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The C word

How (whether) you speak about casualisation in Australian higher education has become a kind of shorthand for indicating where you are in the system, and sometimes, where you want to be. Your use (or not) of the C word not only demonstrates your insight (or not) into casualisation, it is also becoming an extremely useful way for others to know who you are, and whether or not you’re going up.

Here is a quick and dirty handy guide to making the C word work for you, wherever you might be in the system.

Level 1: At the level of sector leadership, the C word should be entirely avoided. At this level, you want to be able to minimise its significance, and certainly keep at arms’  length the problem of actual impact on actual people. But you will need to be able to talk to your key stakeholders about the budget benefit of having staff employed on an hourly basis, whenever useful. Referring to something without actually saying it can be tricky but you do not get to this level without knowing how to make oblique references to reality. Acceptable ways to refer to casualisation without ever saying the actual word include ‘staffing flexibility’; ‘agility’; ‘responsiveness to the fluctuations in the market’; ‘increasing contractors’; or any reference to ‘portfolio academics’. There are many other filler terms. Just remember not to say the actual word.

Level 2: At the level of institutional leadership, the C word may be used on very rare occasions and only then with a sense of distance, like mentioning a country you have never visited, at least not within the last 40 years, nor can you really imagine visiting. Only a very few individuals at this level have ever gone there and even fewer are recorded as even saying the actual word, let alone in reference to their own University. Your leadership will leave its mark if you can train others around you to see the C word in scare quotes. Typical ways to refer to casualisation at this level are:          *crickets*.

Level 3: At the level of Faculty, or Executive Dean, you may need a word to talk about this, er, thing, in a practical sense. This is because: a) at this level you are tasked with being concerned for and acting in the best/business interests of the Faculty, which are listed for easy reference in your Key Performance Indicators and in your Performance Development Review; b) your KPIs and your PDR are overseen by those at Level 2) above, and they may not know the C word. In an emergency, use ‘sessional’, and delegate related tasks quickly.

Level 4: At the level of the Department or School, you will find yourself having to refer regularly to the actual people who are hired to work in your teams. You will have to ensure that they have access to basic provisions to do their jobs, and that they are following the same protocols as everyone else. You will also have to be in meetings with other people who use the C word freely. Any sector level vocabulary will only confuse. You cannot talk about ‘the agiles’, ‘the flexibles’ or ‘the portfolios’, so you may also like to try ‘the sessionals’. It has a business-like ring to it, like ‘contractor’ or ‘consultant’, and doesn’t have any awkward retail/fast-food overtones.

Level 5 – Level 99: Everyone else, go ahead and say the C word along with any others that feel right – ‘sessional’, ‘adjunct’,’ contractor’; ‘freelance’; ‘academic’; ‘underemployed’; ‘university teacher’. Just don’t let anyone at Levels 1-4 get away with telling you that the C word shouldn’t be used because it deprofessionalises our hourly-paid colleagues especially the doctors, lawyers, accountants, and other professionals donating their real world expertise to students in a pro bono show of gratitude to Higher Education (see ‘portfolio academics’ above).

The C word is not what we are but it is how many of us are employed. It’s not an insult to the person / many doing the job, but it is to the institutions that are learning have learnt that university teaching can be cheaply done by paying by the hour, not providing leave, or parity in superannuation, and who are covering this up in front of the punters with corporate euphemisms or … *crickets*.



About Karina

Living and working in the Sydney, Australia suburbs.


6 thoughts on “The C word

  1. Great; context matters right? Re. Levels, I wonder how students – to the extent that they are aware of the issue – might talk about this.

    Posted by Andrew | April 5, 2016, 2:22 pm


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