Welcome to the weekly roundup of news of interest to anyone thinking about the casualisation of university work in Australia — this week with a focus on administration, budgets and hiring practices.
What happened this week?
The University of Canberra confirmed that it’s offering a “higher education profit-sharing scheme” which will see full-time and part-time staff share a bonus if the university’s financial target surplus is exceeded by $1m. This bonus was first mentioned in media coverage of enterprise agreement negotiations in November last year. The Vice Chancellor of UC, who has been a strong critic of deregulation, promoted the scheme as a means of engaging staff with the university’s success:
One of the reasons I was motivated to introduce an employee bonus scheme was so that we all feel we have a stake in the financial success of the university and have a contribution to make,” he wrote.
“I would encourage all of you to think about ways of saving money, how to work more efficiently, and what can be done to promote UC and bring in more students or revenue.”
All staff? Well, no:
Casual, sessional staff and those on senior management contracts will miss out on the payments.
Let’s assume that those on senior management contracts have some incentives of their own to show up. But casual staff are hit twice with the same stone here: cheaply hired, and then excluded from the pay bonus they earn for everyone else by saving the university on staffing costs. And it’s a very clear message about whether casuals should feel they have a stake and a contribution to make. This is at the least an institutional risk, given that most of those excluded from this sense of belonging will be in frontline teaching positions when Spring semester kicks off.
The ACT NTEU wrote to its members in protest at the bonus, describing it as “wasteful, inequitable and potentially dangerous“, and pointing out that the result would mean “those doing similar work receiving (even more) inequitable treatment”. This is puzzling given a media report from November 2013 that suggests that the package including the bonuses were considered “workable” and were supported by the NTEU. But the key issue is that the inequitable treatment of casual academics doesn’t begin with withheld bonuses; this is just a particularly tactless gesture that underscores the inequities “baked into the budget” (see below).
What’s happening elsewhere?
At the beginning of the week, Inside Higher Ed reported on the Michigan colleges who have outsourced adjunct recruitment to a private company, EDUStaff, who also offer online staff training. This raised questions for many commentators who shared the post about whether Faculty or administration should have final say on the suitability of adjunct candidates.
But like Australian casuals, US adjuncts aren’t always well served by college-based hiring practices focused on minimising the hours for which they’re officially paid while keeping additional expectations vague. From the Fugitive Faculty blog, “Contact Hours: a true story” is a short post about an adjunct trying to find out from an administrator exactly how many hours he is considered to be working, as a multiple of the contact hours on his contract:
“Okay, so I’m only supposed to work 3 hours outside of class time?”
“You are supposed to work as much as you need to in order to teach the class,” she said.
“Right,” I said, “but anything over 3 hours a week is unpaid and uninsured?”“You’re paid to do what’s required to teach the class.”
In the History News Network blog, Professor Lawrence S. Wittner asked the question that comes up regularly in the US: why there’s money in the budget for “administrative bloat“, as academic positions contract:
Between 1975 and 2008, the total number of administrators at California State University rose 221 percent (from 3,800 to 12,183), compared to an increase in full-time faculty of less than 4 percent (from 11,614 to 12,019).
Jennifer Ruth at the Remaking the University blog also argues that “adjunct usage is baked into university budgets”. Ruth uses Portland State U as her example, where state support has declined to 11% of budget, leaving the university to support itself with tuition fee raises or by lowering staffing costs. Instead of focusing—as this article on adjunct rights at Mills College does—on what proportion of the total Faculty cohort is adjunct, Ruth asks how much teaching time is casualised? and what is the benefit to Portland State of hiring cheaply?
Adjunct faculty deliver roughly 30% of PSU’s student credit hours (SCH) while full-time (TT and NTT) faculty deliver 70%. A whopping 92% of every tuition dollar earned by an adjunct instructor is net revenue compared to 24% of each dollar for full-time faculty. This means that after deducting expenditures (salary, etc.), the percentage of university base revenue contributed by adjunct SCH is 42% compared to 58% by the full-time faculty SCH. Nearly half of the university’s budget is built on adjunct usage.
In “You Are Not Special” historian and blogger Jonathan Rees asked what it will take for tenured academics to recognise that this is the basis of common ground with adjunct colleagues, especially as underfunded colleges turn to pre-prepared MOOCs as a way to further outsource staffing costs:
Anybody with a basic understanding of organized labor knows the solution to all these problems. Join together. Help the people willing to do your job for less get the opportunity to do the job you do with you (not instead of you) for the money they deserve. … And if your own liberal ideals aren’t enough to motivate you to do such things, just remember that you’ll be better off in the long run too.
PBS Newshour carried a very substantial article on “adjunctivitis” that’s this week’s recommended long read if you’re unfamiliar with the US adjunct situation.
In the UK, the UCU restated its opposition to zero hours contracts:
Universities and colleges receive billions of pounds of public money and from students, yet too many are happy to adopt working practices which leave their staff unable to get a mortgage or plan a family. The time has come for workers to be fairly paid and properly treated and a move away from exploitative contracts will be a step in the right direction.
This week CASA popped up in a couple of places. We wrote an article for the July edition of the NTEU Connect magazine for casuals, and we’re grateful to adjunct activist Vanessa Vaile who has featured CASA in international “publications of adjunct interest“.
In a separate post, Vanessa has also asked why our “international” coverage is limited to the UK, USA, Canada and Australia, which is a pretty fair question. We don’t have an entirely systematic approach to news gathering and we do miss quite a bit—we’d love to be pointed in the right direction for news on casualisation from other national higher education systems, so please don’t hesitate to drop us a line at casualcasa at gmail dot com.
Best of luck with the start of semester, and thanks as ever for passing CASA posts on to your contacts and colleagues, and for your comments and feedback.
@katemfd and @acahacker