Hello to our new subscribers and welcome to this week’s warming compote of news on higher education casualisation in Australia and elsewhere.
The political context in Australia has proved itself this week to be quite volatile, so it’s probably not worth guessing how higher education reform will turn out. But the most vulnerable part of the reform package looks to be the change to interest rates on education debt. This will directly affect casual academics who are often stuck below the debt repayment threshold as they wait in hope of a full-time university position. As CASA write Yiyo put it in his latest post, a reflection on the highs and lows of semester one:
I taught around 150 students face to face this semester. Even though I taught more students than full time staff normally do, I will still not make enough income to pay tax this financial year or even pay my HECS debts. This has been the case for more than a decade.
The government’s proposed shift to a near-real interest rate for education debt will surely make it too hard for long-term casuals to hang on like this. Whether or not this is a good thing for the individuals affected, the fact is that universities will also have to face up to a future in which their most cost-effective, qualified and experienced university teachers can’t afford to stay.
One problem, however, is the overall graduate job market, especially in rural and regional Australia, and this will continue to affect those currently working as long-term casual academics who have children or who can’t move from where they live for other reasons. This week The Business Spectator published an article on Australia’s overqualified and underemployed graduates, pointing out that the changes to education access that began with the previous government has been so rapid that there is a risk of graduate supply outstripping demand.
Meanwhile, lovely mathematicians at the ANU built an interactive calculator that makes it exceptionally clear how education debt will discriminate between graduates in different disciplines, and hit hardest those who—like academic casuals—take longest to repay.
What’s happening elsewhere?
The Adjunct Purgatory blog is also thinking about the options for long term casuals who decide to quit, and points out that a PhD isn’t always helpful in seeking other kinds of work. If over qualification for entry-level or sub-graduate positions is a problem for those with first degrees, it’s potentially tougher again for those who have spent 7-10 years (or more) in universities to emerge with a very specialised qualification but no university career.
Jacqui Shine at Chronicle Vitae looked this week at the human impact of adjusting to this loss of hope, in a beautiful post “In defense of crying in baseball.”
Even if you stay in the field and secure a tenure-track position, there are always costs. You have to settle a thousand miles from your family in a place you don’t like. Your partner sacrifices their own academic (or non-academic!) career. You have to give up your research because of your course load. You end up in a toxic department.
Or you stay in the field and you struggle to find a tenure-track position. You take teaching gigs you don’t want, you don’t have time for research or writing, you worry about your security and about your professional reputation. You end up in an administrative job and you don’t get to teach anymore. Or you leave the field and you don’t get to do the work you trained for, the work you love. You don’t even really get to talk about it anymore.
Joe Berry sent out a message through many blogs (in this case The Academe Blog) about reasons to attend the forthcoming COCAL (Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor) conference in New York at the beginning of next month. COCAL is nearly twenty years old, one of the longest running initiatives in the US, extending to include Mexico and Canada. [see comment below]
This is the only national grassroots, up-from-the-bottom, gathering of contingent/adjunct/precarious higher ed faculty in the US (and now including folks from Mexico and Canada). It should be supported because it represents what we can do as a movement on our own, outside the structures of the unions and disciplinary organizations, which we do not lead or control (though we certainly work with and in them as well). It is also our continuity – COCAL started in 1996 – and tracks the rise of our movement.
The American Federation of Teachers conference included the first gathering of the AFT Contingent/Adjunct caucus. The Federation has 1.5 million members across all sectors, and apparently about 100,000 in higher education.
Thanks to Mel Gregg for this link to a US research project focused on contingent workers in cultural industries. The research team’s publications help to put academic casualisation (especially in the Humanities) in a wider context of freelance creative and knowledge work.
Bits and pieces
If you’re an Australian casual or fixed term contract academic teaching in fully and partly online courses (undergraduate or postgraduate), please complete the NTEU’s quick survey on this matter.
And to those of you waiting to hear about work next semester, much solidarity and good thoughts from the CASA community. The Adjunct is a 12 minute satire that reimagines the search for adjunct work as a form of day labour. It’s slow in parts, and probably a bit heavy with insider jokes about critical theory, but hang on for the 7 minute mark where the demoralised hero runs into a couple of tenure track colleagues ordering their soy lattes and lamenting how hard it is to have to apply for sabbatical and attend Faculty meetings.
Have a good week everyone. You can find us at casualcasa at gmail dot com where we really welcome your ideas and suggestions. And warm thanks as ever for sharing CASA posts through your networks.