Back to top

CAUT Bulletin Archives

December 2007

Employer Disconnect Demands We Define Academic Work

By Cindy Oliver, Anne Skoczylas, Brenda McLean, Geoff Martin, George Davison, Sandra Hoenle & Petra Ganzenmueller

It is becoming increasingly clear that a major challenge facing Canadian academic staff is one that we rarely discuss — the basic definition of our work. Our efforts to defend our profession, to negotiate improved terms and conditions of employment, and the employer’s eagerness to pursue “teaching-only” appointments, have at their foundation divergent assumptions we need to address.

The work of academic staff is generally about the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge. These activities unite us all. Exactly what we do and how we do it varies from person to person, from field to field, from one institution to another, and over the stages of an academic career. Our pursuit of knowledge begins in our student days and continues throughout our careers.

We disseminate knowledge in many different ways. Sometimes we convey knowledge to undergraduate students, sometimes to the general public, sometimes to graduate students and sometimes to professional and popular audiences through conference papers, posters, presentations, book reviews, book chapters, and books and monographs, and through public performances and exhibitions.

We do these things in many different locales, including lecture halls, seminar rooms, libraries, conference sites, performance and gallery spaces and clinical settings. The “dissemination of knowledge” is a continuum, not a switch that can be flicked on and off as required.

We believe academic staff need to reclaim this type of understanding of our work, in light of our employers’ rather different approach. We commonly hear from employers that teaching, research and service can be separated, and that in fact some academic staff should do primarily or only teaching, while others should do primarily or only research.

We disagree and believe it is imperative to meet this discourse head on. Once we build consensus on this within our own ranks, employers will have great difficulty resisting our proposals to change our institutional and broader cultures.

All academic staff are engaged in the dissemination of knowledge, and strong teaching involves research. The distinction between teaching, research, and a subset of the latter, publication, is artificial and arbitrary. All three are examples of the dissemination of knowledge and we should not accept any fixed hierarchy that claims one is superior to the other.

The mix of knowledge dissemination we engage in varies from one department and institution to another, and varies over the course of our careers. The claims that there are research-intensive and teaching-intensive institutions, and that there are research-intensive and teaching-intensive academic staff, are employers’ claims and not ones that academic staff should accept.

Where the employer may see “research” as a noun, manifested in publication of various types, we see it as a verb. The dissemination of knowledge is a process, not just a product. In our view, all activities in the dissemination of knowledge require research, some of which may lead to publication of various kinds and some of which particularly benefits students, colleagues and the university and broader communities.

Once we see our activity as the dissemination of knowledge, then the employer’s claims about the distinction between teaching and research and the value of teaching-only positions collapses. Teaching without “publication” is possible, but we should all be trying to do “research” as part of high-quality teaching. There are many other implications as well.

Since experienced contract academic staff have successfully engaged in the dissemination of knowledge in different forms, why shouldn’t we be converted into continuing academic positions, either full-time or part-time? Since we have been considered good enough to work on a contract basis, and since we do have potential to grow professionally, then why shouldn’t we get continuing appointments without being accused of coming through the back door?

Cindy Oliver, Anne Skoczylas, Brenda McLean, Geoff Martin, George Davison, Sandra Hoenle and Petra Ganzenmueller are members of CAUT’s executive-appointed contract academic staff committee.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily CAUT.

Commentary: CAUT welcomes articles between 800 and 1,500 words on contemporary issues directly related to post-secondary education. Articles should not deal with personal grievance cases nor with purely local issues. They should not be libellous or defamatory, abusive of individuals or groups, and should not make unsubstantiated allegations. They should be objective and on a political rather than a personal subject. A commentary is an opinion and not a “life story.” First person is not normally used. Articles may be in English or French, but will not be translated. Publication is at the sole discretion of CAUT. Commentary authors will be contacted only if their articles are accepted for publication. Commentary submissions should be sent to Liza Duhaime.

Les opinions exprimées sont celles des auteurs et ne reflètent pas nécessairement la position officielle de l’ACPPU.

Commentaires destinés à la rubrique Tribune libre : L’ACPPU invite les lecteurs à soumettre des articles de 800 à 1 500 mots qui portent sur des questions d’actualité liées directement à l’enseignement postsecondaire. Les articles ne doivent traiter ni de dossiers de griefs particuliers ni de questions d’intérêt strictement local. Ils ne doivent pas comporter des allégations non fondées ni des propos diffamants, calomniateurs ou offensants envers des personnes ou des groupes. Les articles doivent être empreints d’une objectivité totale et aborder des sujets de nature politique plutôt que personnelle. Un commentaire est avant tout l’expression d’une opinion et non pas le « récit d’une vie ». Il convient normalement de le formuler à la première personne. Les articles peuvent être soumis en français ou en anglais, mais ils ne seront pas traduits. L'ACPPU se réserve le droit de choisir les articles qui seront publiés. La rédaction ne communiquera avec les auteurs de commentaires que si elle décide de publier leurs articles. Les commentaires doivent être envoyés à Liza Duhaime.