College teaching is one of the few jobs that has been turned from a good job into a bad job … in one generation.
Here’s this week’s news on casualisation in Australia’s higher education system, where the government’s proposal for sector reform is once more being inspected by Senate committee. For the policy-hardened, there are 69 submissions to the review; in the main, the reform debate is still steering clear of the awkward question of university staffing or the long-term prospects for the academic profession.
The National Union of Students again comes out in front, in addressing costs for PhD students:
Many of these students will have foregone full time income for up to 10 years by the time they have completed the university study needed to get a PhD. Many researchers will end up in their early career with casualised, intermittent work in the academic labour force or be told by employers that they are over-qualified to work in non-academic jobs. In light of the narrowing of employment opportunities due to cuts to the public sector and publicly funded research agencies the imposition of fees seem an ill-advised additional deterrence to students to undertake research training.
At the committee’s public hearing on Friday (transcripts will appear here), Jeannie Rea and Paul Kniest from the NTEU put the case for Australia’s casuals:
— NTEU National Office (@NTEUNational) March 6, 2015
The problem is that casualisation of teaching itself then—perversely—attracts management attention as a potential cost-saving. This week the Sunshine Coast Daily reported that a last minute decision to reduce casual teaching in Arts and Business at the University of the Sunshine Coast would be achieved by asking permanent academic staff to take on higher teaching loads. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, according to the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Corporate Services:
“I’m not sure how asking your professional scholars to spend a couple more hours with students a week could give you a worse outcome. It should give you a better outcome.”
That’s pretty plain: university managers don’t think of Australia’s academic casuals as belonging to the professional scholarly workforce, and when there are modest savings to be made, are also prepared to hint heavily that it’s better for students to be taught by the professional scholar class.
One problem faced by Australia’s not-quite-professional scholarly workforce trying to sustain a research career is that national disciplinary associations do so little to acknowledge that they are low-waged workers. This isn’t just a problem for casuals, but is also a sign that these associations aren’t paying attention to their own financial futures:
If an academic society or association doesn’t have rates for #auscasuals, that says that they can afford a membership decline. So be it.
— Karina (@Acahacker) March 5, 2015
Karina’s been collaborating with Tseen Khoo of the Research Whisperer to pull together details on which Australian associations offer special rates to academic casuals. Check out the Google spreadsheet here, and contribute if your association isn’t included.
The Victorian campaigns to protest unequal superannuation contributions as well as casual working conditions in general (late contracts, unpaid compulsory meetings), is really powering up, especially on Twitter. Follow @thesupercasuals and @VUsessionals for regular updates and news of mainstream media coverage, like this article in The Age on underemployment, featuring Lachlan Clohesy from the Supercasuals campaign:
Mr Clohesy, who teaches history and politics, often “maxes” out his credit card in summer when he has no work. During semesters he pays off his debts.
“It can be very humiliating. You’re asking family to give you loans you can only pay back during semester,” he said.
But what if you don’t have a credit card, or a family who can lend you money? On the Blacademy blog, read a powerful post on the challenges facing a first year PhD student without these resources.
What’s happening elsewhere?
The trends that are becoming visible in Australia are entrenched in the US, where the deteriorating job market has strengthened the pipeline from elite institutions into tenure track jobs. This week in “Academic’s 1 percent” for Chronicle Vitae, Sarah Kendzior points out that this is turning professional scholarly work into a prospect that can only be entertained by those with the financial means to attend the most expensive colleges in the first place, to survive chronic and long-term underemployment after graduating, and to pay their own way throughout:
But academia was not designed for the fiscally responsible: It was designed for those for whom money is a nonissue. Academia’s currency is prestige, but prestige is always backed up by money, whether the expenditure for life in a costly city, the expectation of unpaid or underpaid labor, or research trips assumed to be paid out-of-pocket.
In the Washington Post, Tanya Papery wrote about her experience as “a professor at four universities” who “couldn’t make ends meet”, and eventually had to give up:
I taught as many as five classes each semester at four campuses in D.C. and Maryland, crisscrossing town by bike and public transportation during work days that sometimes lasted 13 hours. I never knew what my employment would look like the following term and constantly applied for part- and full-time teaching positions in case I didn’t get rehired.
Like many Australian casuals, Papery was told by an administrator that adjuncts come from other professions and teach on the side, despite the fact that AAUP data shows that the majority of contingent faculty aren’t in this position.
National Adjunct Walkout Day on February 25th generated both sector and mainstream media coverage (see also here and here). At Inside Higher Ed, Colleen Flaherty and Kaitlin Mulhere covered the event in a substantial article on the day of protest, interviewing organisers, participants, students, and administrators. Again, the impact on students is significant: one student who participated at the University of Arizona said that until the protest, “she appreciated her professors and looked up to them” but “she never took the time to think about their work conditions.”
Activism in the US has focused on the impact of casualisation on teaching, but there is emerging evidence of an impact on research careers, and the quality of research itself. Katina Rogers on the HASTAC website summarises all this, and argues strongly that it’s time to separate contingency as a cost solution from early career experience as a professional development opportunity.
While actions continue at York University and the University of Toronto in Canada, Showey Yazdanian outlines in The Globe & Mail the impact of competing policy pressures on Canadian higher education:
On one hand, we recognize the value of a well-educated society; postsecondary institutions are swollen with record quantities of students and someone has to teach them. On the other, Canada is in hot pursuit of invention and innovation, and professors who excel at research are often rewarded with “teaching release” to enable them to produce more of it.
More research requires more graduate-level students – but once these bright young things have finished slogging out four to six years of laboratory or field work to gain their PhDs, what fate awaits them? Under the current regime, many are simply plowed directly back into the system as contract faculty, paid peanuts to teach mass quantities of undergraduates. And the cycle perpetuates – the profession feasts on its young.
Australians will recognise this loop.
That’s it for this week. If you’d like to write a CASA post, just email us at casualcasa at gmail dot com and let us know. And as the academic year gets underway, we’d really love to know what CASA readers are thinking about this year’s work contracts. What’s changing? And what would you most like to change? Feel free to comment on this or any other thing, and thanks so much for passing CASA news around.
@katemfd and @acahacker