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CASA weekly news 36/14

Hello and welcome to the weekly CASA news. If you were at the Insecure Work conference or (more likely, given the location) weren’t, we’d really welcome your comment on our reflections on this. What did we miss?

Jeannie Rea was certainly giving media interviews at the event so we’d be glad of pointers to mainstream national media coverage, but in the meantime, CASA was filed under “highfalutin” by our friends from The Australian High Wired blog:

Highfalutin: One of HW’s spies has drawn our attention to this impressive example of academic language in a Tweet out of the NTEU’s insecure work conference in Hobart. “The profundity & reflexivity of @KateMfD & @Acahacker directly expose need to address precarity in uni employment.” Someone failed his how to communicate with clarity session. HW now knows what “precarity” means.

So we’re doubling down on our commitment to plain talk in this week’s news. Because precarity really is a thing, and you can read about it all over the shop. But if we’ve done our bit for broadening HW’s perspective on what’s really going on in higher ed—well, you’re most welcome.

For many academic teaching casuals in Australia, the end of marking this week is the commencement of the long summer break without income. Malba Barahona has a really thoughtful post about this on her blog, with a link to another of the videos from Gail Crimmins’s research into the lives of women academic casuals in Australia.

Relevant to early career researchers on short-term contracts, Merilyn Childs has an excellent presentation on knowing your rights as an author-researcher working with senior colleagues.

What’s going on elsewhere?

As the academic year ends here, it’s hiring season in the US. Rebecca Schuman has a strong piece in Chronicle Vitae on one of the most practical things tenured academics can do to effect real change: commit to interviewing more adjuncts. Along the way she tackles some of the myths of adjunct experience that prejudice committees against taking this kind of stand.

So yeah, you might not be able to subvert your state’s funding crisis—or to convince your run-it-like-a-business administration to convert all your current adjuncts into full-timers, or even to pay them a living wage.

But you know what you can do? You can walk the walk. You can demonstrate with your actions that someone’s position as an adjunct has no bearing on his or her potential as a tenure-track hire. You can make a commitment to take adjuncts on the job market as seriously as everyone else, no matter their age, or the “age” of their doctorate.

The Chronicle also continued its conversation about the right age for tenured professors to step away.

In Hobart, we heard from Malini Cadamba of the Service Employees International Union who have been successful in creating local branches for many college adjuncts. This week the SEIU and Adjunct Action released a major report into the casualisation of US college education, Crisis at the Boiling Point, that makes clear how little Australia has to gain by becoming more like the US in the reform of our higher education system.

Unionisation of the adjunct workforce in the US is contentious. Adjuncts at Boston University will vote in January on joining the SEIU, and the university administration is pushing back hard:

BU Provost and Chief Academic Officer Jean Morrison said adjunct faculty unionization is not in the best interest of students and faculty.

“I believe, and it is the university’s position, that for our part-time faculty to be unionized is not going to improve the quality of education for our students, and I don’t think that it even will serve the part-time faculty in a better way,” she said. “We completely respect the right of the part-time faculty to make the effort to unionize, and if it’s voted in, we will respect that and negotiate in good faith.

… Morrison said she hopes adjunct faculty will think of the ramifications of their decision to unionize.

Even more frankly, administration at Pensacola State College in Florida have sent lawyers after the student newspaper for covering a labor dispute on campus:

“What we’re trying to ensure is that students are not embroiled in labor matters at an institution and we’re trying to ensure that faculty do not use their position with students,” said Pensacola State President Ed Meadows.

Meadows said he is not sure why it is important for students to put information about the dispute into the paper in the first place. In his view, faculty pay and hours don’t affect students.

The student paper, Meadows said, can write about other things, like student awards, basketball games, crime, opinions and “non-college things.”

Just in case anyone can think of a reason why the conditions of college staffing might be of interest to students, there’s an administration Cunning Plan B:

Meadows said even though the administration is not prevented from speaking with students about the labor impasse, he had declined to answer Garber’s questions about the dispute. That, Meadows said, means the paper can’t do a fair story even if it persists in speaking to faculty, because the paper won’t have the administration’s side of the story.

As Meadows said he told the newspaper’s staff adviser, who has since left the college and could not be reached for comment, “Good journalism requires two sides to every story and, unfortunately, I can’t give you the other side.”


In the UK, a private members Bill to limit the use of zero hours contracts went before Parliament on Friday. The Bill itself is here. It’s relevant to higher education because of the increasing use of zero hours contracts in academic teaching, as summarised by the UCU Anti-Casualisation Committee here. As the UCU point out, zero hours contract hiring is what links a growing trend in academic work to low-waged employment in retail and the services sector:

UCU research shows that 46% of universities and 60% of colleges use zero hours contracts to deliver teaching – and we know that many institutions are under-reporting.  At least 307, 000 care workers in England alone are on zero hours and this has been linked to difficulties in maintaining quality of provision (how can people provide that quality when under pressure and treated unfairly?!). Zero hours in the retail sector is rife; well-known offenders like Sports Direct consign 80% of their workers to them.

One impact of the Bill has been to promote discussion of the use of zero hours contracts to a substantial article by Harry Stopes in the London Review of Books blog, ending on a challenge to the union that’s also relevant here:

UCU has a national anti-casualisation campaign, but it has received few resources and little attention from the national executive. The centrepiece of a recent UCU ‘day of action’ on casualisation consisted of getting members to write to their MP. The union has tended to protect the profession by protecting the pay and conditions of its most secure members. But that security is undermined by the reshaping of the profession at the margins – which are moving ever closer to the centre. If the Union wants to win or retain the trust and loyalty of precarious, mostly younger members it needs to listen to them. According to Robert Murthwaite, a law lecturer at London Met, ‘change is coming, and it’s coming from below.’

That’s it from us. If you just found out about CASA, we really warmly welcome you to join us as a writer, or by commenting on anything we write, or by suggesting things you think we should focus on. If you want to contact us directly, casualcasa at gmail dot com will do the trick, or you can find us Twitter: @KateMfD and @acahacker.

It was great to meet so many CASA readers in Hobart, and again, our warm thanks to the NTEU for including us and making it possible for us finally to meet each other.

Kate and Karina


About Kate Bowles

Now blogging over at musicfordeckchairs.com


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