Hello everyone, and welcome to the news that Australian higher education is about to face more headlines and press releases on the state of Minister Pyne’s package (“Pyne Spends $150,000 To Try And Get His Package Up” etc. etc.). As Parliament resumes next week for the Spring session, it looks as though the university deregulation proposals will come back for a third go around which, if unsuccessful, would be the trigger for a double dissolution election.
Tender documents show that the $150,000 was spent on a three week “assessment of stakeholder views“, which is a painful reminder that some stakeholders evidently matter more than others. Casuals are directly affected by Enterprise Agreements, but both universities and the NTEU struggle to figure out how to involve them in formal processes of review and voting. Casuals are specifically addressed by university policies, but rarely included in the committees that establish policy expectations for their responsibilities. Finally, casuals represent a large proportion of the university workforce, but are very unevenly included in the national workforce satisfaction surveys. And the effect of all this is that the specific challenges involved in working casually are difficult to report or understand.
The Voice Project surveys the majority of Australian universities, and addressed this issue directly on their blog back in April, telling universities that “it’s time to rethink your engagement strategy for sessional academics.” Their data shows that sessional staff consistently raise different issues in surveys, including
- inadequate learning and development opportunities,
- uncertainty regarding ongoing contract renewal and career development,
- pay not reflecting additional work such as student consultation and marking, and
- the contributions of long-term sessional academics not being recognised.
The Voice Project’s position is that “a one-size-fits-all approach may not be appropriate when it comes to understanding and addressing issues faced by sessional academics.” They offer a separate survey for sessional academics, but so far only a very small number of Australian universities are using it. So if you’re sitting in a presentation on Voice survey results for your university, don’t hesitate to ask specifically how (and how many) sessional staff were included, and how survey data was returned to them.
We’d love to know.
What’s happening elsewhere?
In the US, the problems of contingency are inseparable from the pressure that’s currently being placed on the tenured minority, and the involvement of students in the way universities are staffed. In the wake of changes in State legislation to the security of tenure in Wisconsin, here’s Rebecca Schuman on the case of Sara Goldrick-Rab, those tweets, and what happens when academics are critical of the conditions of academic labour in front of their students.
Tiffany Kraft, on the excellent Hybrid Pedagogy blog, looks squarely at the relationship between working conditions and the student experience:
Students, you are paying record-high tuition for overworked, underpaid part-time professors. We need your active voice in this struggle for quality, affordable higher education. You should have reasonable access to all of your professors, not just the few who have employment security, a living wage, benefits, and an office. And it is neither reasonable nor professional to conference with your adjunct professors in the hall before or after class, on park benches, where I conducted the majority of my student conferences before Skype, or in cramped office spaces with other adjuncts trying to work and conference with students, too.
One of the reasons why students should be encouraged to meet in person with the people hired to teach them is taken up by John Warner in Inside Higher Ed. Warner is responding to the introduction of student mentoring and research involvement as a tenure requirement at Purdue University. As Warner points out, the actual impact on students of this policy shift is limited by the massive casualisation of the US system:
Purdue, or other institutions like it who also desire to move toward more robust undergraduate education must also deal with the fact that due to contingency, significant proportions of their faculty are not in a positions to act as mentors. They are divorced from the security and resources and rewards necessary to do this important work. When contingent faculty do this work, it is beyond volunteerism, and into self-sacrifice.
Any significant new idea faces this constraint: the increasing proportion of academics who are not fully paid to undertake anything beyond minimum contact activities. And this goes double for technology-based innovation: universities seem happy to invest heavily in educational technology, while underinvesting in the staff that they need to engage students effectively in online environments.
Meanwhile, the positive progress of unionisation of US adjuncts is the focus for many writers and activists, both where it’s perceived that unionisation pits adjuncts against their tenured colleagues, and even where the opposite appears to be the case. A.Madjunct at The Majority Rule blog is blunt:
At the risk of preaching to the choir, I still must plead the case that it is critical that faculty of all appointment types stop wasting precious time by fighting each other to the benefit of anti-worker fanatics and overreaching administrations everywhere.
Laura Finley in CounterPunch argues that there has been insufficient attention to worker’s rights as a whole when it comes to university faculty. She details a number of ways in which contingent faculty specifically miss out on basic entitlements, and also makes clear that the process for appointment is hit-and-miss, in ways that would be likely to interest students:
At one university where I was hired based only on my curriculum vitae (no personal interaction, not even a phone interview) to teach an introductory course, I received an email three weeks into the semester detailing my syllabus, lecture notes, and exams. Given that I had obviously already provided my students with a syllabus and the course was well underway, I chose to ignore this email from the department chair (whom I never met) and carry on as I had planned.
Meanwhile, extraordinary controversy at Duquesne University, where administrators have argued that unionisation (in this case with United Steelworkers) is incompatible with Catholic practice. This has attracted the fury of adjuncts around the US. In a measured article for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Distinguished Emeritus Professor Samuel Hazo argues—with detailed sums—that universities that rely on adjunct professors are pursuing profit over academic integrity. Presumably students who read the newspapers will also have access to this opinion.
This week on Twitter, the Victoria University Supercasuals are asking for support for a campaign to ensure that casuals receive their contracts in a timely fashion. That is, before they are expected to start working.
— NTEUSuperCasuals (@thesupercasuals) August 7, 2015
That’s it from us. Thanks for sharing this around your networks, especially on Facebook, where we aren’t. Please do contact us on casualcasa at gmail dot com if there’s something you’d like us to include, or you’d like to write with us. All are warmly welcome.
Kate & Karina