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Adjuncts, International, News

CASA weekly news 32/14

Hello, and welcome to a quick casualisation news round up this week.

What’s happening here?

Australian higher education is still waiting for the resolution of the reform bill consultation in Senate. At CASA we’re still waiting for anyone to notice that however higher education resolves the question of fee deregulation, a more price sensitive market is likely to become increasingly sensitised to whether or not universities deliver on their marketing claims to students, quite a few of which involve the people they employ to teach and do research.

Australian academic and professional casual staff are at the pointy end of the academic year:

  • academic teaching casuals are in the hardest part of the session for staying within contracted hours as individual undergraduate student needs intensify; grading and grade administration piles up; and teaching evaluations are in full swing
  • casual and short-term contract researchers are waiting for grant and funding announcements to know what is likely to be available next year
  • casual and contract professional/admin staff are waiting for departmental budgets and soft money allocations to be confirmed, while trying to finish end of year tasks and work towards reporting deadlines
  • universities are trying to avoid making any commitments to anyone until the directions post-reform are confirmed

The University of Adelaide Press has made a new book on transition pedagogy in Australian universities available as a free download. Universities in Transition: Foregrounding Social Contexts of Knowledge in the First Year Experience is an important book for anyone thinking about casualisation, as first year teaching is the most heavily casualised, and strategic planning for first year student experience often acts as if this isn’t the case. So it’s great to see the editors at least open the question that universities themselves are also in transition, and much credit to Xianlin Song, whose chapter on the first year Chinese student experience goes further and explicitly mentions the structural problems associated with university staffing:

In Australia the context is now clear. There has been the massification of higher education, the concomitant rise of managerial regulations and surveillance to control the mass student market toward market outcomes (human capital theory) and the casualisation of the workforce, where full-time academics work in unison with, but often supervising, a large casual workforce. This has led to widespread academic dissatisfaction and a palpable sense of loss for education as a public good.

What’s happening [here and] elsewhere?

There’s increasing attention to the planned US Adjunct Walkout Day in February 2015, but not much actual detail yet, so most references are back to the original article in Inside Higher Ed from October 6th; although there’s an article in Washington’s In The Capital this week (“If you’ve ever wondered what a college campus would be like without adjuncts on staff, you’ll soon find out come National Adjunct Walkout Day”).

Other planned actions to think about or protest the level of casualisation across higher education.

  1. the organisers of January’s MLA SubConference (“Non Negotiable Sites of Struggle”) are crowdsourcing funds to help with airfares etc
  2. The UCU Anti-Casualisation Committee are organising a national Stamp Out Casual Contracts Day in the UK on November 5, and there’s a thorough blog update on how the planning is shaping up
  3. Close to home, CASA will be at the NTEU’s Insecure Work Conference in Hobart 19-20 November to talk about what we’ve learned

This week the Buffalo Adjunct Movement (“BAM!”) held a grade-in, bringing adjuncts together to do their student grading in the downtown public library, to protest their working conditions and their lack of office space. The event was covered here by Time Warner Cable News.

What role do tenured academics and administrative allies see for themselves as these actions take place? Long-time adjunct blogger Lee Skallerup Bessette continues her reflective blog for Inside Higher Ed on the transition to secure alt-ac employment with a piece on not being on the job market this year. Patrick Iber is on the job market, and has a piece in Inside Higher Ed on how to treat adjuncts: the practical steps tenured Faculty can take to show respect to their contingent colleagues. Among a long list of clear suggestions:

Faculty who care about the fate of adjuncts must therefore do two things: work to change the system, and be decent to those disadvantaged by it. The latter is perhaps not so difficult. Set up an informal mentoring program — only you have the experience of being on the other side of a job committee, and can coach young adjuncts on how best to present themselves. If you’re part of a hiring committee, respect the commitment of contingent faculty and consider them for open positions. Choose video conferencing instead of expensive conference interviews. At home, invite your adjuncts to department events. Even a few hundred dollars of research support may make it possible for them to gain the benefits that come from attending a conference. Make sure that contingent faculty can access department and university resources, like competitive travel grants and teaching awards.

In “Solidarity in the Ivory Tower“, in the Canadian higher education journal Academic Matters, Herbert Pimlott looks closely at the situation in Ontario, with solid data on the emergence of the “precarious Professoriate”. He argues that permanent and precarious academics have a shared interest in explaining the harm of casualisation to universities, and his recommendations are similarly practical:

Where precarious work persists, contract faculty should be paid what full-time faculty are paid for the same work. Their pay should also recognize career development or progress-through-the-ranks, as they gain experience in teaching courses for each year of full-time course load 
or equivalent.

Like permanent faculty, contract faculty should benefit from time and resources allotted for professional development, especially given their responsibility for an ever greater role in undergraduate education.

Greater job security for contract faculty also increases the voice and power of faculty in the university. Fewer permanent faculty to defend academic freedom and participate in collegial governance will ultimately result in the loss of our autonomy.

Full-time faculty might also want to wonder how long our pension plans will survive without enough permanent faculty paying into the plans and defending them from management that leaves them with large deficits (through, for example, contribution holidays). Extending pensions and benefits to contract faculty can help improve the security of our pensions, while ensuring some form of retirement income for contract faculty.

At CASA, we’ve been committed to the same approach: to treating casualisation as a problem for the whole profession, and one that all full-time academic and staff and leadership in higher education will have to work together to address.

So thanks for your continuing support and encouragement for the CASA community and for our oily rag output. Any ideas or requests, holler at casualcasa at gmail dot com.

And if you have thoughts on the impact of education technology, innovation and online anything on casuals, CASA writer Katie Freund will be taking this up at Canberra’s annual Moodleposium November 3-4. Send your ideas and experiences to @katiedigc through Twitter.

Have a good week everyone,

@katemfd @acahacker



About Kate Bowles

Now blogging over at musicfordeckchairs.com


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