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CASA weekly news 18/14

Hello, and welcome to our weekly broth of higher education casualisation news from Australia and around the world.

What’s happened this week?

Macquarie University’s LTC blog, teche, published an interview with Dr Marina Harvey, whose work on the BLASST project we’ve already mentioned. Marina has been awarded a 2014 OLT National Teaching Fellowship to take the work on supporting sessional staff piloted in the BLASST project to a national level. This is really great news, especially to anyone who isn’t aware of the strength of Australian research in this field.

On Thursday night, CASA and several others supported a lively backchannel discussion on Twitter to the NTEU’s seminar conversation between Robyn May and Jeannie Rea, national NTEU President, on casualisation and the future of the academic workforce. Scroll back a bit in the #auscasuals timeline and you’ll see the kinds of things that were discussed, including the possibility of running more regular Twitter #auscasuals chats.

Running alternative online channels for casuals who can’t attend events that involve travel or other costs (especially including conference registration) is something we’re really committed to, and we hope to see more of it—so thanks to @NTEUnational for live tweeting this event.

What’s happening elsewhere?

In the US, Chronicle Vitae published a thoughtful post from Humanities Dean Paula Krebs, who has been working on professional development for currently enrolled PhDs. In PhDs, adjuncts and the teacher-training conundrum, Krebs is enthusiastic about the progress of their project, but also asks whether the extent of dependency on contingent labour really can be addressed by improving graduate student training:

What step would it be that would take the Ph.D.’s who are already teaching at our institutions on a per-course basis and reconfigure the system to secure them long-term, benefitted professional employment? That would take a coalition larger and much more powerful than the one we’re building in Massachusetts.

The entangled issues of PhD recruitment, PhD training and meaningful career development for people already working in long-term casual roles will also need a coalition in Australia.

Also in the US, Sean Michael Morris of Hybrid Pedagogy recorded a Google Hangout with Rebecca Schuman (“the Rush Limbaugh of the adjunct movement”), Lee Skallerup Bessette, Katie Guest Pryal and Joseph Fruscione, that also gave Lee Bessette a chance to talk about the adjunct team nomination to the MLA Executive.

The Adjunct Project published a post continuing the discussion of where adjunct academics sit on the continuum of precarious labour (sharecroppers? garment factory workers?), making the point that a secondary or underpaid workforce is both what sustains the business model, and puts the business itself at risk.

At Popular Resistance, Nicole Troxell compared adjuncts with sweatshop workers:

Today I have classes that run four, five, six, 12, and 16 weeks long at three to five different schools. I work more hours than a full-time college professor, yet I get paid less than half as much. I work so many hours that I sometimes average less than the minimum wage. … I can’t afford health insurance, even under the Obama plan; and I have nothing saved for retirement. I can’t pay my student loans and barely manage to pay basic living expenses.

Medium.com carried an article from anthropology graduate student Ryan Anderson describing adjuncts as “the people without jobs“, and tackling the increasingly problematic question of university recruitment of graduate students given the state of the national job market:

It seems that everyone knows about the bad job market. We all know. But for some reason the grad students keep trudging forward. Behind them, legions of new graduate students send in applications and willingly join the whole fiasco. It all begins to look like The Grapes of Wrath, when thousands and thousands of people made their way to the golden hills of California…only to find out that all of the promised jobs didn’t exist and people were so desperate they were willing to work for almost anything. We all know how that turned out.

Moving beyond what adjunct work might resemble in a general sense, to the practical experience of holding onto adjunct jobs. Northern New Mexico Community College continued to gain attention, first for not hiring an adjunct who had spoken out against budget cuts, and then for splitting contracts for summer into two, with the result that the first pay checks adjuncts received were much less than expected.

The relevance here to Australian casuals is the familiar story of contractual decisions being poorly communicated, and taking casually paid workers by surprise. The relevance to Australian universities is that these kinds of HR and administrative decisions have rarely justified mainstream media coverage, but with so many adjuncts now active on blogs and social media, the impression they create travels very fast—and globally.

And finally, Josh Boldt at his own Order of Education blog explains his new Chronicle Vitae series profiling the adjuncts who got away.

Zero hours: whose flexibility?

Edinburgh Napier University (“an international university with a growing reputation for developing innovative and enterprising graduates in an extremely competitive global market-place”) advertised for five zero hours lecturers in health and social science, double underscoring the need for flexibility:

The successful candidates will have excellent interpersonal skills, a commitment to personal development, be student centred, and have experience of teaching undergraduate and/or postgraduate students. A flexible approach to teaching is essential. Enthusiasm and flexibility, and the ability to work as part of a team are essential.

The advertisement attracted quite a bit of comment, including this from Mark Carrigan:

What really disgusts me about this is the shamelessness of the mission statement – this is “an exciting time for Edinburgh Napier University” in which they seek to become an “enterprising and innovative community” through expanding their “areas of research excellence across a broad portfolio of both discipline-based and inter-disciplinary research”. By which they mean they want to replace securely employed staff with recently completed PhD students on zero hour  contracts.

More bluntly, in the words of an anonymous casual via the UK’s Anti-Casualisation Blog :

The fact is a zero-hour contract is not there to provide an employee with flexibility but to provide an employer with a cheap labour force!

And finally

It’s not directly concerned with casualisation, but Melonie Fullick has written a really great post on ideals of measurable productivity that impact on the conditions of academic work at the Canadian University Affairs website.

The problem of whether work will “count” for advancement within an academic career is important because it tells us what kind of work will likely be prioritized by successful academics, which in turn has an effect on others’ (future) careers and on PhD education and mentoring – and on knowledge.

All these things will shape the academe of the future; change happens not just through grand external “disruptions” and/or engineered unbundling but also through small actions and decisions – and the resistance – made by people every day. Asking how those things occur, and how they’re affected by context, is another step towards figuring out what kind of academic life we’ll have in the future and what will “count” towards it.

Indeed.  Have a good week everyone, and thanks for all of your support. We really appreciate you passing CASA posts on through your networks, especially on Facebook, where we aren’t. If you’d like to contribute or make a suggestion, just email us at casualcasa dot gmail dot com. (And we welcome contributors with any interest at all in the issues we cover—you don’t have to be casually employed to write with us.)

@acahacker @KateMfD

(Huge thanks this week to Gavin Moodie who picked up a significant error and saved us from being hunted down by the University of Edinburgh—the institution “chided by unions” for its zero hours contracts is Edinburgh Napier University. In September last year, Edinburgh University, which “had been one of the biggest users of zero hours contracts”  was reported to be one of the Scottish Universities moving away from zero hours contracts. Specifically, a joint statement issued by Edinburgh University and the UCU announced that the university would “further enhance current practice (whereby hourly-paid employees benefit from the same terms and conditions as our full-time staff, including rates of pay, access to pensions and holiday entitlements)”. The last two in particular should give Australian casuals something to think about.)

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About Kate Bowles

Education technology, shared governance and casualisation in Australian higher education

Discussion

3 thoughts on “CASA weekly news 18/14

  1. I think the zero hours contracts were advertised by Edinburgh Napier University, not the University of Edinburgh.

    Posted by Gavin Moodie | July 7, 2014, 3:21 am
  2. Thank you! And it turns out to be an interesting distinction (see correction). The Scottish government seems much more resolute in opposing zero hours contracts, and at the end of last year Edinburgh University committed to stop using them. We’ll follow up and see what happened there. But certainly it was startling to read that last year at least, Edinburgh University was committed to moving to a situation where even fractional academic staff had access to basic leave entitlements. This would be a very big leap for Australian casuals.

    Posted by Kate | July 7, 2014, 8:35 am

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