities, and as universities also continue to depend on casually hired staff for their good reputation, then the way that casual and sessional staff feel about their work and their employer is something that good universities will be thinking about. Although in the short term, most will probably focus on measuring what students think about their teachers (see below).

What’s happening elsewhere?

That’s not an adjunct; this is an adjunct.

In “The Economics of Prestige“, James Hoff discusses the contract under which renowned economist Paul Krugman was hired at CUNY earlier this year, revealed this month under a FOI application: for $450,000 plus travel, “Krugman’s contract requires him to do almost nothing his first year and then teach just one graduate seminar each year for as long as he would like to stay at CUNY.”  Understandably, adjuncts at CUNY have some thoughts on this.

Strategic calculation about the brand value of spending on high profile appointments is not unknown in Australian higher education, and worth bearing in mind as we enter the national belt-tightening contest. 

This appointment also draws attention to the difference between adjuncts who depend primarily on academic work (referred to in Australia as casual or sessional staff), and those who have other jobs, like Alan Kohler, or who are worth $2.5million, like Paul Krugman, who are closer to what we describe as “adjuncts” in Australia.

A unionisation campaign at Point Park University points out that this is also often a disciplinary division:

… unionization is most popular among adjuncts in humanities and the performing arts. The toughest sledding has been in the criminal-justice and business programs, where adjuncts are most likely to hold down careers outside of teaching.

Point Park claims, in fact, that it seeks “adjunct faculty who are full-time professionals in the fields in which they teach,” which gives students “exposure to real-world experience.” Ruge acknowledges that’s true in some cases, but estimates that 60 percent of Point Park part-timers are “what we call full-time adjuncts.”

Meanwhile, adjunct teachers at Nassau Community College are threatened with mass sacking next week, following their industrial action in September 2013, all covered on the Adjunctsaurus blog.

Precarious Faculty Rising has a long post reviewing the session for contingent faculty organisers and activists held at the Chicago Labor Notes conference.

David Perry has a really thoughtful piece in Chronicle Vitae on the use of controversial metaphors—especially including slavery, sharecropping and civil rights—to draw attention to precarious labour issues, and suggests that this happens because those who have tenure don’t tend to think of the work they do as … work.

Why are faculty so resistant to seeing themselves as labor who need to act in solidarity with the exploited adjuncts?

Jennifer Ruth, in a guest post at Remaking the University, summarises the interaction between administration, tenured faculty, unions, and adjuncts in recent action at Portland State University, and tells this story:

The most dramatic testimony that night was given by someone who had been an adjunct at PSU for thirteen years. He talked about the letters of recommendation he’d written over the years. Letters of recommendation—like so much else at the university—presume a stable faculty paid the kind of salary and given the kind of professional status that allows him or her to do many numbers of things without negotiating for a “wage” in return.

So PSU hired this person term after term, paid him peanuts, and relied upon him to write letters of recommendations for a generation of students. Our president had been here six years and the provost one and a half. They didn’t even know this adjunct existed. Who did? The chair of the department he taught in. And if the tenure-track faculty in that department did not know he existed, they should have. When they asked for a course release to finish their book projects, did they ask about the adjunct who would be hired to fill their place? The fact that this person was invisible was not one person’s fault but nor do I want to invoke the phrase “broken system” here. Real people signed these contracts; real departments relied upon this labor. It is the fault of  both administrators and tenured faculty.

“She Says She’s a Dancer”

Adjuncts in Pittsburgh made a YouTube video of comments from their student evaluations. Rebecca Schumann asked around on Twitter for examples of similar comments, and wrote these up in a post for Slate. “Needs Improvement” takes a very critical look at the faith placed in student evaluations in hiring and promotion, and sparked this response that helps understand how the weighting of teaching evaluation works in the US system. (Another way of looking at it: RateMyProfessors.com. There have been Australian spin-offs, not so sustainably.)

Community college Dean Matt Reed has a response on the administrator view of surveys here, and from a few days earlier, asks a question about how to offer workshops to adjuncts that they can actually attend.  (Uncannily, both of these are issues mstexta has covered for CASA: see last week’s post on professional development, and last month’s post on surveys.)

Bits and pieces

Ally Jennifer Hulehan, who ran the post on adjunct office spaces we featured last time, has followed up with two posts, on media presumptions about adjuncts and teaching quality, and on adjuncts who have to use their own mobile phones or internet services and email accounts to do their jobs. Both will resonate with CASA readers.

Order of Education has a thoughtful post looking critically at whether unions make a difference in academic pay bargaining in the US; while remaining broadly impressed by the gains made by adjunct activists.

The New York Times has published some follow-up discussion of its April 13 piece on “The College Faculty Crisis“. TH Online noted “Adjunct Professors Paying Their Dues“.

A Bill to improve college adjunct working conditions in Colorado failed, and was shelved.

Meanwhile in the UK,  the proposed marking boycott has been suspended until 6 May while a pay offer is under consideration. CounterFire has a fairly negative view of this offer here. The UCU are also organising a national day of action in their campaign against casualisation, on May 7.  Just as in Australia, it turns out that casually hired university staff in the UK—in this case, Graduate Teaching Assistants—are often paid at very different rates for similar tasks.


That’s it for this week. A warm welcome to new subscribers, and please do keep sharing CASA posts. Thanks to everyone who’s written and forwarded and commented, we have our foot planted in higher education’s door.  Who knows, maybe next they’ll invite us all in.

If there’s anything you’d like to nudge us on, or if there’s something you’d like to write for CASA, just send us an email at casualcasa@gmail.com.

@acahacker and @KateMfD


About Kate Bowles

Now blogging over at musicfordeckchairs.com


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