you're reading...

Dear Casual Academics

Further to this post, a plea from casual academics to casual academics –  to start change in concrete ways.

Re: Setting limits to exploitation and the plight of casual academics in Australia

Casualisation is one of the most acute problems in Australian tertiary education. As conditions for casual staff continue to deteriorate, it is important for casuals to work collectively to protect their rights. Management, staff and students need to understand what casualisation involves, as we are currently teaching the majority of classes in Australian universities, and as such, our working conditions are a matter of national significance. Working conditions for casual academics in Australian universities can be improved, and change can start with casuals themselves and their everyday work.

We are casual academics, like you, and we are asking you to consider, adhere to, or implement the following five points of action. We are writing these points based on our experiences teaching in the humanities at an Australian university. We invite casual academic staff from other disciplines and institutions to give their input in the comments on other concrete ways in which we can change current conditions and create a better environment for our working, teaching and research.

  1. Do not do extra work, unless it is clearly paid: e.g. do not give unpaid guest lectures; do not offer student consultation times, including answering emails, unless consultation times are paid separately; request lesson plans from course convenors, given the very limited paid time for lesson-prep.
  2. Ask to be included in course design and on administrative matters: You are entitled to have input on teaching and administrative matters that affect your work (negotiate marking deadlines; ask for one mandatory reading per week, no more).
  3. Ask for transparency and consistency in hiring and contract renewals: Don’t be afraid of asking how the tutorials are allocated amongst staff. If conflicting or limited tutorial times are offered, talk to fellow casual staff and collectively negotiate for a more equitable distribution of workloads.
  4. Use your academic freedom: Not only you are entitled to set your own agenda for class discussion, you are entitled to address the deteriorating conditions within Australian universities and the impact casualisation is having on teaching and learning (e.g., ‘soft-marking’, student consultations, marking deadlines, etc.).
  5. Meet with your fellow casual academics and/or unionise: Break the isolation, stress, neglect and disempowerment of our work. Casuals are being encouraged to compete with each other for scarce hours of work. This can only lead to a further deterioration of working conditions.

We are suggesting these five points as a foundation for casuals to assert their dignity and rights. We know casuals’ working conditions vary widely and that there may be many more issues worthy of inclusion. The main point is that we have to begin with ourselves if things are to improve. Allowing ourselves to be exploited (or staying silent) sets a bad precedent for all casuals and perpetuates this critical situation. If you would like to add to these points or expand on them, please include them in the discussion below, so that we can continue to build further networks of solidarity and support.

PL & J (casual academics since 2009)


About Karina

Living and working in the Sydney, Australia suburbs.


9 thoughts on “Dear Casual Academics

  1. After a particularly gruelling session I am stepping away from the profession to recover. Halfway through the session I alerted the academic management team to the fact that I was working more than three times the hours I was being paid for in a rather ill-defined role, but they did not acknowledge receipt of my email. Plenty of others are queueing up to take my place and be exploited. Should have reached this point two years ago but I believed I could make a difference!

    Posted by sessionaldrudge | October 19, 2015, 8:38 pm
  2. Thanks for comment. We precisely want to tell casuals that if we are all queuing up, something set by management to replace us whenever they please, at least we want to address lecturers, the full time staff that by principle have the same concerns and progressive attitudes. My only input would be to address concerns in personal meetings with supervisors, to lose the fear and/or to meet a few minutes earlier with fellow casuals and voice them together. I say this because I have chickened out in those meetings and yes, my emails like those have always gone ignored.

    Posted by Matias Hagel | October 20, 2015, 5:10 pm
  3. Thank you for your 5 points, most of which I concur with. But I am afraid. And it is this ongoing fear that so many of us feel, that make it so hard to put a collective foot down! All of the ‘requests’ you outline in your 5 points are dangerous. Apparently I am a trouble maker, and the ‘trouble’ I make makes me less of an appealing employee. I am a member of my union, but somehow, when I have a problem, it is because I haven’t done something (demanded a verbal offer in writing, refused to begin work until I received my contract, believed what was ‘promised’ to me, had faith that my hard work would actually be recognised and rewarded). Ha, I haven’t made a noise because I am just so grateful to be offered something!

    Sessionals are pitted against one another, simple fact. Those who are given pitiful 6 or 12 month contracts are not going to let that go for the sake of giving someone else employed only for a semester at a time, an equal chance. PhDs are being passed on an ongoing basis. Some get jobs, some others join the ‘pool’ of sessionals – take whatever you can. There are no ‘comrades’ who are willing to get together and fight, there are simply many many more qualified people than there are jobs available, and transparency in who gets ‘chosen’ is a dream.

    The first point, ‘do not do the work…’ goes completely against my personal ethics and I cannot bring myself to do less. Not only will I feel I am failing my students, but I will feel unfilfilled in the job I am doing unless I do it to my best abilities. Meeting with students is hugely important to the personal satisfaction I get out of my job, engaging in an extended dialogue while commenting on student work, and responding to student emails are all things I actually don’t want to give up. But I know that I’d get nowhere asking to be paid for this as well. This is a double bind and I understand all the arguments for not doing it, but how much more am I to narrow my significance, or input in the world? As a sessional, it is made small enough!

    I would love to be convinced otherwise – I love my work but I hate competition – and that is what it is. I am not a complete loser because I can get work sometimes. But the stress of not knowing if or when or what I’ll be doing to earn an income in the next six months makes me feel utterly sick to the core.

    Posted by Annabelle Leve | October 20, 2015, 10:16 pm
    • I agree, Annabelle. It pains me to do less than is required to do the job properly; that is part of the problem. As educators our instinct is to give our best for our students and that makes us vulnerable. Following my best intentions of only working paid hours made me feel incompetent and useless. Working the extra hours meant I could live with myself, but also beat myself up for being a sucker working for free. The only possible conclusion was to admit defeat and get the hell out.

      Posted by Sessional Drudge | October 21, 2015, 5:40 pm
  4. The DWYL debate recycles without reaching consensus but slowly inching that direction. I recall a similar thread on a guest post at Josh Boldt’s original Adjunct Project blog several years ago — and others in between. Insecure academic labor seems to be approaching if not consensus then acceptance that tolerating the intolerable is not a strategy for change. Reactions against not working for free are not as strong or hostile as they used to be. rather suspect there are many who agree in silence and privately set limits. Negative attitudes about those who left academia underwent the same kind sea change too.

    Posted by VanessaVaile | October 24, 2015, 2:11 am
    • Thanks Vanessa for your comment. I will definitily spread around, if you don’t mind, this great sentence of yours: “tolerating the intolerable is not a strategy for change”. None of us, absolutely none of us is there for the money. We care about education because we believe it is one of best platforms for social change. It is the students and us, casuals, though, who are paying a huge price because of casualisation. I go so out of my way to answer students emails, giving one ore two paragraphs minimum of feedback, etc, that doing less is just common sense to me. Enough is enough. Are casuals going to be ultimate responsible parties for the illiteracy of entire future Australian generations because our soft-marking? Yes, we casuals are paying the price, working for free. Anyway, thanks for showing you care.

      Posted by Matias Hagel | October 27, 2015, 12:39 pm
      • I’m more than happy to say I do it for money AND love. Although, I wish I could do less of the latter. Caring less seems to be a good strategy for self-preservation, for moving through academia, and perhaps out of it too.

        (Maybe DWYL needs to be rescrambled for those in higher ed – Love What You Do, Less )

        Posted by Karina | October 30, 2015, 1:14 pm


  1. Pingback: Setting limits for casual academic work | Inherit and Respond - October 22, 2015

  2. Pingback: Adjuncts Who Teach For The Love of It ARE the Problem | AdjunctNation.com - March 22, 2016

We welcome your thoughts (update: oldest comments now appear first!)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: