Here’s this week’s slightly delayed telecast of casualisation news from the perspective of Australian higher education.
What’s going on?
Universities aren’t employing more staff – academics and professionals – to support increased numbers of students. As a result of freezes on hiring new people, classes just keep getting bigger.
What is also happening in these bigger classes is that the person standing in front of them, with the bigger marking and student support load, represents a vanishingly smaller hourly wage cost than a fully salaried academic. So it was frustrating also this week to read this in the AFR:
Meanwhile, the government is struggling to pass the $5 billion in higher university cuts. Palmer United Party Leader Clive Palmer has indicated he could be swayed by an offer of free scholarships but on Tuesday morning he was sceptical about the scholarship offer.
“This extra money will allow [university leaders] to increase their salaries and employ more academics on tenure – that’s what it’s all about,” he said.
This throwaway comment is more than just the bit of grit in the deregulation machine that may grind it all to a halt. It’s also a huge clue as to popular and business belief about tenure in Australian universities.
The Australian Academy of the Humanities released its Mapping the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences in Australia report. From the Executive Summary, this expression of concern might usefully be sent on to PUP:
[C]ritical issues for the sustainability of the workforce emerged: unbalanced staffing profiles, declining career opportunities, the feminisation of casual and part-time staff cohorts, and an ageing academic workforce. Most of these issues apply across the higher education sector, but some factors appear to be more pronounced in the HASS disciplines. For instance, over the period surveyed, the size of the total academic workforce in Australia grew by 27%, while student numbers grew by 36%, and student load by 40%. In the HASS sector, the teaching workforce grew by only 22%. While the HASS sector teaches 65% of all enrolments in tertiary education, it does so with 55% of the total teaching workforce; ERA data puts the HASS research workforce at even lower levels, at 42% of the total. …
A series of indicators highlight issues for the future: the ageing of the workforce leading to an impending shortage of senior staff available to take on planning, administration, leadership and mentoring roles; the uncertainty of academic teaching and research careers leading to a shrinking pool of new entrants to the profession; and the tendency towards the development of a growing cohort of casual or part-time teachers, predominantly women, as a means of working within tight budgets leading to limited career opportunities and a stalling of career paths for junior academics.
What’s happening in other places?
Pretty much what’s happening in Australia. In Canada, the Regina Leader-Post reports on attention to contract academic roles in Canada’s Fair Work Week this week:
During last week’s Throne Speech, the Saskatchewan government announced that it “continues to make post-secondary education a priority by providing record support for students and institutions.”
Yet no new dollars were announced – part of a nationwide trend of government underfunding. One result of this trend is that most Canadian undergraduates are taught by poorly paid part-timers. Canadian universities can hire a contract teacher to fulfil a full-timer’s teaching duties at a fraction of the cost. …
According to the Canadian Association of University Teachers, “These positions are often poorly paid, have little or no benefits, no job security and no academic freedom.
This has serious implications not only for contract academic staff, but for students, their regular academic staff colleagues, and universities and colleges as a whole.”
An article from CAUT itself expands on the way in which casualisation affects the health of the entire sector:
The challenges and frustrations of the contract academic’s life are everyone’s problem. They affect our students, when they cannot rely on access to or build relationships with harried and transient faculty. And despite the best intentions of individual contract scholars, expansion of an untenured faculty complement risks the degradation of fundamental university ideals. Academic freedom, for example, is a notoriously hollow concept for those whose renewal of course assignments (and hence livelihood) may be terminated at any time with no explanation. Collegial governance likewise suffers when fewer and fewer members of the professoriate are permitted to fully share in curricular and other key decision-making exercises. Systematic unfair treatment of colleagues is actually an affront to the very notion of collegiality; unquestioned and unchecked, it is the sort of practice that threatens to turn proudly democratic universities into sterile credential mills and info-boutiques.
In case the academic and institutional perspective isn’t convincing enough, here’s the student perspective from the kind of university we think we want in Australia, as reported in the Yale Daily News:
Students, too, suffer from the rise in adjunct professors. Most adjuncts are paid a sum of money for a semester-long class. That is, they don’t receive any additional money for time spent working outside the classroom, including office hours and other meetings with students. An American Association of University Professors press release notes that while tenured professors are subject to university-sanctioned classroom observations, reviews of courses taught by adjuncts come only from student evaluations. Furthermore, adjunct professors have to meet different, usually lower criteria for departments to hire them, meaning that under-qualified professors can end up teaching.
Meanwhile, tenure-track status grows further out of reach for new professors, forcing them to research more and teach less. Turnover rates are also high among adjuncts. Universities dismiss a great number of them at semester’s end and reenlist a fresh batch in August.
So it’s heartening to read that the groundwork laid in the US for better models of campus organising and wage negotiation are starting to bear fruit. There was quite a bit of coverage of successful contract negotiation concluding at Tufts University in Boston, supported by the SIEU:
Highlights include significant pay increases, longer-term contracts and — perhaps most meaningfully — the right to be interviewed for full-time positions in one’s department.
Long-time adjunct Elizabeth Lemons, interviewed by Inside Higher Ed, explained the background approach taken to achieving these results:
[I]t was important for union members to keep negotiations civil and positive, Lemons said. So they started not by talking about contract goals but about Tufts’ educational values, to build common ground with university representatives. They also highlighted best practices for adjunct employment already in place in some departments at Tufts.
The result was a nonconfrontational, even collaborative process, Lemons and other adjuncts said — and a contract that includes significant gains for part-time faculty.
The St Louis Post-Dispatch reports that adjuncts at Washington University are organising themselves to take similar steps.
Meanwhile, a federal court appeal has upheld the right of an Illinois community college adjunct to speak out about working conditions without losing her job, which shouldn’t really be rocket science, but there you go. Reported in The Chronicle here and Inside Higher Ed here.
In Australia as in the US, a major cause of the oversupply of casual academic labour is the overproduction of PhD qualified academics. So it’s useful to read Melanie Sinche’s research for Inside Higher Ed on the emergence of more serious PhD career path tracking that should help those considering a PhD as a step towards an academic career. Equally important is the rise of the post-PhD non-academic career. Katie Rose Guest Pryal is leading a new initiative for Chronicle Vitae, to develop community and resources for academic freelancers, kicking off with a really practical five point manifesto that’s definitely worth absorbing.
This week’s very big read: Henry Giroux on higher education and the new brutalism. Also strongly recommended from Yasmin Nair, ‘Class Shock: Affect, Mobility and the Adjunct Crisis‘, a critique of the assumption that the transformation of higher education can ever be based on a return to a vanished golden age, when tenure for all excluded too many from anything at all.
That’s it everyone. This is a really tough time of the Australian academic year, so do take care. Given our respective situations, we’re both slightly astonished to find ourselves having made it to the end of this year, and we’re really looking forward to meeting up at the NTEU Insecure Work conference in Hobart later this month. If you’d like us to raise anything on behalf of the CASA community while we have a microphone, let us know.
And thanks so much for keeping these news posts passing around. We really appreciate it. Any news for us: casualcasa at gmail dot com.
@KateMfd and @acahacker