Here’s this week’s Australian roundup of news and opinion on the casualisation of higher education. The higher education reform Bill has been sent to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee, with a due date of October 28, so there’s plenty more time for speculation and debate, and an opportunity to think about how education reform interacts with employment in the sector itself. But as you might expect, the week’s continued analysis of the likely outcome of the proposed reforms keeps quiet on the sustainability of the current staffing model.
So it’s good to see mainstream media coverage of the reality of Australian university staffing. Tony Featherstone in the Sydney Morning Herald connects the casualisation of academic employment to the ways in which a range of white collar careers are being restructured:
Take university lecturing as an example. Once among the most revered white-collar jobs, it has become a production line, at least for sessional or part-time academics at some universities who are paid a pittance, despite the great responsibility of teaching young minds.
A sessional academic with two masters degrees might earn $320 for a two-hour lecture. That sounds great, until you realise the academic spent a day preparing the lecture. Do the math and they might be on $30 an hour – less than the local barista earns on a public holiday, or the water-truck driver at a remote mine.
Then they’re paid $40 an hour to mark assignments, a tedious, manual job if ever there was one, and less than the self-employed barber earns for doing a few haircuts in an hour. If the academic puts in a chuck of ‘discretionary’ time to do a good job on marking, or give students extra feedback, he or she could end up earning a bit more than the minimum wage.
What’s happening elsewhere?
Continuing this theme, today CBC radio broadcast a documentary on exploitation in the ivory tower, with this introduction:
Universities in Canada – which threw open their doors this week to almost a million undergraduates – are propped up by a huge army of part-time teachers, who are highly qualified and poorly paid. They have no job security or pension, and little hope of ever getting a full-time position. They go by many titles: sessional lecturers, contract academic staff, adjunct faculty. Today more than half of Canadian undergraduates are taught by these very precarious workers, not by the big-name – and well-paid – academics that universities like to feature in their recruiting ads. The institutions simply couldn’t function without them.
US blogger The Unarmed Education Mercenary, source of the fabulous Adjunct Consultation Statement that was circulated last week, also raised the question of not showing up:
We have the majority. If we all walk out, we bring the juggernaut of corporate higher education to a halt. Think about the form above. How much work have you done and for how many years that has been basically volunteer labor for the academy? Isn’t it time we were properly compensated?
Miranda Merklein is one of those not showing up to adjunct as the new academic year begins, and her story of transition from contract worker to union activist with health care benefits is really worth reading in full.
I loved teaching. I loved what I taught. My students and I learned a lot from each other. I finished my terminal degree, went on a tenure-track job search, and got decimated in the destruction of higher ed. The human-made disaster college administrators orchestrated, taking specific advantage of the Great Recession to cement the adjunctification of the faculty has been exacting and intentional. … And on this Labor Day, like so many other former adjunct professors, I am marking my exit from the classroom, a part of the higher ed diaspora.
Why are adjuncts leaving this job they love so much? Here’s part of the answer, from Miranda Merklein again:
I was more trapped than ever. Having given up the tenure track job search a few years earlier, I wasn’t able to get any other jobs in the last 11 months of a broader job search. As the one with the formal education in my relationship, I have been the one to supposedly have more earning power. However when my partner and I both had to go on unemployment last winter we found out his weekly income as a line cook in a college cafeteria brought in a higher unemployment check than my weekly income as an adjunct professor.
Over at the excellent Hybrid Pedagogy blog, that has given many adjunct writers a wider platform and consistently linked questions of hiring to the principles of teaching, Tiffany Kraft has another good piece on the interaction between employment and welfare for adjunct academics. From PhD to Poverty puts it bluntly:
It baffles me why, in a higher ed system that holds political but not ideological power over its workers, we don’t object to our labor conditions en masse. There are severalstrongvoices in the argument for adjunct labor reform, but the more widespread false consciousness that accepts, complies with, justifies, and administers exploited labor is shameful. It would be different if higher ed wasn’t posing as something it isn’t, namely: an institution founded on key phrases such as Learning and Discovery, Access to Learning, A Climate of Mutual Respect, Openness and Reflection and Community and Civic Engagement. These core values are at odds with the toxic reality.
Australian policy makers overlook the casualisation problem because it’s not always clearly attached to the question of research investment and outcomes, particularly in relation to PhD training. This week’s read for the policy minded: a substantial report on employment outcomes from the Arts & Humanities Researrch Council in the UK, Support for Arts and Humanities Researchers post-PhD. Not all questions are asked, but there’s some data on the emergence of zero hours contracts, and some suggestions for further research on the impact of fractional, portfolio and very insecure employment in terms of both gender and disability.
A question for CASA readers:
The potential for a crisis in casual staffing shines a light on the other compensations that universities can offer if they choose, including professional development. So this week we’re really interested in hearing from anyone who has positive—or negative—experiences of the management of professional development and career support. Is the professional development you’ve received effective in relation to your overall career goals? What would work for you? Please comment below, or send us a message: casualcasa at gmail.
Have a good week everyone, and thanks for sharing this around while the structure and viability of higher education is getting political attention. Do let us know if there’s anything you’d like us to look into.
@acahacker and @katemfd