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Adjuncts, Health and wellbeing, News

CASA weekly news 15/14

Welcome to CASA’s winter stew of goings-on in Australian and international higher education with a focus on the casualisation of university work. If you’re a new subscriber, we put this out once a week and we really welcome suggestions for content, so just email us at casualcasa at gmail dot com.

What’s going on?

This week the Treasurer argued that the proposed budget is fair, and that fee deregulation and adjustments to education debt interest rates are particularly fair because they rebalance the costs borne by those who get degrees and those who don’t. Most economic analysis of higher education acknowledges, however, that there is both public and private benefit: graduates who repay education loans also pay back through productivity and higher progressive taxation. Where the line should be drawn between those who pay and those who gain isn’t a simple matter.

The OLT annual conference Learning and teaching for our times: higher education in the digital era had a lively Twitter backchannel, that reported among other things the question fielded by keynote speaker Andrew Norton about the impact of casualisation in the debate about deregulation:

We’ll have a fuller report on the event itself from someone who was there in person — and it was really great for those of us not there to be able to follow so many #auscasuals and allies in the Twitter discussion. Thank you!

Casualisation was explicitly raised by some speakers, and the conference featured posters and presentations from two key OLT-funded research projects that have focused directly on casualisation and teaching teams: BLASST (Benchmarking leadership and advancement of standards for sessional teaching) and Transnational Teaching Teams.

So the weak impact of casualisation research on Federal policy making continues to be the problem; this is how we get stuck at the level of invisibly staffed universities and the services they offer to their students, as if by magic.

Side-note: at #OLT2014 the discussion of casualisation swerved inexplicably in the direction of “teaching slavery”, which got picked up in media coverage. A bit unfortunate, given the sensitivity of this metaphor.

What’s going on elsewhere?

There’s been a sustained discussion all year across mainstream media and blogs about health and academic work. These challenges are most acute for those with least security of employment, for obvious reasons. Firstly, health issues are a risk to being chosen to work at all. Katie Pryal has a post up for Chronicle Vitae on the risks faced by adjuncts disclosing mental health conditions.

One professor who teaches in a full-time contingent position at an R1 university said she would only disclose her mental health issues “under subpoena.” She believes that disclosing would hurt her job security because “contingent faculty can be so easily terminated.” In her opinion, contingent—and even pre-tenure—professors simply don’t have “the luxury to volunteer stigmatizing personal information.”

Then once hired, faculty paid by the hour or working two jobs without health cover (in the US) are at high risk of misadventures. The Unarmed Education Mercenary wrote this week about a year of working casually across two institutions, which began with a fall on the ice that broke her laptop and injured her hip. Then she got the flu:

So here I was, dragging about two schools separated by 60+ miles, limping, coughing, and teaching.  I traded my trusty backpack for a small wheeled bag marketed as a mobile office.  … The only drawback is that when I ride the bus downtown to School Two (parking is so expensive it is more cost efficient for me to park on my friends’ street for free and take the bus), it can be a pain to heft it up the step and then keep it out of everyone’s way.  However, I can take all the things I need, as well as heavy textbooks and papers, more easily than before all without hurting myself.

It’s not just about getting sick, but about lacking even the most basic institutional resources that could make this manageable—somewhere to leave books and papers, for example. Australian universities thinking about how the casual working experience affects students might read Síle Mór’s post on engagement this week for The Adjunct Project:

I think I know now what is expected of me. To get in and out of campus as quickly as possible, to have little interaction with anyone–including students–and to be disengaged from the university, just as it is from me. This mutual disengagement is perpetuated by adjuncts zipping in and out of multiple schools to make a living, thus ensuring that adjuncts have little time or energy to participate in university life. After all, the less adjuncts are engaged, the less the university needs to regard our presence.

Síle Mór goes on to mount an argument for unionisation as a practice of career re-engagement. Back at Chronicle Vitae, Josh Boldt makes a strong case for adjuncts to recognise that they have common ground with other professions that have turned to collective organisation, in this case airline staff.

The Northern New Mexico College Study Group is an interesting example of another approach: faculty keeping a critical watch on the ways in which public higher education spends taxpayers’ money.

And finally …

Santa Clara University took everyone by surprise by advertising an adjunct position in non-fiction writing with really startling requirements that are worth quoting in full:

The successful applicant will have at least 25 books on topics ranging from the history of Silicon Valley to the biography of microprocessing to interviews with entrepreneurs to the history of human and mechanical memory; will have been published by presses such as Harper/Collins, Doubleday, Random House, St. Martin’s, and SUNY Press; will also have e-books on topics such as home life in the US, home life in the UK, and water conservation; will have worked as both a journalist for a print newspaper and for magazines; will have hosted television and radio productions for PBS, cable television, and ABC; will have worked in electronic media such as being editor of Forbes ASAP or a weekly columnist for ABC.com; will have founded or co-founded at least two start-ups; will have professional connections to Oxford University in the UK as well as to numerous media (print, electronic, and television) in the SF Bay Area and beyond. The successful applicant must have demonstrated experience in teaching nonfiction writing and internship classes for undergraduates, must have demonstrated success in helping undergraduates secure internships in public writing that lead to jobs, and must be committed to working with undergraduates.

The explanation is as you expect: the impersonation of competitive recruitment to fit a specific applicant. But as many pointed out, the logical consequence of a market reaching saturation with overqualified graduates is inflationary expectations.

All the best for this week, thanks for riding along with us, and for passing the news around. Next week’s news will focus entirely on how to co-found at least two start-ups while working casually and grading on weekends.

@acahacker and @KateMfD


About Kate Bowles

Now blogging over at musicfordeckchairs.com



  1. Pingback: “The sleeper in the room”: casualisation and the 2014 OLT conference | CASA - June 20, 2014

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