Hello and welcome back to the CASA weekly news roundup. (We took a breather last week as we were both travelling away from our usual listening posts.)
The proposed budget reforms to Australian higher education will finally make it to the lower house this week. With the focus on how much students will pay for their degrees, and how universities will compete effectively in a deregulated market, universities have a reason to promote their teaching and learning initiatives.
Macquarie University’s Learning & Teaching week in September is promising “Legends of the Lectern, and Superstars of the Stage“, and we’ll remain stoutly optimistic that they’ll all be asked to keep in mind the unsung Trojans of the Tutorials and the Spartan Sessionals who labour alongside them.
QUT are advertising A National Teaching & Learning Symposium to be held in October:
With an exodus of baby boomer academics on the horizon, the lack of preparedness of many early career academics to teach suggests the possibility of a teaching quality time-bomb—our future faculty may have minimal skills and experience in teaching, with few teaching mentors from whom to learn, and serious implications for their teaching self-efficacy.
With the youngest of the boomers only in their early fifties, and the government proposing to extend normal working lives to 70, the horizon of this exodus might be a bit further away than everyone hopes. But what’s more interesting is the expectation that future academics will be researchers without much teaching experience, which might give currently enrolled PhD students a message about the career value of teaching casually. Either way.
What’s happening elsewhere?
In the UK, postgraduate students who do teach at the University of Leeds have sent a letter to the Vice Chancellor protesting the conditions of their employment as Graduate Teaching Assistants:
More than 1,000 postgraduate research students at the Russell Group institution hold teaching positions. An interim code, outlining conditions for employing them, was introduced in September 2013 and was due to be updated for the following academic year. The email, sent to Sir Alan [Langlands] and the acting dean of postgraduate research studies, Edward Spiers, says: “Our poor treatment has gone on too long. The contracts, the pay, the lack of consultation, the unpaid work for preparation time – it is not good enough.”
As Open Day season rolls across Australian campuses, Joe Fruscione looks candidly at US college marketing in an article for PBS online (“What Parents Need To Know About College Faculty“) :
It was a nice spring day in 1999 — my second semester of teaching. I was walking past a campus tour group and saw one of my students leading it. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect: as I was passing them, a parent asked if all university faculty were full time. “Yes,” my student said. I was taken aback, because I’d told my classes about being adjunct, as well as a bit about what “adjunct” meant and how many of us there were in the English department alone teaching freshman writing.
The next day, I pulled him aside after class and asked him about it. “I’m not mad at you; I’m just curious: Your class knows I’m a graduate student, not a full-time professor with tenure. I don’t even have my doctorate yet. Why did you tell that parent all university faculty were full time?”
“That’s what the university wants us to say to parents,” he replied.
Backstory: the Longreads blog has linked to a collection of substantial journalistic articles on the adjunct crisis in US higher education.
As the northern hemisphere academic year begins, adjuncts who are planning not to return to work are writing about their decision. This is the real unfolding adjunct crisis in higher education: the one that will hit institutions when their workforce no longer believes that academic casualisation is a step in the direction of a real career.
Blogger Nathaniel Oliver writes about the end of summer, the wait for work, and the question: to adjunct, or not to adjunct? Like many adjunct writers in the US, he’s as concerned about higher education itself as he is with his own situation:
One of the saddest elements of the adjunctification of the academy, the increasing reliance on contingent academic labor in higher education, is that academics, who should be vociferously collaborating with one another for the betterment of society as a whole, have instead found themselves in mute but vicious competition.
Michelle Kassorla takes the same line in her post on refusing the adjunct route:
I’m unemployed, but I won’t be applying for any adjunct positions in English. I have worked as an adjunct before, but I will do my best not work as an adjunct again because working as an adjunct will contribute to the destruction of my chosen profession. Right now, colleges are eliminating full-time positions, especially in fine arts and humanities, because they can get cheap adjunct labor. There is no reason to hire a full-time professor for $50 or $60K plus benefits when they can get eight adjuncts to take the place of that professor for less than $20K a year and they can skip the benefits. It’s a great bargain!
As we think about Australia’s higher education system being reformed to resemble the US, keep in mind that these are both PhD qualified research academics of exactly the kind on whom the US system depends twice, first to sustain graduate programs, and then to prop up undergraduate teaching.
And finally, again from Nathaniel Oliver’s blog, this heartbreaking story about balancing adjunct work with serious illness.
Bits and pieces
Adjunct Action will be hosting a Google Hangout with Sarah Kendzior about women and adjunct academic work on Friday August 29th at 2pm EDT, which is 4am Saturday morning on the Australian east coast. So you might want to wait for the recorded version.
I created Endless Adjunct Run because I wanted something to reflect the futility many of us off the tenure-track feel. See if you can figure out the rules, how to play, what the goal is. I’ll give you a second…
You start with four classes. A book means you pick up a class, the friendly-looking chair takes classes away. Too many classes, the game ends. Too few, same thing. And then there’s the ever-present pits of doom that also do you in. There is no way to win the game, either, no end point to reach, no end of the game other than “death.” The rules are purposefully vague; those who are used to platform games usually know that the space bar means jump, but those who aren’t as familiar are left struggling at first. There is no indication of what the scores are, and you have to figure it out as you go. And really, even getting good at the game doesn’t really ensure any sort of success.
What would the Australian version look like, we’re wondering?
That’s it from us, have a good week everyone, and thanks so much for passing this on. We have posts from new CASA writers this week, and a big welcome to our latest subscribers. If you’d like to suggest something to us, or do something for CASA, just let us know at casualcasa at gmail dot com.
@katemfd and @acahacker