Welcome to another week of whatever-it-takes to achieve reform in Australian higher education.
This week the NTEU did some polling on the recent media campaign to sell the benefits of deregulation:
Of the just 22% who could recall the advertisements, only half understood that they were making the government’s case for university fee deregulation. Some 15% thought they were making the case against deregulation, and the remainder thought the ad was just promoting going to university.
One third felt even less favourable towards the government’s plans to deregulate fees having seen the advertisement and for nearly half they made no difference.
Australians would also not have learned much about university staffing from the campaign, or any of the debate around it. But staffing costs are central to any strategic thinking about how money will be spent (and saved) in the future. This leaves universities awkwardly dependent on the supply of a cheap, flexible, disposable and highly qualified casual workforce, without being able to admit to this or openly plan to manage this relationship well.
This week, for example, Merlin Crossley’s article on teaching quality in The Conversation entirely avoided the implications of casualisation, leaving it to one commenter to point out that “most of the tutorials are now taught by casual teachers” and another—a student—to explain why this is relevant to teaching quality:
The difference between poor and excellent teaching in many cases comes down to access. So with many of the unit coordinators / lecturers and tutors being casual it limits the access a student has to them. Firstly casual staff rarely have an office so being able to see them becomes a logistical nightmare. Secondly they are casual and as such are not paid to be available for student’s if they are needed.
If students know this, chances are their families do too.
What’s happening elsewhere?
At Higher Ed Strategy Associates, Alex Usher published a short series of posts on the situation in Canada, explaining more candidly at how funding and staffing connect:
If you reduce your faculty teaching load, and hand over the difference to lower-paid sessionals, not only do you get more research, but the average teaching load also falls significantly. Everyone wins! Well, maybe not the sessionals, but you get what I mean.
This underlines something pretty serious: the financial problems we have lay much more on the left side of the equation than on the right side. However much you think professors deserve to be paid, there’s an iron triangle of institutional income, salaries, and credit hours that cannot be escaped. If you can’t increase tuition, and more government money isn’t forthcoming, then you either have to accept higher teaching loads or lower average salaries. And if wage rollbacks among full-time staff isn’t in the cards, then average costs are going to be reduced through increased casualization. Period.
Read the whole post here, along with the rest of the series.
Inside Higher Education published its annual survey on what college provosts are thinking about. Scott Jaschlik summarised their thoughts on the problem of relying on adjunct labour:
Provosts continue to be aware of their reliance on non-tenure-track faculty members, and most do not anticipate much change in the pattern — despite widespread criticism of the way colleges treat their adjuncts. In responses that were similar to those of a year ago, 74 percent of public college provosts and 62 percent of private college provosts said that their institution relies “significantly” on faculty who are off the tenure track.
Two-thirds of the provosts (public and private) anticipate that, in the future, they will remain about as reliant on non-tenure-track faculty as they are now. And of the one-third who anticipate a change, twice as many provosts believe their institutions will become more reliant on adjuncts as believe their institutions will become less reliant.
Asked for their analysis of the effectiveness of unionisation campaigns in improving adjunct pay and conditions, provosts offered a tepid response. This is probably in the category of “they would say that, wouldn’t they?”, but worth noting.
The Albert Shanker Institute hosted a think tank on The Emergence of the Precariat:What Does the Loss of Stable, Well-Compensated Employment Mean for Education? Prominent figures including Rosemary Feal, Andrew Ross and Barbara Ehrenreich spoke, and their talks plus the overall Q&A session are here.
What can adjunct or casual university workers do to support themselves? In the US, planning continues for the National Adjunct Walkout Day on February 25, and there’s a new video here.
Backed by the New Faculty Majority, a group of adjunct activists in the US have formed a new non-profit organisation to collect funds and distribute them to adjunct faculty experiencing financial hardship or seeking support for professional development.
We are pleased to introduce PrecariCorps, an independent nonprofit organization offering much needed financial, emotional, and professional support for adjunct college faculty. Once we are officially granted full 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, we will be able to provide temporary, welcome relief from the economic, emotional, and physiological stressors that all too often define adjuncts’ lives by matching donations to those in need. As a nonprofit, we will also be able to receive tax-deductible donations from individuals and organizations interested in supporting adjunct and other non-tenure track faculty, who comprise the majority of the American professoriate.
In the UK, FACE (Fighting Against Casualisation in Education) is a new organisation set up to deliver a conference at SOAS in London on February 7. UK higher education is similarly confronted with arguments for structural reform that hide implications for staffing by devolving these to the local level. According to FACE:
The governments’ reforms in education have focussed on funding reform and cuts, leaving local managements to rationalise the new regime locally. This is happening through increasing student fees on the one hand, and intensifying attacks on working conditions on the other. This situation has seen the rapid expansion of zero hour, hourly paid, fractional, and teaching-only contracts or research-only contracts, where research is judged only on its capacity to attract outside funding, and not on academic merit.
The conference agenda is here.
The other model has been for US adjuncts in particular to join either academic unions or local unions from other industries. Adjuncts at Temple University are moving to join the United Academics of Philadelphia, and to commence collective bargaining to improve their conditions. The relationship between adjuncts and unions focused on tenured faculty doesn’t always go well, however. Nor are unions always sensitive to the financial pressures experienced by adjuncts. This week Joe Fruscione published an open letter from activist Lee Kottner to union organisations looking to increase adjunct participation in national conferences without understanding the financial costs involved.
And finally, a quick request for assistance
From CASA reader Lara McKenzie: “I’m looking for people who are a few years out of their PhDs and currently looking for academic work, as well as those who are right at the end of their PhDs or who recently finished and have some kind of academic position (permanent, contract, or casual). At the moment I’m mainly focusing on those in the Arts, humanities, and social sciences disciplines. I’m hoping to recruit people in Adelaide (for interviews in mid to late January) and Perth (for interviews from early February). Anyone interested can contact me at mckenzielara0 at gmail dot com for further information.”
That’s it from us for this week. A warm greeting to this week’s new subscribers — we welcome all comments, contributions and thoughts, and if you have ideas you want to share with us, or you’d like to write with us, get in touch: casualcasa at gmail dot com.
Kate and Karina