Hello and a warm welcome to new subscribers, contributors and commenters who joined us this week.
This week’s patchy Twitter coverage of the AFR Higher Education Reform Summit in Melbourne suggested everyone showed up: Education Minister Pyne and Senator Kim Carr (ALP), Australian and international sector leadership keynotes, sector leaders, and student organisations including the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations who are major stakeholders in the need for joined-up thinking about what connects PhD training to casualisation of undergraduate teaching.
Minister Pyne’s speech is here. Senator Carr’s speech is here. What they have to say about university staffing in general, and casualisation in particular, remains consistent with what they’ve said all year: nothing. This is a debate about the reform of the contractual relationship between universities as public sector business entities, students as decision-making consumers, and the funding, accreditation and debt pipeline management services that they sustain. Where the labour market features at all, it’s discussed in terms of whether Australia’s higher education providers are properly recruiting and preparing undergraduate students for the professional futures in which they’ll be able to service their education debt.
As Australia’s research-trained PhDs transition into the very precarious higher education labour market—whether to teach, research or work in professional roles—they rapidly become less visible to the reform debate, even though the sustainability of academic careers post-PhD (not to mention PhD levels of deferred debt repayment) is one of the areas of university activity most conspicuously in need of a rethink.
Jeannie Rea, NTEU President, raised the issue of casualisation in her presentation, and we’d welcome a link to that or any comment here about how those remarks were received, but in the meantime this article published in The Australian this week lays out the NTEU position on deregulation.
Meanwhile, the NTEU continues to prepare for next week’s Insecure Work Conference in Hobart. Although the conference itself has had to deal with a last minute change of venue, we’re optimistic that the details of online participation Jen T Kwok mapped out for CASA on Friday will remain robust.
Tweet your workplace!
If you work casually in an Australian university you’ll know that there’s a wide gap between the everyday realities of casual work facilities and the impression many people have of university workplaces: quadrangles, book-lined offices, glamorous labs and so on. So with the NTEU we thought it could help to show what casual work looks and feels like, and to try to enable more actual casuals to be heard in the conference in that way.
Where do you work? What kinds of offices or computers do you have access to, if any? Just tweet any image to #securework (or feel free to email it to us on casualcasa at gmail dot com and we’ll put it up anonymously for you) and at the conference we’ll try to make some of the concrete realities of casual work visible that way.
What’s happening elsewhere?
The Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA has released the result of its Undergraduate Teaching Faculty Survey, focused on 2013-2014, including data on the working conditions of US adjunct academics: the facilities they have access to, the time they get to prepare, and the opportunities they have for professional development. The report was substantially covered by Colleen Flaherty for Inside Higher Ed.
Across institution types, just 19 percent said they had use of private office space – although 53 percent reported having access to a shared office. Just 40 percent have access to a personal computer, and 36 percent to an official phone or voicemail. Most (95 percent) do have a university email account (although that number could be inflated, given that the survey was shared via email in many cases).
Just 14 percent have access to professional development funds.
Alison Iredale is a UK-based researcher and teacher educator in the Further Education sector and has a thoughtful post up on sessional tutors and their access to professional development:
We may acknowledge here, too, the benefits of shared spaces for teachers, including social media.The resources marshalled for teachers include the development of a repertoire of professional knowledge and practice derived from repeated classroom experiences, increased confidence and frameworks by which to reflect on experience. What is often lacking however, particularly for sessional tutors is space within the institution to develop their expertise, pedagogy, and intellectual enquiry.
In Ireland, the University Times has followed up on an earlier investigation of casual academic hiring. They quote Third Level Workplace Watch on patterns in longer-term casualisation:
Their research also indicated that 57 per cent of these casual workers in academia are recorded to be doing this precarious work for five years or more and that the average time spent working hourly and seasonal work in academia was eight and a half years. Their study also suggests a gendered element to these precarious working conditions with 62 per cent of casual work being done by females.
Early career academics working under these circumstances spoke candidly about higher education’s “carrot and stick” way of offering work; reporter Ciar McCormick then spent two months trying to get one institution to reveal its casualisation data, without success.
In frustration at the lack of transparency displayed by the college, at a Q&A late in September, I decided to quiz the Provost on whether he knew of the temporary and precarious work the college was providing its teaching assistants and junior lecturers. He replied: “This is the first I’ve heard of it.”
Maybe this is why senior academics sometimes respond testily to suggestions that higher education has a problem with casualisation: because they’ve made it so difficult to measure they now genuinely can’t see it at all?
Last week, US media covered a Supreme Court ruling that the dismissal of an adjunct who complained about working conditions was unfair. This week the AAUP Academe Blog has the story from the adjunct concerned: the decision to act, and what happened next.
In the week that Time magazine offered “feminist” on a list of words readers could vote to ban for 2015, and then apologised for doing it, Paula Maggio has a piece in The Feminist Wire on the need for feminist advocacy in relation to contingent academic work; Julianne Guillard for Feministing briskly connected casual work facilities to the student experience:
In those moments, I wanted to say: Do you know that I made less with my Ph.D. when teaching as an adjunct for two years than I did as a graduate student studying for the degree? Do you know the reason behind holding office hours in a coffee shop is due to the fact that I had no office in which to meet you? Do you know that I go to my retail job after teaching your class because I can’t pay bills on the salary given to me as an adjunct? Do you know that when you ask me, “What courses are you teaching next year?” and I reply that I don’t know, it’s not because I haven’t planned them yet…it’s because I haven’t received an extension of my contract that will allow me to teach you next year.
In those moments, I want to follow-up with those questions with one more: Does that bother you, student? I hope it does.
and the National Women’s Studies Association members unanimously voted to endorse the February 25 National Walkout Day.
One of the major challenges for anyone working in insecure employment is to think ahead to pension arrangements. Chronicle Vitae has a survey up for North American adjuncts asking about their retirement plans.
As it happens this is also on the mind of Laurie Fendrich in The Chronicle Review, who thinks baby boomers working beyond expected retirement age are holding up the orderly progression of academic succession to new secure jobs. This has already been covered this year by Australia’s Thesis Whisperer blog. As ever, the comments are the thing to read.
That’s it for this week. Huge thanks to everyone for supporting CASA and forwarding these posts. We’re off to Hobart and we’ll report back on what we find out.
So if you have something you want us to ask or something you want us to raise with the NTEU or other attendees, casualcasa at gmail dot com will get us. Otherwise, we’ll be out and about on #securework on Wednesday and Thursday.
@acahacker and @katemfd