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Session’s over (Part 2: Improving Our Lot)

SURVEY: What are your strategies for getting sessional teaching work?

A few of us will already have informal offers of work for Spring 2014. But not me. So I’m interested in discovering how others are able to find teaching work. Here is a survey I’m happy to share (the results will appear once you’ve completed it) and I hope any tutors reading this who are desperate for work will also find it useful.

TAKE THE SURVEY BY CLICKING HEREhttps://www.surveymonkey.com/s/5YHJ2JG

Strategies for improving our lot

I am hoping CASA can generate some creative ways of raising the YIYO profile through time-effective, low-to-no cost means – as I know how time and cash strapped we all are. I am keen to hear your thoughts and suggestions – especially ideas that have worked internationally and not just in the Australian university experience. 

Katie Freund kicked off this vital discussion on CASA a few weeks ago with suggestions about what YIYOs can do with regards to improving our lot. She gave several ideas including: collecting and promoting all the existing research on casualisation in higher education; including Twitter feeds on the presentation screens in conference discussions; submitting papers and panel topics on casualisation to conferences so we can be included in the conference program; crowd-funding casuals so we can attend higher education events and ask the “unpopular questions”; staging a parallel session or conference which is directly focused on casualisation; and, organising a free conference on casual teaching held simultaneously and/or streamed online.

It begins in the classroom

Our capacities for change are more obvious than we probably think, by which I mean facilitating change directly in the classroom. Getting undergraduates on our side, as well as our full time colleagues, is crucial to clawing back occupational certainty. Diverting the subject matter to our plight; having “question time” in class about the awkward questions; being honest with our students about where the sector is headed; discussing case studies spanning the social, political, historical, cultural and other impacts of labour precarity in the tertiary sector; unpacking with students the differences between the meaning of Graduate Qualities and the reality in which they are (supposedly) implemented by universities; and so on.

Start a newsletter – begin a story and start storytelling

But what about outside the classroom? The first port of call in any advocacy movement is to raise awareness within and external to the disaffected group, and to facilitate recognition of a collective identity and not just a set of principled positions. (Tick, CASA blog is an example of this.) Tell stories through the newsletter or other avenues for expression. Stories about the gaps, hypocrisies, misconceptions and the silences.

Identify the silences – why is no one listening?

I made some inquiries this session. I asked to speak to someone about going full time, but there is no one in bureaucracy who can meet with me to discuss it. There is quite literally no one—in HR or at a departmental level—charged with the role of even discussing the idea of transferring my status—from being a year-in, year-out casual to obtaining a more permanent full time or even part-time contract.

That means that there is no one is taking calls from YIYOs to discuss their career paths; what hurdles they face which can be worked through, and which will be rewarded with certification and/or a form of formal recognition; and how to advance in any capacity through mentoring, academic cadetships/apprenticeships and the like.

Sure, things like academic cadetships are unheard of to date. But this doesn’t explain why no casual can make a call to someone to ask the question: how can I go from a casual contract to a permanent part-time or full time contract? There is literally no one listening. The silence is damning for the institution, and deafening for YIYOs. There is one thing I’ve been seeking clarification on in particular. Being on contracts (called an ‘Authority’, which grants the faculty license to spend on “materials”) classes me as in the same pool of workplace expenses as detergent for the academic tea rooms, wine for the Dean’s cabinet and whiteboard markers. This is what makes ‘authority’ contracts literally dehumanising.

Map the extent of casualisation and draw useful comparisons easily translatable

CASA reports that there are at least 60,000 casual academics teaching in Australian universities, and questions whether meritocracy is the basis for hiring full time academics. If all 60,000 went on strike such action would functionally shut university classrooms down nationwide.

A major problem here is the class cringe in Australia, that doesn’t make it easy for precarious teachers to gain broader momentum around their case. I described earlier this session how there is

a misguided Australian culture of anti-classist backlash against the ungrateful ‘middle class’ (ironic, because miners and skilled labour typically earn quadruple the average YIYO), there seems so often a sense of shame in speaking out for us.

Academic casuals desperately need to provide a translation service for the uninitiated. For example, find out: how many teachers in your local schools are casuals? One estimate from a local high school is that figure currently sits at around 10%. Meanwhile, as the NTEU has reported: “Fewer than 40% of academic staff are permanently employed—yet there is clearly permanent work to be done.” You can bet that if 60% of teachers at high schools and primary schools were casuals like their tertiary counterparts there would be outrage, strikes and more than head scratching.

So how can YIYOs, in our everyday conversations, our blogs and our social media use translate this situation in ways that can be more readily appreciated? Compiling the most significant gaps, data and trends would be useful but in an accessible format that is similar to the effective ‘Rethink Refugees’ campaign undertaken by Amnesty.

Drop or eliminate union membership fees for casuals 

YIYOs are under constant pressure to save for a rainy day, while full time teaching staff can take holidays and trips away and are otherwise fully compensated for the same academic conference trips YIYOs make without institutional support. Even at the reduced rate of $55 for casuals it has been difficult to commit to paying membership. Union membership would likely increase incrementally if the NTEU dropped its fees for casual tertiary teachers. Alternatively encourage full time tertiary teachers to subsidise casuals seeking membership. A ‘Sponsor-a-YIYO’ membership drive wouldn’t go astray.

Be assured it is not class envy but a culture of intra-class disadvantage that has been normalised. Full time staff have the advantages of paid leave, sick leave, maternity leave and the like which do not trickle down to YIYOs.

Media, create and share

Youtube campaign anyone? I want to know who all the YIYOs are – I want to know their names, see their faces and hear their voices. Intensified personalisation of the YIYO is missing in the current debate. The more visible YIYOs become as actual people – as opposed to being just a job number – the more humanised YIYOs and their capacities for change will become.

I could not locate a channel run by and for YIYOs but here is a creative example, which can be replicated quite easily by anyone with a laptop and iMovie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKEKAZMkyCE

Follow-Up: Please post any creative content links on the comments thread below – YIYOs rejoice for we (will) have a voice!




2 thoughts on “Session’s over (Part 2: Improving Our Lot)

  1. Excellent post, as always. Your short survey asks a very important question, and it will be interesting to see the results.
    One of the most difficult areas for long-term sessionals to be competitive in when applying for continuing jobs is research. Many of us have to work at other jobs or grab sessional work at other types of institutions during student-free (thus pay-free) breaks, when academics with continuing jobs are going to conferences and researching papers or books for publication.
    I think what’s desperately needed is a fund to enable sessionals to attend and present papers at conferences (as you mention above), and also to research and write articles and books. One end-of-year break, my university had a $2000 grant available to sessionals who had a research project. I applied and got one, which resulted in me being able to write an article, which has been published in an academic journal.
    To have a competitive cv, however, we really need to be publishing a paper every year or so AND speaking at a conference. Not to mention books: a book every three years would be good.
    I would love to hear any ideas for getting a fund together of this nature. Perhaps it could be administered by the NTEU.
    The important thing is, this shouldn’t be a highly competitive fund like a lottery, as in, 20,000 people apply and 20 get grants. We need to have a more general and equitable fund that would fund most sessionals who want to do research and who have a valid project.
    I know a lot of academics who have sat on selection panels and who tell me that the number of papers a candidate has published is extremely important.
    I have narrowly missed out on several great jobs because another candidate has more published papers.

    Posted by Caron Eastgate Dann | July 20, 2014, 12:23 pm


  1. Pingback: CASA weekly news 20/14 | CASA - July 20, 2014

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