Welcome to this week’s news, paired today with a new post from long-term academic casual Yiyo (Year In Year Out), who’s still waiting to hear about teaching next semester. That’s right: the semester that starts next week. Not knowing until the last minute whether there’s work, how much there might be, and which days of the week—it’s all sadly familiar for Australia’s casual academics (especially those who also have to arrange childcare). Surely we can do better than this?
Now that the Australian winter conference season has passed, it’s a good time to think about what could be done to raise the awareness of casual issues at key higher education conferences next year. So thanks to those who shared on Twitter details of next July’s HERDSA conference in Melbourne:
One of the demands facing contemporary higher education is to prepare students for life and work in a complex and uncertain future. Students and staff are expected to have high levels of adaptability, digital and information literacy to navigate an evolving education and employment landscape.
Indeed. Whether or not you’re in a position to go through the HERDSA selection process this year, it’s obvious that we’re stuck in a cycle of anxiety theming for sector conferences, who nonetheless manage time and again to miss the question of casualisation.
What’s happening elsewhere?
This week, a cheer for those who are working effectively to keep casualisation in view. Like Yiyo, adjunct Bruce Caron has clear, practical ideas for ways things could improve in his post “Escape from the Planet of the Adjuncts“, for the HASTAC blog—including that it’s time to bring tenure itself to an end, given that it serves so few, and enables the exploitation of so many.
Gary Rhoades is the Director of the Center for the Study Of Higher Education at the University of Arizona, and a prominent critic of working conditions in the US. Here’s an excerpt from his excellent essay “We Are All Contingent” in the summer edition of the AFT newsletter (and thanks to Robyn May for the prompt):
Like so many others in this post-industrial economy, in some sense, we are all also service workers, fighting against the push to make all employment at-will. We need to form common cause to change that, as workers in the early 20th century did in a manufacturing economy. The path to that collective success is not through framing ourselves in terms of our plight, our lost professional and privileged status, or the fact that we have lower wages than our education merits. The path lies in aligning ourselves and our conditions of work to the students and communities we serve and to the growing populations of underserved prospective students.
Thanks to Gavin Moodie for passing on details of a report prepared for the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, The “Other” University Teachers: Non-Full-Time Instructors at Ontario Universities. The report is covered by Leo Charbonneau for the Margin Notes blog, in a post with several other useful links. The situation is familiar to Australian researchers: data on rates of casualisation is not consistently collected or shared, nor are working conditions for academic casuals consistent. But Canada suffers more than Australia from comparisons with the dire situation in the US. As one commenter puts it:
Moreover, any haste in the “takeaway” of Canadian sessionals being better compensated than their US colleagues risks the equally hasty conclusion of being complicit with many of the egregious issues facing many of our sessionals since “it could be worse” instead of shifting the discourse to the more productive “it could be much better.”
E Tammy Kim has written a very thorough account of the US situation for AlJazeera America—if you’re not familiar with the complexities of US adjunct organisation, especially in relation to the emergence of national unionisation, “Low Wage Professors Battle ‘Adjunctivitis‘” will fill you in.
Truth Out has a substantial interview with Angela P. Harris, the co-editor of Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia (2012). Harris says this about the systemic career bias in the corporatised university that’s focused on hothousing superstar faculty:
The shift toward teaching by adjuncts and lecturers rather than by tenure-track faculty, the pressure to cater to the desires of corporate employers, the destabilizing effect of high student debt loads, the move toward online education . . . in a few years we could have a winner-take-all market for faculty, where a tiny number of superstars at the most prestigious schools command large salaries and enjoy full participation in governance and job security, while the vast majority of academic workers are adjunct faculty with low salaries, no job security, no control over their intellectual property, very little autonomy, and no voice in institutional governance. If that’s where higher education is headed, it’s very unlikely that many of the superstar faculty will be women of color.
In a strong post on academic victim-blaming, Lori Harrison Kahan calls out “ladder faculty” (those on the tenure track) for transferring the burdens of their own difficult working conditions to those below them, who have even fewer opportunities.
Why do established scholars, who speak openly about other social and economic injustices, refrain from allying themselves with those of us who are denied academic freedom by virtue of our identities as adjuncts? How are we to explain this silence?
Harrison Kahan suggests, pretty generously, that some tenured faculty are so remote from the process of hiring and managing adjunct faculty that they genuinely have no idea how life is lived outside of the charmed environment of secure employment.
Which brings us to this piece, from the “what were they thinking?” folder. This week Inside Higher Education published a truly cloth-eared reverie in its Provost Prose blog, in which a senior university administrator compared university life to experience of being on a cruise ship, basing this on a cruiseship party he and his wife recently held for their 16 year old daughter. The commenters were quite restrained, all things considered:
Come on, you’re all being too hard on the author. Academia really is a lot like a cruise. The provosts are the passengers enjoying the sun, and the actual academics (grad students especially) are the laborers shoveling coal in the boiler rooms.
Thankfully, Rebecca Schuman took aim in “Quiet Plebs, A Provost is Talking“.
In the UK, the announcement of a new Minister for Higher Education enabled the UCU to raise the question of casualisation in a “responses from the sector” piece for the Guardian:
We hope he will take a look at the proliferation of casualised staff in our universities and the use of short-term, part-time and zero-hours contracts, which demoralise the workforce and diminish the student experience by limiting contact time between staff and students.
As a side issue, the UK Guardian is also having a slightly odd Australia-Britain fortnight in its higher education coverage, looking widely at our two sectors in terms of research culture, academic working conditions, funding, student debt, and so on. On comparisons between the way both patch up their budgets with casual staffing, not so much.
Also from the UK, an item from The Times Higher Education about tutors working online for Laureate and being paid by the student caused consternation (“University of Liverpool Staff to Lose Pay if Online Students Drop Out“). Australian academic casuals who are paid a per capita marking rate would know a bit about this.
So it’s heartening to see that US adjuncts are making progress with online petitions to demand attention to fair work practices.
That’s it for this week. Good luck to anyone still wondering about work starting next week, but in the meantime a warm welcome to new CASA subscribers, and whatever you can all do to share CASA news and articles is much appreciated.
@KateMfD and @acahacker