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International, News, Policies

CASA news 03/15

Hello, and welcome to this week’s news related to the casualisation of Australian higher education. Over the summer we’ve maintained a less than weekly output, but things are heating up, and we’re here with a pile of things to think about.

This is the sharp end of hiring season for Australian academic casuals, as new grant-funded research projects get underway and Australia’s experienced researchers queue up to start at the bottom of the RA contract salary escalator again. As Erica Cervini pointed out recently in The Age, it’s also grant-writing season, exposing the much steeper climb faced by staff in regional universities or on casual contracts (or both) in relation to research funding success.

In recruiting for casual teaching, some universities are moving to more formal procedures that have all the appearance of hiring for real jobs: full applications with essentials and desirables, shortlisting and interviews. This show of force suggests that Australia’s universities are becoming more sensitive to the reputational implications of permanent casualisation.

The obvious problem is that introducing rigour in casual staff recruitment doesn’t introduce equivalent standards in the working conditions casuals enjoy when they’re hired, and this is where universities will only do better when there’s competition for staff rather than competition among applicants.

One of the most confronting inequities in academic hiring in Australia involves superannuation, and this is the focus of a strong campaign launched in Victoria, the NTEU Supercasuals campaign. Follow them on Twitter: @thesupercasuals, or the hashtag #supercasuals. Their video explaining the situation is here:

Policy lovers will be happy to know that there’s fresh data in the Grattan Institute’s Mapping Higher Education 2014-2015 report–one of the few to look carefully at the rise of casualisation in university staffing.

Meanwhile, Australia’s higher education reforms look to have joined other ambitious government reforms in a state of bewildered milling about.

What’s happening elsewhere?

We’re sending a huge cheer out to adjunct activists across the US who are preparing for their first National Adjunct Walkout Day. Given the scale and diversity of the US higher education systems, this is a challenge to organise, even without considering the courage it takes to participate. Australian academic casuals aren’t in a strong position to walk out of anything in the week before teaching starts, but it’s clear that the casualisation of education services isn’t confined to any one system–especially given the impact of global hiring.

On the subject of hiring, Inside Higher Ed reports on a major study of academic job placement that found a problem of “prestige hierarchy” in the US: in a hypercompetitive labour market the elite status of PhD programs selects for academic career success. This isn’t rocket science, but it suggests that if Australia follows this trend, the state of the labour market will eventually start to impact on the viability of postgraduate recruitment in less than elite institutions. Interviewed for the article, influential academic career consultant Karen Kelsky shared her advice to students considering PhD enrolment as a pathway to tenure:

Go only to an elite or high-ranking program, and take on absolutely no debt to do the entire program start to finish. If all those are possible and you are under 40, then it’s not a bad choice.

Meanwhile The Chronicle published an article on time from degree: the increasingly obvious problems faced by recent PhD graduates who become trapped in adjunct contracts that force them to try to maintain their research careers on their own time while teaching large loads, often across institutions. Leonard Cassuto notes that their persistence has the perverse effect of both raising the bar to full-time recruitment, and diminishing their own value to employers.

One of the problems we’ve mentioned before is the tendency for sector research and reporting to overlook the presence of academic casuals when investigating technology trends. The Gates Foundation has released a report on trends in faculty attitudes to technology and pedagogy.  While noting some differences in attitude between full-time and part-time faculty (in particular, that part-time faculty are more likely to act as advocates for innovation, and most likely to be focused on students), the report found no evidence that employment status “has a material impact on pedagogical behaviors.”

Thanks to Lee Skallerup Bessette for her article reflecting on the report, and its failure to address the reasons why precarious faculty also feel most disconnected from the opportunity to drive change:

But if we are to change teaching, then these are the places and the people we need to be looking at. And, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that this segment is the least connected to the larger community. Or feel supported. And why should part-time faculty attend workshops if they aren’t compensated?

The Capital & Main website, based in California, published an essay on adjuncts as the new fast food workers. Patti Donze, interviewed for the article, described working a full-time load for a fraction of the normal tenured salary for the same work:

“I am teaching a class and I’m getting paid a third of what a tenured professor would get to teach the same exact class,” Donze said. “I was a merit scholar at my law school. I look good on paper, but here I am getting paid less than $20,000 a year. I mean, it was minimum wage on my W-2s. I had no idea that I would graduate with a Ph.D. and be making as little as I do. Starbucks would probably pay more.”

Unionisation campaigns continue across the US. Adjuncts at Boston University have voted overwhelmingly to join the SEIU.

Meanwhile in Canada, a beautiful open letter on the Rabble website from a contract academic to her colleagues: “Dear Contract Academic Faculty: I see you“. Also from Canada, CASA reader Andrew Robinson via Medium, on the low level of accountability from universities spending public money on cheap labour.

And in the UK, the UCU Anti-Casualisation Committee braved the curse of Friday 13th and held its annual meeting, followed on Twitter at #anticas15.

That’s it from us. We have new articles coming along, and we’re really glad to welcome new subscribers at the start of the year. If you’d like to write with us, just drop us a line at casualcasa dot gmail. You can also find us both on Twitter. Thanks to everyone who shares these posts around–we really appreciate it.
Best of luck everyone.
@KateMfd and @acahacker

 

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About Kate Bowles

Education technology, shared governance and casualisation in Australian higher education

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