Welcome to the weekly CASA news, especially to everyone grading on the weekend as winter sets in.
It’s been another busy week on the reform front. Both the Minister for Education and the Treasurer made encouraging noises about education debt recovery from deceased estates and then, perhaps baulking at the number of times this caused the media to mention “dead students”, the Prime Minister issued a stiff denial.
More higher education leaders spoke out against the proposal to shift education debt to a higher rate of compounding interest, and those with an interest in commercial lending standards wondered whether about the ethics of changing the loan conditions of those currently enrolled.
At CASA, we’ve been wondering about how seasonally hired university casuals under 30 will manage under proposed reforms to welfare, and we’d be interested in any comments or questions on this from casuals who move between university work and Centrelink, especially over summer.
What’s happening elsewhere?
Ongoing tensions between adjuncts and the MLA
Both the Chronicle of Higher Ed and Inside Higher Ed reported on the MLA task force report on literature PhDs, two years in the making. The report recommends changes to the composition of the traditional Humanities PhD program, noting the average time to completion of nine years, the roughly 60% academic employment rate, and “the reality that while most Ph.D.s are earned at research universities, those who receive them — if they get faculty jobs — are more likely to be at teaching-oriented institutions.”
The Chronicle quoted the head of the MLA task force encouraging PhDs to think about jobs off the tenure track, including at community colleges, earning a correction from community college dean blogger Matt Reed, who pointed out that there are tenure track jobs in that sector too. (All of this is now intensely relevant to Australian higher education, given the reform focus on creating different kinds of colleges here.)
The report itself was thrown on the mat by columnist and adjunct activist Rebecca Schuman:
The MLA’s membership consists largely—not wholly, but largely—of people who have had more good luck than bad in the modern-language-humanities subset of academia. Some are lifeboaty about it; others are not; almost all have little to no direct experience of what it is like to be in academia’s not-so-silent majority, and thus little to no incentive to help us.
Therefore, I find it largely unsurprising that the recent Report of the Task Force on Doctoral Study in Modern Language and Literature offers “fixes” that are at best highly contradictory and unworkable, and at worst invested primarily—indeed, almost wholly—in the preservation of PhD programs and their faculty, rather than (to speak, for a moment, in academic jargon) giving two flying fucks about what actually happens to the human beings these PhD programs foist, largely unemployable, upon the world.
More adjuncts creating and joining unions
The Miami Herald reported on the newly formed South Florida Part Time Faculty Professional Association, representing adjuncts at Broward University in Miami who make up 63% of teaching staff. Broward adjuncts have begun discussion with university management about improving pay and conditions, making the point that it’s hard to promote to students the advantage of higher qualifications while their teachers are living on poverty wages:
Some adjuncts earn so little — Broward College pays between $1,850 and $2,130 to teach a three-credit class — that they must apply for food stamps.
Activist organisers USAS (United Students Against Sweatshops) reported on efforts to suppress adjunct unionisation at Macalester College.
Chronicle Vitae took up the theme and provided an analysis of the kinds of concerned letters five different institutions sent to adjuncts to express concern at unionisation.
Community college adjuncts in Massachusetts will receive a 3.5% pay rise and allocation of courses will recognise “veteran” adjuncts, but it’s worth reading the comments to this article to learn what this will actually mean.
The Religious Studies project put out a strongly expressed post on the reasons why the First Rule of Adjunct Club is …
… that you don’t talk about adjuncting. The second rule of adjuncting is that you don’t talk about adjuncting! Why? Because if you talk about being underpaid, having no health insurance or benefits, no representation or recourse in administration, your department will be shamed by this disclosure (as they should be) and there will be retribution.
The Times Higher Ed reported on the controversy over use of zero-hours contract recruitment at Edinburgh Napier University, which the university defended on the basis of a minimum, regularly reviewed fraction of courses taught by zero-hours staff (apparently less than 5%), who have “portfolio careers”, meaning that their primary satisfaction and income is derived elsewhere. This is a familiar defense in Australia, where the satisfaction of a minority of professional portfolio adjuncts (in medicine or law, for example) is used to paper over the situation of long-term casuals taking a substantial load of the institution’s regular teaching work at a fraction of the cost of salaried academics. A 2013 UCU survey counted 24,000 UK academic staff on zero hours contracts across 71 institutions.
Fractional staff at SOAS in London have been successful in the first stage of their campaign for compensation for unpaid work, and have resumed marking student coursework. The next phase will focus on “demands to extract assessment and office hours from the multiplier, to be paid for lecture attendance, to be paid for required training, and to be allotted adequate paid time for preparation for tutorials, and course preparation (in the case of STFs), amongst other demands.” The Fractionals for Fair Pay campaign has attracted high profile academic supporters, including via an International Solidarity Statement.
This and that
We regularly add new blogs to our links, so let us know if you have a blog you’d like us to promote, that’s relevant to university casualisation.
This week’s US-led AdjunctChat topic is topical for Australians as the mid semester break comes up:
— Bri O’Blivion (@whowewilltobe) May 30, 2014
AdjunctChat has gone back to its normal US timeslot which means a really early start for Australians: 6am Wednesday. But we hope to have some at a later time soon.
Have a good week everyone, and thanks to everyone for passing on CASA news to your networks — we really appreciate this. If you missed last week’s news, both Jeannie Rea (NTEU President) and UTS DVC Shirley Alexander came by in the comments to respond to issues — reform is prompting more questions than answers when it comes to the future staffing of Australian higher education.
@acahacker and @KateMfD