Welcome to the CASA news for issues affecting casual, adjunct, and sessional university staff in Australia and internationally.
What’s been happening here
The recent Federal Budget did nothing much to break the holding patterns within the Australian university sector regarding deregulation of fees, research funding, or official acknowledgement of casualisation across the sector. In short, everything old is basically staying the same.
We’ve been following the tale of an anonymous staff member at one Australian university, explaining exactly how ‘simple admin errors’ in payroll has spelled struggle on a number of levels:
This week, my family have $50 to pay for groceries because there was a mistake in […] payroll and I wasn’t paid for teaching at the end of April; as I am a ‘sessional’ staff member, this happens more frequently than you might imagine. $23 of what’s left needs to be spent on parking so I can teach my classes this week (sessional staff don’t qualify for a staff parking space).
We have a young child, so $20 will go to nappies, leaving $7 for food. The uni aren’t able to amend the mistake until the next pay cycle (which is in a fortnight), so we’re not sure what we’re going to do next week – play chicken with the parking inspectors and visit our local foodbank to make sure our child can eat, most likely.
That this was posted on the university’s Facebook ‘Confessions’ page (hashtag #sad #education) meant that this reached students, who are a primary but very rarely consulted stakeholder group in the business of casualising higher ed. In this case, students reacted with shock and then quickly rallied around with practical advice and solutions:
You sometimes can demand fast tracked pay directly to the school who employs you. Otherwise demand them to give you petty cash from their cash box as it was their fault and for them to deduct that off your pay next time
Perhaps try getting a free park in the pit or on the streets behind science library.
When this happened to me (several times) payroll were able to rush the payment. They don’t like to do it, but they will if pushed hard enough
Just nimble it and move on.
As affecting as the original post were the generous offers of help, from those who were there, or had been:
I don’t have much cash either, but I make big meals and box them up to be refrigerated and eaten over several days. If you PM me I’ll gladly bring extra boxes for you.
I’ll pay for your food/petrol for the fortnight. I’d be happy to do it through the confessions page or something so that you stay anonymous if you like.
I read the first two paragraphs. What are your bank details?
When your students start asking if you accept direct deposit, you know the system is in trouble.
Ironically for a Facebook post, anonymity has also allowed this staff member an opportunity to openly admit how much they are struggling:
I suppose what I’m confessing here is that, as a sessional staff member, I am floundering – financially and pedagogically. I want to do the best by my students but the uni just isn’t there to back me up. As students, you have the power to use your voices for change. If you want quality teaching, demand it – it’s your education at stake.
Students understand that very well if the comments are anything to go by:
Maybe there should be some sort of anonymous online tipping system? So you can chuck a couple of dollars to the tutor/lab demonstrator/lecturer etc who really helps you…
PM me and I’m sure I can organise something. Hang in there, us students appreciate your efforts more than you know
Seriously, to whoever posted this, thank you for caring about the student body and for working hard to do your best for us – I hope that the university can begin to provide you the support you need, because that ultimately supports the students, and makes the whole [university] a better place for all.
One commentator summed it up for fellow students:
If you want an innovative, well-supported learning experience you need teaching staff with financial security and professional support.
What’s been happening elsewhere
The déjà vu regarding examples of poor pay and conditions for casuals continues at Kings College London where a recent survey of graduate teaching assistants has once again seen the nitty gritty of what it is to be a casual academic exposed. Of the 400 surveyed, 96% are working more than their contracted hours to properly perform their teaching duties. The responses could be taken from any survey of Australian casual academics:
It’s not possible to mark a lab report in one hour. I have been doing this for 3 years now and got fairly fast and efficient with it and by now really do know my subject. But providing the student with helpful feedback while ensuring you mark the student fairly is not possible in one hour.
If I were to stick to the hours I was contracted for, I would prepare perhaps a quarter of the required reading per week and mark a third of the essays with reduced feedback.
The papers need to be read quickly even to read them in double the time that is actually paid. The feedback needs to be generalised, to an extent, because there is no paid time to do them.
The fact that many graduate teaching assistants are also students has also not escaped notice, with KCL’s student newspaper showing solidarity by reporting on the ‘conning of undergraduates’ by forcing the majority of teaching assistants, who include postgraduate PhD students, ‘to work at impossible speeds in “nightmarish” conditions – leading to “unfair” essay-marking and botched seminars.’
One teaching assistant has the nutshell:
My students cannot receive the standard of teaching or feedback that they expect or deserve, or that the university promises them, unless I consistently and persistently work extra hours for free.
At Inside Higher Ed, the numbers continue to do the talking in another detailed run-down of long-term adjuncting; this time from the perspective of someone with 500 college courses under their belt and a record of 27 courses taught in one year.
As the anonymous author of “Treadmill to Oblivion” highlights, continuing to not ‘share the numbers’, whether through individual fears for an already precarious position or institutional anxiety about potentially damning data, has meant that we still have little idea who is on the treadmill, who has got off, and who is falling off.
I have hit the wall. I can teach five courses a semester, but no more. Yet I cannot earn enough on five courses. Years of stress of having too much to do, or worrying about not making enough money, have taken a toll on my health. I now understand how karōshi can happen.
We’ve done the googling to confirm that yes, karōshi is Japanese for death by overwork.
Over to the good ideas corner
Something that hasn’t caught on in Australian higher ed, but something that it really, really needs, is the Unconference – “which is to a conference what a seminar is to a lecture, what a party at your house is to a church wedding, what a pick-up game of Ultimate Frisbee is to an NBA game”. More to the point for casual and sessional advocates and organisers, an unconference is an “open, inexpensive meeting where people interested in higher education and contingent/adjunct workforce issues come together in sessions proposed on the spot”.
The NTEU is currently conducting a nation-wide State of the Uni survey to “create independent and reliable information about the attitudes of university staff to the sector, their working conditions, their employers, and the unions that represent them”. Link to the survey here.
That’s it for now. 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, especially on Facebook—we really appreciate it.
@KateMfd and @acahacker