Hello and an at-last-undeniably springlike welcome to CASA’s weekly brew of news on the casualisation of higher education.
The Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment started taking public submissions on the proposed reform package, and as these will be framed by the focus of the reforms themselves, there’s no reason to expect much attention to staffing.
The Group of Eight put out a briefing paper on the composition of the Australian academic staff workforce, noting the contraction of traditional full-time positions integrating research and teaching, alongside growth in research-only permanent hires, and teaching-only casuals. The fact that research and teaching integrated positions are increasing above Senior Lecturer is attributed to an ageing workforce, matched with the contraction of new research and teaching integrated positions at entry level, indicating “diminishing entry opportunities to the traditional teaching and research academic career.”
So is casualisation the result of ageing baby boomers failing to retire, or failing to pull their weight (see below)? The Thesis Whisperer blog kicked off the week with a provocative article on whether older academics should be forced to quit, otherwise the generation that’s ready to succeed them won’t ever be able to afford to stop working:
Of course the reality for younger wannabee academics, who have spent the last decade or two eking out perilous contract careers, is that they struggle to gain an academic identity, or an academic voice, against the odds. … Many in the so called ‘precariat‘ haven’t bought their own homes. They’ve had long periods of financial insecurity and anxiety – and often lots of debt. Those adjuncts/sessionals who have managed to hang on will tell you they’ve been able to do so because their partner doesn’t work in academia, or they’ve piggy backed off their parent’s financial wellbeing. Not only is this new generation of academics lacking the asset base of the generation above them, they don’t have a great pension to look forward to. They’ll be working, if they can, into their seventies because they have no choice.
Australia’s most forthright higher education commentator Stephen Matchett included the story in his daily Campus Morning Mail, and added the equally provocative suggestion that the real problem isn’t ageing academics but university management, who “like having a servant class to do the undergraduate teaching, marking and advising that keeps the academic mansion working while the gentry above stairs write papers and attend conferences.”
Unsurprisingly, not everyone in management agreed.
Strongly object to @SRMatchett assertion that “university managements likes having a servant class to do the undergraduate teaching” not so!
— Shirley Alexander (@SAlexander_UTS) September 10, 2014
In fact trying to get even more of the professoriate engaging with UG students!!!
— Shirley Alexander (@SAlexander_UTS) September 10, 2014
This solution suggests just getting the ageing workforce to do more teaching. But is it really possible to recalibrate what needs to be done to match the numbers of academics currently employed in real jobs to do it? And if so, why haven’t we done it already?
Shirley Alexander is DVC (Teaching, Learning and Equity) at UTS, and is really welcome to comment. Meanwhile, Stephen Matchett again, the following day:
As to UTS, according to federal figures in 2012 it employed 382 casual teaching only staff, the third highest number in NSW after the University of Sydney (455) and UWS (421).
We’re going to need a lot more professors.
What’s happening elsewhere?
As universities try to capture wider student markets, the interaction between full-time academic workload and casual staffing is a chicken-and-egg problem everywhere. So does university management respond the same way everywhere? The promotion for the Canadian radio documentary that we mentioned last week drew on a much more candid account:
“It helps financially,” concedes Pat Rogers, Laurier’s vice-president of teaching. “If you can’t afford to hire a faculty member who will only teach four courses, you can hire many more sessional faculty for that money.
“Universities are really strapped now. I think it’s regrettable, and I think there are legitimate concerns about having such a large part-time workforce, but it’s an unfortunate consequence of underfunding of the university.”
Also from Canada, physics adjunct, blogger and recent CASA commenter Andrew Robinson looks at this from the other side, in long post on the experience of an older adjunct (in other words, over 50 — which seems to be the TW standard for ageing):
The University doesn’t like to mention us, preferring students to think that full time Professors are doing the teaching. How else can high tuition fees be justified? To the student, obviously highly paid experts are teaching them. In reality, the experts (and we are expert teachers, by and large) are very badly paid indeed.
What do students think is going on with college staffing? This week the Daily Free Press student newspaper from Boston University carried an article on the Catch 22 of adjunct hiring that puts the student perspective in pragmatic terms:
It’s hard for us as students to take a definitive stance on whether an adjunct faculty union at BU would ultimately be beneficial. When we are in the classroom being inspired by whatever particular adjunct professor is teaching that class, it’s difficult to find a reason why they should not receive equal treatment as tenured and full-time professors. However, we are also students struggling to pay for college, and the threat of any tuition increase has a souring effect on the potentiality of a supportive student body.
And how well do tenured academics understand the situation adjunct faculty are in? Conditionally Accepted has a outstanding and confronting piece in which a tenured senior academic is faced with having to tell an adjunct colleague of several years that due to a departmental restructure, work has run out.
And finally, from Inside Higher Ed a bracing post in which John Warner calls out the codependency model of higher education staffing:
But really, the reason I was the world’s biggest sucker is because somewhere along the line, teaching got its hooks in me. On a day-to-day basis I was genuinely grateful for the work because I loved it. I had experienced years of work I didn’t love, so I knew the difference.That cowardice was fear that “they” would take even this away from me. (Of course, that’s what “they” count on.) … At the college level, we have a model that requires suckers like me to keep its labor costs artificially low.
This and that
In Love In The Time Of Adjuncting, The Chronicle introduced an adjunct couple who leveraged a domestic partnership arrangement in order to improve their access to benefits necessary to survive.
Joe Fruscione featured a guest post by pseudonymous blogger Kareme d’Wheat on why she didn’t take up the offer to attend departmental meetings unpaid:
The department chair, after telling me that there are going to be “big changes” to the curriculum (read: your classes will get fucked, consider yourself warned), tilts her head and rolls her eyes to the side and says, “well… you could come to the department meetings.”
And from my mouth fell these words completely without thought, “I’m not paid to attend meetings. And I won’t pay for child care.” I then, horrifyingly, reminded her of what I make annually, and said, “I don’t have child care. I have me. If you have a meeting when the big kids are in school, and my husband is not working and can watch our baby, then I can attend.”
It is almost as if instead of coffee that morning, I drank truth serum.
And on that note, good luck with this week everyone. Thanks for passing CASA’s posts around your networks, and beyond thanks to two very patient writers with posts in our queue. We’re hustling along!