Here’s the Sunday night round-up of casualisation news in Australian and international higher education. We were also joined by two new CASA contributors this week: Agnes Bosanquet on the mismatch between university graduate attribute values and institutional hiring practices; and Katie Freund on the OLT 2014 conference, and the backchannel discussion of casualisation that went on there thanks to Twitter.
What’s going on in Australia?
Budget. Deregulation. Speculation. Waiting.
What’s going on elsewhere?
Some very substantial long-form op-eds and blogs—and a movie—have come out in the US this week.
Michelle Togut in Ordinary Times has a piece on the Adjuncting of Academia, as part of a symposium on the changing nature of work:
Universities have become as ruthless in their employment practices as the global corporate giants, leveraging cheap adjunct labor to grow their endowments and their executives’ salaries. Here then is the future of work in this country, captured in the growing inequality of campus life: a small number of highly compensated administrators and superstar professors at the top; a shrinking number of well-compensated professors just below; and, at the bottom, an ever-growing number of contingent, low-paid, easily disposable instructors, lacking benefits, who can never be sure from one semester to the next where and if they’ll be teaching, left to string together a meager living from a series of part-time jobs. It is a story being told in one industry, one profession after another in our increasingly winner-take-all economy. At least college students will learn what to expect from the “real” world by observing the economic and social structure of their own universities.
CUNY adjunct Rachel Riederer has a long post on Guernica on The Teaching Class, covering some recent controversial incidents in which adjunct instructors brought their conditions of employment to their students’ attention, including in one case through a statement in a course syllabus. There’s an example of one of these approaches here, in Lee Kottner’s suggestion for a way an adjunct might introduce herself to a new class.
Riederer also looks closely at some of the recent back-and-forth in the comment sections on articles covering adjunctification in the academic press. This is where some of the most painful conversations about the future of higher education are taking place, as US adjuncts debate amongst themselves and with often unsympathetic tenured colleagues whether their expectations are reasonable, whether they should have pursued a different research specialisation, or whether it’s time to quit. Reflecting on this, Riederer writes:
There’s a special factor at work in the way that people critique adjuncts who want better conditions. Teaching college is a white-collar job. It is not dangerous or degrading; it happens on college campuses, which often are pleasant and have trees and sometimes inspirational phrases about learning carved into stone buildings; it is—except for the low pay and lack of benefits and constant uncertainty about the future—a good job. Gregory [the adjunct who included an explanation of her adjunct status in her syllabus] calls this a “cruel double standard: you’ve made this choice to go into a bad career that has high social status.”
For an example of exactly this, check out the comments on Andrea Slot’s thoughtful article on The view from both sides of the track in the Chronicle, about the pursuit of solidarity between tenured and untenured academics. Painful reading.
Reason.com has a Peter Bagge cartoon on adjunct unionisation that’s worth turning the pages, especially for the moment where administrators explain the disadvantages of union representation. For the real thing, this article on the decision to form a union at Point Park University in Pennsylvania opens up a question that’s highly relevant to Australia: what role can statistics about casualisation play in asking for change, if they are so hard to agree on?
The union contends three-quarters of the faculty members are adjuncts, but the university says that figure is misleading. In written responses to a six-page document that the USW distributed, the school claimed that full-time faculty still teaches the vast majority of courses, conforming to Pennsylvania Department of Education standards. Ms. Ruge said 406 adjuncts are eligible to vote in the current election. The university did not respond to inquiries about the precise number of adjuncts nor the ratio of adjuncts to full professors.
The Ivory Tower, a documentary about the current state of US higher education, has been released into theatres, and the Boston Globe has an article by the director, Andrew Rossi, asking whether student debt has tipped beyond the point that it’s worth going to college. William Deresiewicz in The Chronicle covers the film in detail, and takes the opportunity to ask some searching questions about educational sustainability and the miseducation of America.
Victoria Hay’s post for the Adjunct Project addresses a predicament of professional conscience Australian casuals will recognise: working for free. She looks at the problem of student requests for extra help or feedback on work, that amounts to uncompensated labor if the academic they’re dealing with is casually hired:
If we were paid a fair rate for our skills and time, it might be a different story. But since the district has made it glaringly clear that adjuncts are paid only for our time in the classroom, thereby pushing our de facto hourly rate into the sub-basement, I find it very hard to justify donating any more free work than I already do.
Chronicle Vitae ran a series of posts on parenting and academia, including one in which Kelly Baker asked if children are career killers? The answer gets to the heart of the situation for many casual academics: “Mothers are an astounding 132 percent more likely than fathers to end up in low-paid contingent positions.”
And finally, a modest proposition
A group of adjuncts have got together to crowd fund the endowment for a new university, pitched at a modest $30m. No money raised so far. But expect to see more of this kind of activism: like the Canadian faculty members who’ve applied to job share a President’s role and salary, there’s a serious point being made here, that’s worth attending to.
That’s it for this week. Welcome to all, thanks for your comments and continued encouragement–we really appreciate it. And if there’s something you’d like us to look into, or if you have a post you’d like to write or a conversation you’d like to start, just let us know at casualcasa at gmail dot com.
@katemfd and @acahacker