Welcome to the CASA news roundup on issues affecting casual, adjunct, sessional and other precariously positioned university workers, in Australia and internationally.
What’s been happening in Australia
Casualisation went from saving the sector to crippling the sector in one fell swoop with University of Adelaide Vice Chancellor Professor Warren Bebbington pointing to all the money that can be saved by transferring those academics who are ‘passionate about teaching’, employed on an ongoing basis (and who may or may not be considered to be underperforming in terms of research) into teaching-only roles. In doing so, Professor Bebbington drew a clear demarcation between university staff and casuals:
Under our new enterprise bargaining [agreement] they can elect to teach up to 90 per cent of the time, so if you’ve got staff who are now going to teach more than double you need a lot less casuals, so you save a lot of money
What’s been happening elsewhere
The big news from the US this week has concerned the challenge to tenure and shared governance in the University of Wisconsin. This is an ongoing story and we’ll be looking at it in detail in our next post. The obvious question: if tenure is critical to the integrity of academic practice, what does it mean that the majority of teaching in US higher education is done by faculty who are excluded from tenure?
Meanwhile, backing up Professor Bebbington’s ideas about the difference between staff and casuals, a hearing between the American Federated Teachers Association and Temple University raised the question as to why adjuncts do not share a “community of interest” with other faculty. The university had a short and sour answer: that adjuncts aren’t faculty. Rather, they are cost saving devices who also happen to contribute most of the teaching at Temple, and incidentally, at a number of other institutions. Because they ostensibly do not contribute to Temple’s research or university service, and because, crucially, poor pay forces them to teach at more than one institution, they cannot be considered Temple faculty. Sam Allingham nails the central problem with this argument:
By separating faculty from non-faculty, Temple is attempting to shift its paradox onto the shoulders of adjuncts. It argues that by spreading their energy too thin, by not taking up the mantle of research or committee membership, adjuncts have rendered themselves ineligible for the “community of interest.” They may be essential to the functioning of the university, but their contingent nature makes them incapable of responsibility.
By doing so, Temple hopes to re-affirm its essential mission, only with limits. At Temple, they maintain, we care about our teachers: provided our teachers fulfill certain requirements – as if the very economic conditions they created were not the ones which make adjuncts incapable of fulfilling these requirements. It is a classic divide-and-conquer strategy. In attempting to shift the paradox at the heart of their new business model onto the figure of the adjunct, Temple is blaming them for their own exploitation.
Meanwhile, good news for all Australian universities: we’re more like Harvard than we’ve previously figured– at least in terms of reliance on what Harvard refers to as ‘non-ladder’ faculty; those teaching at Harvard but not on the tenure track and/or in ongoing academic positions. Like those casually employed in Australian higher ed teaching and research, Harvard’s ‘we-don’t-call-them-adjuncts’ are a heterogeneous bunch, whose pay, job security, access to institutional resources, and voice in governance, varies widely, coming down hard on the side of ‘crappy’. One thing Australian casual academics also have in common with all of these non-ladder faculty, from ‘professors of the practice’ to lecturers, is that none of them are employed in ongoing positions within the University.
There has been some conversation on whether professionalising hiring practices around adjuncts will lead to more sustainable academic careers. In a piece that takes the novel approach of actually asking adjuncts what will help them develop their careers, the answer is pretty clear: no matter what you do (or where you are—see Harvard) an adjunct’s ‘career’ is a sometimes-very-long road to nowhere. And in terms of how adjuncts want to be hired, whether through formal or informal processes, honesty and transparency about career progression is key:
I think it should be clear, also, that it is a dead position… (w)hen I was hired, I was repeatedly given the impression that good work as an adjunct would inevitably lead to a full-time position and I waited around for five years for that to happen. I think it needs to be said upfront that it will never happen.
… one school was fairly straight up with me, my other one was not and they made us submit all our documents over again every single year. We had no guarantee that we would be back … The more informal [place] was far more up front with me about what was going on. The place that used a more formal approach also was able, by the secrecy around this process, to rank candidates in mysteriously unpredictable ways that directly affected the amounts of work
In the UK, a survey of just over 2,500 University and College Union members suggests that about a third of university staff on fixed-term or casualised contracts have difficulties paying their rent or mortgage and household bills, while 20 per cent join our sessional staffer from last week’s news, in struggling to buy enough food.
There has been a spate of articles highlighting the salaries of the CEOs of the academic world—chancellors and college presidents—some comparing their salaries and conditions with those of adjuncts. At City University New York (CUNY):
the chancellor’s salary has almost tripled since 1986, using inflation adjusted dollars…[and] an adjunct lecturer making the lowest hourly rate in 2015 earns 20 percent less than what they would have made in 1986.
Another open letter from an adjunct professor, this time from Cameron Conaway, and written to explain to his students exactly how their good relationship was used as a bargaining chip. Conaway had already been honest with his students regarding his adjunct status:
thank you for using your collective voice to go up against a machine that often views adjuncts as disposable parts. The signatures you took upon yourselves to collect and deliver to the Chancellor (during finals week, no less) made me feel valued and needed at a time when I wasn’t feeling either.
Conaway details how this mutually respectful relationship was held to ransom when the prospect of an ongoing position was suddenly dropped:
[but] We can offer you an adjunct position and we hope you’ll accept as soon as possible, otherwise we’ll have to hire someone who barely knows what they’re doing. Our students deserve better.
Critically, Conaway continued to be upfront with his students:
See how the game is played? The faculty saw the impact we had on each other, saw how I put my heart into every interaction with you. And this, after dropping the horrible news of “maybe” being able to offer me $2,800 per class, was the pressure point they went after to get me to give in.
Exploitation of professional integrity is an easy to way to pressure adjuncts to accept below-par conditions. Conaway and others speaking out make the point that no matter how outstanding a teacher you are, without job security and the ongoing access to institutional resources and support that security brings with it, both you and your students will be constantly hurting.
Another way out: adjuncts at the University of Barcelona are collecting signatures for their petition setting out straightforward demands: a decent salary, a stable job, a stable future. You can find more information and sign the petition here.
In the UK, the University of Warwick has scrapped its plans to hand recruitment and management of hourly-paid teaching staff to an internally supported academic services department, under the Teach Hire Higher scheme.
The circle of Australian higher ed casual life has come full with this recent ad for a Casual HR Administrative Support Officer to implement casual academic staff hiring process.
There’s plenty more to come but that’s it for now. Thanks for reading and sharing this around your networks, and if you’d like to write with us, please drop us a line at casualcasa dot gmail dot com.
@acahacker and @KateMfD