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Adjuncts, Experiences, News

CASA weekly news 27/14

Hello and an at-last-undeniably springlike welcome to CASA’s weekly brew of news on the casualisation of higher education.

What’s happening?

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.


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!

@katemfd @acahacker


About Kate Bowles

Now blogging over at musicfordeckchairs.com


5 thoughts on “CASA weekly news 27/14

  1. Remember that Universities have a choice on funding priorities. They are addicted to cheap labour costs from casual teaching. So they spend the money on infrastructure, and advertising to attract more students instead. The ultimate student support service, the University teaching staff are neglected.
    If fees get deregulated, resources will go into advertising and trying to increase student numbers at the expense of other institutions. Does anybody really want money wasted on this?

    Posted by Andrew | September 14, 2014, 10:00 pm
  2. Yes Andrew, university management does have a choice on funding priorities. But there is rarely a less tense period than at budget allocation time, trying to balance many, many competing priorities. No university can survive without students and hence funding is allocated to ensuring students not only enrol, but also realise great benefit from their investment in fees and time.
    What do we know about what attracts students to particular universities? Perceptions of the level of prestige of the institution is, for most, the number one criterion.

    What counts as evidence of the level of prestige enjoyed by institutions? Global rankings. What contributes most to global rankings? Research. Many of the professoriate ‘buy’ themselves out of teaching in order to do this research, which hopefully contributes to the reputation of their university, and hence both the attractiveness of enroling at that institution, and to the public’s (including employer’s) perception of a degree from that institution when students graduate.

    But students deserve to have much more interaction with the professoriate – how is that best achieved in a sustainable way?

    I have been thinking through a plan for achieving that, but it means a significant change in academic work. It also involves a significant change in the way we engage sessional staff. More soon 🙂

    Posted by Shirley Alexander | September 15, 2014, 8:54 am
    • Shirley
      Thanks for this quick reply. We started CASA in the belief that one of the things that distinguishes Australia from other international cases in relation to academic casualisation is that our relatively small sector lets us speak directly to one another at all levels of our institutions.
      You mentioned that what attracts students to universities is prestige, which is research driven. It seems equally likely that what encourages them to stay is their experience as students, and this is where Australia’s academic casuals play a huge role, especially given the high level of casualisation of first year teaching. We know of several cases where research active professors are directly involved in first-year teaching, but this in itself doesn’t solve the problem of the way that their casual teaching team colleagues are recruited, located or recognised.
      So we’d be really interested in hearing about your plan to address this, especially as so many of Australia’s academic casuals are also Australia’s enrolled or recently graduated PhD students.

      Posted by Kate Bowles | September 15, 2014, 9:07 am
  3. In relation to ‘prestige’ as first reason for students when selecting a university – from talking with many undergrads and friends of my children during their high school/uni years, this was absolutely the draw card. However, those universities offering degree programs with lower ATAR scores attract many students who will not stay or complete, but intend only to gain sufficient credit there as a ‘stepping stone’ to other (in the student’s eyes) more prestigious universities. Talking with (former) students who have taken this path, it is their first six months at university that is the most crucial to retention, and often they have stated that once enrolled, they are ‘forgotten.’ Their university experience is much the same as the before/after purchase at a used car lot. Sorry, if we’re treating students as consumers (and we are) this should be a red flag for universities that their teaching staff are the front line – if you want to retain students, look to retention of good teaching staff by offering long-term employment.

    Posted by Anonymous | September 20, 2014, 1:43 pm

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