A warming welcome to this week’s casualisation news in Australian higher education and a bit beyond, and hello to new subscribers.
Last week, we asked some questions about the proposed profit-sharing scheme at the University of Canberra, and mentioned that we were puzzled by coverage from November last year that suggested the NTEU had supported this. The short version is that if UC exceeds its planned budget surplus by $1m, all full-time and part-time staff will get a bonus, except senior management and casuals.
We’ve had some helpful clarification from the NTEU ACT branch which we hope to pass on in full this week. And as this scheme is a first for Australian higher education, we also want to appeal to staff at other universities to think about their casual colleagues before voting to support something similar—given that casual academic and admin workers make such a hefty contribution to profit in the first place.
Questions popped up in the #auscasuals Twitter timeline about casuals being paid to attend lectures. (Apparently not in Melbourne or at UWA is the answer.) The issue is about formally assumed work outside class time, that’s bundled into paid contact hours, as opposed to tacitly expected work. So in some places casuals may be expected or even encouraged to attend lectures, and others may choose to do so because this feels like an important signal to their students who are also attending. We’d be really interested to hear from anyone who is formally paid to attend lectures.
And while we’re at it, it would be interested to know more about which institutions are still paying separately for student consultation, or whether consultation is now part of the bundled workload associated formally with the contact hour.
As budgets tighten, it seems likely that the trend to pay casuals for fewer bits of their job while quietly hoping they will do about the same as before will continue.
What’s happening elsewhere?
On the subject of actually compensated time, one issue is how little full-time or tenured academics really know about the work their casual colleagues are paid to do. Jennifer Hulehan’s Wider Than The Sky blog covered it this week, in the latest in her Plight of the Adjuncts series.
Senate Majority Whip Durbin introduced to the US Congress the Adjunct Faculty Loan Fairness Act, proposing loan forgiveness for adjunct academics who carry a very high education debt burden which they struggle to manage on adjunct wages:
Student debt has become a national issue and it’s one that is critically important for part-time and non-tenure track faculty, as the average debt burden for borrowers with advanced degrees is now $61,000. Furthermore, the average pay per course reported by adjunct faculty is approximately $3,000, which means that an adjunct who teaches eight courses per year will make just $24,000 annually. Adjunct faculty often have trouble making ends meet, let alone, paying down their student debt.
In Australia, questions to Professor Ian Young, the ANU Vice Chancellor, following his speech to the National Press Club this week continued to press on the issue of real interest rates on student debt as the bit of the deregulation package that is likely to get stuck. So it’s worth looking closely at the US situation. If Australian universities turn to staffing flexibility to balance the risks of deregulation, someone will have to figure out how long-term casuals will ever pay off their debts at real interest rates. Would education loan forgiveness be enough to make casual work a worthwhile outcome of a PhD?
Also working its way through the US political system is a bill (HR4983 Strengthening Transparency in Higher Education Act), which includes the requirement for colleges to publish on their websites:
(i) The ratio of the number of course sections taught by part-time instructors to the number of course sections taught by full-time faculty, disaggregated by course sections intended primarily for undergraduate students and course sections intended primarily for graduate student
(ii) The mean and median years of employment for part-time instructors.
(Thanks to Gavin Moodie for sending this link to us.)
Inside Higher Ed reported the publication of a paper from a longitudinal study of the factors that predict stress, depression and anxiety among contingent faculty in the US. The report by Gretchen Reevy and Grace Deason is based on a relatively small sample (199), of whom the majority were female. Among other factors, they looked at levels of organisational identification and commitment among contingent academics, and found that NTT faculty with higher levels of commitment to their institution were at greater risk of experiencing stress, depression and anxiety.
These findings suggest that the more connected NTT faculty are to an institution, the more likely they are to perceive stressors and harm. A psychological attachment to a university may make NTT faculty more attentive and sensitive to potentially harmful events occurring on campus. … These findings suggest that a psychological attachment to an organizational may be a risk factor for temporary employees.
Reevy and Deason suggest that there are remedies available at the institutional level, but that these require institutions to recognise that they have reason to mind about well-being of employees to whom they have made no other commitment:
An employer or institution which fails to reward committed employees, and which instead behaves in ways that could be perceived by the employees as punishment (e.g., through classifying an employee as “temporary” for many years or decades, through failing to recognize the employee’s contribution, through placing a low ceiling on pay) is doing a disservice not only to the employees but also to the institution itself. In the case of universities, harm to the faculty is likely to indirectly cause harm to the students and therefore to the mission of the institution.
There’s plenty more in the report, that deserves to be carefully read by anyone who thinks casualisation is a low-cost solution to help universities cope with ups and downs of student demand post-deregulation.
In other news, the petition to the US Dept of Labor to investigate adjunct working conditions has reached 6000+ signatures and is pushing on to a new target to 7500. Rebecca Schuman has taken up the cause on her blog and is offering to upload a video of herself lip synching to the song of her readers’ choice if the target is reached.
Do you have time to help organise an international adjunct day of action?
#AdjunctChat is a well established weekly Twitter chat based in the US, that’s held at very difficult times for Australians but it’s fun to join if you’re up early. The organisers have invited CASA to help organise a more ambitious 24 hour day of action online (probably in late September or October) to highlight the common concerns of casual/adjunct/sessional university workers internationally.
If you have time to help with planning for this, and in the process find out more about international casual activism, let us know.
Thanks as ever for following along and sharing CASA news, and best of luck with the new semester.
@KateMfd and @acahacker