After a short news hiatus, we’re back with updates on the casualisation of higher education in Australia and around the world. We’re in the managing expectations phase of the coming Federal budget, and the Minister for Education is promising “at least one surprise“. While we wait, the good news according to The Conversation is that the humanities are not in crisis, except of course if you’re in the next generation of humanities academics:
The academic workforce data reveals the extent of casual appointments as a means of reducing costs in arts and social sciences, highlighting a very real danger to the next generation of humanities academics.
For a sense of what it’s like to be not in crisis, check out the excellent new Post-PhD, Pre-Everything Else blog, this week writing on the impact of managing rejection in the Australian academic job market:
When I apply for jobs and grants I have to tell myself that even if success is unlikely, it’s possible, despite my complete lack of success so far. I have to believe in the possibility, and believe in my own capacity to succeed, because otherwise it is impossible to put in the hours (days) needed to write a solid application. A degree of confidence is essential to the process, but often hard to muster. …
Here’s the thing: I know, on some level, that the rejections aren’t necessarily a reflection on me personally, or not entirely. They reflect a lot of things: an oversupply of PhDs relative to the increasingly casualised workforce and insecure funding environment in higher education and research. They reflect that for every post there are hundreds of qualified applicants from all over the world, many of whom will have years of experience on me.
The issue of professional confidence is critical for Australia’s universities, as increasing numbers of our undergraduate students are taught by those whom the profession treats with least care.
What’s happening elsewhere?
Following the work done by Karina and Tseen Khoo to document professional associations offering reduced rates to academic casuals, a huge cheer from us for the new Inclusive Fees campaign. This US campaign is nudging academic conference organisers to offer reduced fees for adjuncts, and asks academics with tenure to think hard about what they can do to support their adjunct colleagues to get to conferences and preserve their research careers.
The lack of a third option in conference registration fees reflects a more general neglect of a big part of academia: adjuncts, lecturers, postdocs without financial support from their institutions, and in general scholars who already graduated but do not have a tenure or tenure-track position. …
It is paradoxical that those who are in heightened need of financial support and accommodation on the part of conferences organization and institutions, are the same people who have the highest pressure to present at conferences and publicize their work, for that is the best chance they have to step out of the invisible niche they inhabit.
There’s a petition here.
On the other side of collegiality, a charming site describing itself as “the #1 Aggregator of Liberty Oriented Blogs, Videos and Podcasts” reblogged an older post from the Bleeding Heart Libertarians berating adjuncts for their poor career choices, and stirred up a testy exchange of views. If you want to follow the libertarian train of thought, work back from “Adjuncts: Highly Paid Per Hour” or “The Myth of the Minimum Wage Adjunct“. If you want to see how adjuncts responded, this Storify is excellent (and cheers to Lee Kottner for the work). The clue here is that while the tenured hold the privilege as individuals, adjuncts have the numbers, and at some point this is going to bite.
In the meantime, it’s been pretty grim watching these writers tear into the track record of an adjunct colleague simply for being profiled in the Huffington Post, in order to prove that her situation is a fair reflection of her ability, both in research and teaching. (If you want to know what today’s hotshot researchers do, it turns out they use Google to look up Rate My Professor. No, really.)
Some time late yesterday, while I was busy working at my new job, those fun libertarian fellows decided that they should google me and proceed to drag my entire life. Or at least, as much of my life as they can learn from a simple internet search. It seems that I definitely should have known better than to try to get into the academic world. (Spoiler alert, suckers: I’m already here. The calls are coming from inside the house.)
But as she points out, the suggestion made in the original post that dissatisfied adjuncts could just quit and sell insurance is in the careful-what-you-wish-for basket, as it’s adjuncts’ continued willingness to turn up to work in higher education that sustains the institutions that hire the tenured. Succinctly:
If you’re tenure track faculty who denigrate teaching, then you’re devaluing students. This attitude is dangerous. For you.
— Despicable G (@GracieG) May 1, 2015
How well do the libertarians represent those on the tenure track? For balance, Cynthia Wu’s essay on gaining tenure as a position of responsibility to the profession as a whole (that is, including those whom the profession has no intention to sustain):
If I feel any post-tenure malaise, it comes from knowing that this change in my institutional standing occurred at a time when that possibility for others had already eroded. The corporatization of the academy and declining public support for higher education have meant that a greater proportion of the faculty is now contingent. Combine that with growth in the administrative ranks, and we have a recipe for tuition hike disaster. Students of this generation take on more debt than ever before in order to afford an education delivered by workers who are compensated less and less.
I don’t like this path. Let’s forge a different one.
Susan Boynton in Talking Points Memo also argues from a position of tenure that hiring adjuncts is wrong, and encourages the “future members of the class of ’19” to ask harder questions about the tenure/adjunct ratio in the colleges to whom they pay their soaring fees:
Perhaps the only way to effect change will be through two time-honored American traditions: the customer is always right, and you get what you pay for. The consumers of higher education deserve value for their money. They—and we —must demand dignified working conditions and decent pay for the adjunct instructors in the classrooms of American colleges and universities.
The lesson’s clear: in the US, establishing a two-tier profession—whatever the short term gains in budget or efficiency—has had deep consequences for collegiality, in a way that is increasingly being rehearsed in front of students.
Careful what you wish for, Australia.
Bits and pieces
A quick round up of older news to finish off. In the UK a new model for managing casual academic hiring is being piloted at the University of Warwick. According to its website, Teach Higher is “a new Academic Services Department, created to assist those seeking interim teaching or research assignments at Warwick, and to assist academic departments in engaging hourly paid teachers and researchers.” Teach Higher promises that its candidates will have access to centrally managed professional development, transparency in recruitment and support with records management. The objections to this aren’t to the details so much as the prinicple—it’s exactly the dilemma that we’re facing in Australia. Is accepting better processes to manage casualisation effectively the same as accepting casualisation itself?
A few weeks ago, the 2015 Horizon Report on emerging technology adoption acknowledged the adjunctification of higher education as part of the problem of teaching being of lower status than research, and categorised this as a “wicked challenge: complex to even define, much less address”. With this in mind, check out the launch of Freedom University from the Modern Disappointment blog. And mainstream news continues to cover the decline of the US college professor into the ranks of the working poor–which is precisely what got the libertarians worked up in the first place.
Have a good week everyone, and if you’d like to write with us at CASA, we’d love to have you—don’t hesitate to get in touch: casualcasa at gmail dot com.
Kate & Karina