Change one thing

Many people who start trying to address the multiple impacts of casualisation on learning and working in universities often feel overwhelmed by the long list of ways which things could be going better.

There’s a campaign running in Australian public health care to encourage people to pledge to change one thing, on a particular day (March 6).  US adjunct organisations are also starting to focus on collaborative action on May Day this year.

We’re interested in these kinds of campaigns, and it gave us the thought that a small, specific framework might help us focus on detail. So we have a Change One Thing category for contributor posts, but also followers are welcome to comment here.

What is one practicable thing about the way casualisation is currently managed that could be changed, that would make improve your experience, those of your colleagues or your institutions, or would benefit your institution in a large way?

Please feel free to comment—and the most recent comments appear at the top, so if you’re cheering on someone else’s point, remember it’s “below”, not “above”.



11 thoughts on “Change one thing

  1. Great idea for a campaign – it’s easy to become cynical and to feel powerless, but even within the structures we’re dealing with we do have some agency, and it’s important to focus on the changes we are capable of making. Here’s one suggestion in relation to casual teaching:

    I know that many permanent staff members are also frustrated about the casualisation of academia. One thing that course convenors can do is to make roles and responsibilities clear to their casuals; let them know exactly what is expected of them, exactly what they are being paid to do, and where the casual’s responsibilities end and the course convenor’s start. They should also make it clear that when things emerge that are beyond our role, or would take more time to address than we are being compensated for, that we can and should forward the student/issue/request on to the course convenor.

    This kind of support from our immediate supervisors is crucial, but unfortunately there are course convenors out there happy to let these roles and responsibilities remain ill-defined, because often then the casuals go above and beyond what their role entails (and pay covers)*. So, to course convenors, change one thing – make roles and responsibilities clear. To casuals, if the course convenor doesn’t initiate this conversation, try to initiate it yourself, and talk to more experienced casuals (and/or the union) if you’d like to check anything or need further clarity.

    *Going above and beyond isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but we should all know when we are going beyond the call of duty so that it is a *choice* that we make, and not something we find ourselves doing because our roles are nebulous, or because we have been guilted or coerced into it, or to fill a gap left by someone else’s neglect.

    Posted by Natalie Osborne | February 26, 2014, 1:15 pm
  2. Hi there,

    I am also excited and cheered by this CASA project, and by the idea of Change One Thing.

    My suggestion is: pay casual teachers to attend the lectures for the subject in which they teach. This is common sense, so that all teachers and students are getting the same information each week. My university workplace has currently rolled one hour of teaching preparation, along with an undefined ‘reasonable’ amount of consultation time, into each hour of casual teaching pay. However, even aside from the inequity in doing such unpaid work, there is no physical way a casual tutor can listen to the lecture (or watch it online), read the required reading/s, read the further reading/s, prepare an engaging lesson plan, check tech needs for the class, check that student presenters are ready, keep tabs on student blogs or tweets to discuss in class, photocopy, print, or prepare online resources within the one hour of preparation that has been ‘rolled in’ to the face-to-face hour.

    At the very least, the preparation time needs to make sense. Particularly if the format has changed to two hour lectures and one hour tutorials, as it has for some first year subjects where I teach. In this case, there is now a two hour lecture for the tutor to access, along with all of the other preparation. A time wizard cannot fit all of this into an hour. There is literally no way to prepare for teaching adequately – let alone to a satisfying level for university classes – when there is no payment to do so.

    The alternatives are to literally only prepare as much as you have been paid for (teaching suffers, classroom engagement suffers, the tutor on the front line looks unprofessional for not being across the lecture), or to do unpaid work for the good of the students and the professional veneer of the university.

    Changing this one thing would truly demonstrate a commitment to quality education, which needs prepared teachers.

    Posted by Annalise Friend | February 26, 2014, 6:34 pm
  3. Change one thing? Provide easy and prompt access to the resources we need in order to do our jobs. There needs to be a culture of helping staff to work, rather than one of suspicion over resource use.

    I can’t believe what I used to take for granted when I was a full-time, ongoing, university employee. I had ready and immediate access to everything I needed without question: stationery, printing, photocopying, computers, email, online learning systems, research systems, phone systems, desks, secure storage, HR administrative advice, a quiet room to meet, the library, after hours access to buildings, keys to offices, the list goes on. If something took a few hours longer than expected, colleagues would apologise! Now, I have to fill in endless forms and seek permissions, sometimes repeatedly, for the same university, the same job, just a different semester.

    I am currently in the pool for work across four universities. At some my access to everything shuts down the day I leave and can take weeks to be reinstated when I return.

    I think even worse than not being able to do your job properly though, is the culture of doubt and suspicion. We are constantly asked to justify our access to resources. I was asked once by a ‘colleague’ in a staff room why I was using the microwave. I replied, ‘because I work here’ and their response: ‘I haven’t seen you’. That statement is about more than resource access, it says: ‘you don’t belong here’.

    Come on fellow staff! Should guarding the microwave really be a thing? And universities, if you are going to employ us, then give us the resources we need to do that work.

    Posted by Polly Text | February 27, 2014, 6:40 pm
  4. Great comments above. At my uni casual staff were specifically excluded from the faculty Christmas party last year, to reduce costs. It was even a byo grog party! What was left of my loyalty diminished considerably at this display of meanness. I’m still doing casual teaching and feel really well supported by my course coordinator, which is good, but I will be reducing the extra voluntary time I put in. I feel so sorry for the students who are paying for a service that is well marketed yet not delivered.

    Posted by lindathestar | February 27, 2014, 9:39 pm
  5. Happily, I think some of the above suggestions (such as the clarification of roles) are already being implemented by some universities – certainly, the conversations I’ve been having with my coordinators and admin staff at UWS this semester about what is and isn’t expected of me, given my casual status, have been excellent on this count. But there are oh so many disadvantages to precarious work that such improvements can tend to seem fairly paltry in the larger scheme of things. Nevertheless, here are some things I’ve been thinking on:

    1) The NTEU needs to seriously examine its representation of casual staff because a) the emphasis on wage increases means diddly-squat when one doesn’t actually have a wage, and b) members are recognised via their university affiliation. Clearly, this is an issue for casual workers who are usually at a different university every semester.

    2) HR, admin and IT departments really need to get their shit together. I am so very tired of having to call IT to get Blackboard/library access etc. sorted (usually after the semester has started) because of a lack of integration between the various arms of the university that are responsible for authorising my identity as a staff member. If casuals are indeed the backbone of the present-day university, then administrative systems need to improve upon the largely ad-hoc way they are run currently.

    3) A casual staff member needs to have a copy of their own contract emailed or posted to them by the admin staff responsible for drawing up that contract. Contracts need to be processed efficiently and speedily, as casuals are often signing them after the semester has already begun, which, by the by, is probably kinda illegal.

    4) Get rid of fortnightly pay claims and pay staff automatically – I don’t see how this would be a problem if the contract stipulates a finite number of hours.

    5) There needs to be some way of giving casual staff library and email access for a period of at least three years so they can have an institutional affiliation while they research and publish journal articles etc. (unpaid and in their own time) in order to become employable for waged positions. No one wants to write in their bios for journal publications that they are a sessional academic and have no institutional home.

    6) Casuals need to be given realistic marking timeframes by the university, which needs to recognise that these workers often have other jobs competing for their time, because people need other jobs by which to support themselves in the non-teaching period. Unlike waged academics, casuals often do not have the luxury of having a single job to attend to.

    Posted by Camille Nurka | February 28, 2014, 12:21 am
  6. I lobbied for my faculty to allow casuals to maintain library access between contracts, and was told the copyright agreements with publishers prohibited journal access by anyone who is not currently an employee or student. I suspect my faculty leadership sees casuals as a governance problem, rather than colleagues.

    Posted by Kath | February 28, 2014, 11:07 am
  7. Have a central fund, that is at the institutional level, for funding casual and sessional staff research endeavours, such as attending a conference, research training, workshops and seminar travel and attendance. Run and administered as internal competitive grant applications. Only requirement for eligibility: you must be a sessional or casual staff at the institution at the time of application.

    Posted by Karina | April 1, 2014, 8:16 pm
  8. Not having a feed of its own or being able to use the WP Reblog feature is bound to affect page reach. When it comes online reading, even academics have the attention span of fruit flies. This may be unfair to the flies. You could include reminders in posts or use a Tumblr set up to accept submissions — and link that at the top of your page.

    In the mean time, I’ll post this about here and there on my own network.

    As for a non-media suggestion — and without taking too long a break in the middle of writing a post (about blogs and posts, so meta), I’d say look at Jack Longmate’s and Frank Cosco’s Program for Change http://vccfa.ca/newsite/?page_id=587 and pick out a low or no cost step to work on. Jack recently posted somewhere describing some of those.

    Posted by VanessaVaile | July 22, 2014, 6:51 am
  9. Great idea. Improving the speed at which casual contracts are processed would be a definite improvement in the casual/contract work experience. Nine years I have been working casual/contract, and I still find myself having to project manage my contract approval for each new contract – for free, when there are full time administrative and academic staff who are being paid to do that. Staff in both areas seem to have limited awareness of the financial precariousness of casual contract staff.
    The NTEU should be advocating on this.

    Posted by shell | September 18, 2014, 1:13 pm
  10. What about developing our own courses and either marketing them in competition with universities (maybe with a collective brand that identifies us as highly qualified and experienced in the university system and tells the story of why we are no longer delivering our labour and IP through universities) or selling them to universities as paid modules that are actually priced to reflect the value of the service?

    Posted by janetehope | December 16, 2014, 8:57 am


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