Yes, we haven’t posted for a while but we’re still here. Still thinking, still working on our few words. Still (with)standing.
Why are we still here? We’ve asked ourselves this question quite a few times over the last 18 months or so. And we’ve partly answered on Twitter and on our own blogs and we’ve also stayed quiet, because in some instances, there has been too much to say, too much to take in, too much to process, too much to get through.
And we’ve been rather tired.
But we’re making the most of the tiny swell of energy that’s come from this news, and from a few paragraphs in the always-informative Campus Morning Mail newsletter, May 2, 2017 :
Casual but professional
Leo Goedegebuure and Peter Bentley from the L H Martin Institute have crunched the numbers and found no evidence that increased teaching by casuals causes a crunch in classroom quality. While Professor Goedegebuure warns that the results are based on limited data, the results, he says, “are pretty robust.”
Goedegebuure and Bentley will present their findings at the Australian Higher Education Industrial Association conference in Sydney this week.
Simon Birmingham is a bit busy with a budget plan to sell scholars into slavery (if hysterics in the gallery are to be believed), but you can bet the news that low-cost casuals do not harm learning and teaching will interest him mightily.
Professor Goedegeburre and Dr Bentley report that between 2007 and 2014 the use of casual staff increased in all disciplines, notably in education, architecture and creative arts with the lowest growth in agriculture and natural and physical sciences.
Looking specifically at management and commerce and natural sciences, they find no correlation between quality as measured in student surveys and increasing use of casual teaching. “If the focus is on improving the student experience, the contract status of staff probably is a very minor factor,” they conclude.
Yep, so we’re still here. Doing what we’re contracted to do. (‘What do you do?’ ‘Oh, I’m a contracted university student experience improver’.)
Also, the academic workforce is now a fungible workforce.
Also, because casualisation (adjunctification, sessionalisation, zero-hour contracts) is now the norm, the trap, and the great shame of this profession.
Also, because anybody who has depended on casual work to earn a living in Australia is likely to be caught up in this and this and this , with people from all walks of life and working in all sorts of sectors and industries, sharing stories here.
Because teaching has somehow inexplicably become something Other than fundamental to research, research training, and research communication. No links here, just a statement.
And then – we’re still here because of this surprisingly positive vision from an unlikely source (the event that provoked and inspired us to start CASA three years ago). It’s when you get down to the bottom.
So we’re still here, looking out the windows of CASA to this new view, yet still asking how to move the landslide roadblock that the casualisation of knowledge work really is.
What do we need to do differently? Besides improve the student experience.
Congratulations Karina. When I saw this report in CMM I thought “That shows how professional casuals are”. Despite the poor treatment from universities, we have a professional attitude which will not allow us to do a sub-standard job. Unfortunately, the down side is that for as long at we are maintaining standards, they will continue to treat us poorly.
I agree with Helene. While I’m delighted (and unsurprised) by the quality of casual teaching found in the report, I think the biggest issue here is that unfortunately one of the few reasons the universities potentially had to reduce the number of casuals was threat to teaching quality which could hurt their enrollments and hence bottom line. Now that that’s been shot down, they can continue exploiting us with impunity – and potentially also reduce the number of students who would be prepared to back us (i.e. those who have self-interested reasons for doing so). That said, I think we need to emphasise that basically the quality of casual teaching is due to the sheer number of unpaid hours and, as Helene said, professionalism of casuals that won’t allow us to do a half-assed job…
This is so topical, it hurts. As universities start looking for ways to manage their new budget cuts without losing students, who will in turn be looking for ways to manage projected future debt, administrative eyes will inevitably turn to casual teaching spend, as it’s called. It seems like an obvious way to reduce labour overheads, because there are none of the tedious HR demands associated with redundancy: you don’t even have to cut whole classes, you can just make a semester shorter, for example, and the revenue remains the same but the labour costs go down.
The problem is that casual teaching is already so cheap, the budget savings are also going to prove proportionately disappointing.
So I agree with Helene and Liv that this new report is both welcome in confirming the outstanding work being done by higher education’s piece workers, and very challenging in that it makes the strong business case that casualisation of teaching is working for universities.
There is something inefficient about an “efficiency dividend” if it leads to a reduction in the staff who are cheapest and performing well.
Yes, to all of you. I’ve had to remove more than a few errant question marks from this post, probably because at the heart of it is the Big Question that’s been hanging over all of this, which is basically not ‘what can we do differently?’ but ‘can we’.
Because, as the report and your comments point out, casualisation is only a landslide for the people doing the work, not for the institutions employing them.
so very glad to see CASA back…been thinking about you, wondering how to send out a digital St Bernard. Music for Deckchairs reappearing was music for my eyeballs — and gave me hope for more.
Thanks so much Vanessa. Waving to you (and also to the St Bernard).
Reblogged this on As the Adjunctiverse Turns and commented:
CASA is back…what excellent news and a great treat (depressing news not withstanding)
Yes, good to see you back, and to read your words, and comments above – certainly nothing seems to be improving. Not a lot of incentive to return to Australia. They can have their mythical ‘high quality immigrants’ who can then be the new ‘trodden upon’, while the rest of us get out…
Annabelle, it’s lovely to hear from you too. Hope all is going well over your way (Cambodia? Vietnam?)
Hi yes, Laos – best thing I’ve ever done. It is so awful to watch the university system from this distance and seeing nothing improving – even for those with tenure. All the best to you and keep up the wonderful work!
Great to see you back again! As a former academic who ‘crossed over’ into the professional non-academic side of academia, life is just as insecure, but also offers fresh (if also somewhat depressing) insights into the corporation. Professional staff are watching as technology gradually saps away their tasks/jobs, advertised as ‘a self-help, student-centred experience’ and the creation of more (very well-remunerated) positions at the top of the tree, while those lower down have to re-apply for their positions and take pay-cuts. Ambassador (ret) Bleich’s speech was inspirational, but I fear his belief in universities (i.e. senior executives) to act as guides for our future is sadly mistaken. Universities have a vested interest in selling education, which includes churning out more PhDs to prop up the system, not because it will make our lives better but because everyone still believes this is the way to a more financially secure and satisfying life. The future may end up being a population of highly educated, impoverished, unemployed and under-employed, aging, angry men and women… perhaps then it will be time for revolution?
Again, it is great that you are back writing new blog posts. As one of the authors of the presentation I want to stress that I am keen to read about the experiences of casual teachers, the limitations of the data we have available and the various problems with increased casualization. I will be looking further into the data on casualization within universities and student experience (and whatever other data we have available), and we will hopefully be able to publish something on it in the coming months. However, based on our preliminary results, it looks like there is no clear relationship between casualization and student experience within academic fields and universities.
As Helene mentioned, it does seem that casuals perform well in spite of the lack of support they receive, which does not help if one wants to advocate for reduced casualization on the basis of teaching quality (at least how students perceive this).
I agree with Liv’s point that this probably comes on the back of unpaid hours, which would otherwise be paid to someone who was not employed on a casual basis. That is not to say that unpaid hours are not present for fixed-term or ongoing staff, but probably just not to the same extent in terms of ratio of paid:unpaid hours (which gives me an another research idea to investigate this further).
Another reason why there may be no relationship is that each year, as the academic labour market gets more competitive, the quality of the cohorts of new teaching staff improves. Or that new staff (which casuals tend to be) are more motivated. Perhaps casuals also need to please their students more, rather than making tough but fair decisions. I don’t know. There must be other reasons as well. Happy to hear more.
Even if there is no strong link between casualization and student experience, there are good reasons why casualization is bad. Equal pay for equal work is one which cannot be ignored. The vulnerability of casual staff to exploitation is another. But perhaps this is why casualization is so attractive to employers in the first place.
Personally, I think the greatest threat of insecure employment is that it undermines the traditionally disinterested nature of academic work. Universities are unique in being advocates of truth. It is what underpins their integrity.
Academics need to be able to speak the truth and speak out against poor behaviour, bad research or even bad students. Job security was never something which came early in academic careers, but it does look like there is increasingly limited pathways from insecure early career positions to secure senior positions.