Back to top

CAUT Bulletin Archives

September 2009

Strengthening Involvement of Contract Academic Staff

By Cindy Oliver, Catherine Christie, George Davison, Sandra Hoenle, Kelly MacFarlane, Geoff Martin, Karen Needham & Anne Skoczylas

CAUT and its member associations can be justifiably proud of having virtually completed the job of organizing Canada’s academic staff, whether tenured or contract on a full or part-time basis.

We are starting to see results at the bargaining table, particularly in the form of improved pay and working conditions for our most vulnerable members, the full- and part-time contract academic staff. These colleagues often receive no benefits, have no job security, no research support, and little or no op­portunity for advancement.

We are making incremental progress but we still face big challenges. We need to have internal discussions within our associations, aimed at negotiating pro rata terms of employment for part-
time members in particular. We need to reverse two decades of employers’ efforts to create “teaching-only” positions, thereby threatening the integrity of the academic career as we’ve always understood it.

So what do we do next? We believe associations need to make greater efforts to involve contract academic staff in the life of the association and institution.

A CAUT survey conducted recently found there are some good engagement initiatives on our campuses when it comes to the role of contract staff in the governance of associations. Many associations have contract staff representation on their executives and some have contract staff committees.

But we need to do more. Contract staff care about things going on around them, and they want to volunteer or otherwise become more active on campus, but they tend to be overworked, underpaid, and often have more than one employer. But many collective agreements provide for contract academic staff to be compensated for service, both to the institution and the association. In some cases, collective agreements transfer money to the union to pay contract members for service to the union. While they’re working to achieve these goals, some unions budget general funds to enable their contact staff to participate.

For contract members to achieve gains at the bargaining table, the ground work must be laid months, if not years, in advance. We need active committees that will use Fair Employ­ment Week (the last week of Octo­ber) to remind our institutions of the disadvantages contract staff face and to keep those issues alive. We need to include contract staff issues when we consult with our members before we begin collective bargaining. We need contract staff on our negotiating teams, and we need to keep the contract and tenured rank-and-file membership committed to hold our negotiating teams accountable and back them up when the going gets tough.

Putting a push on for contract staff is in everyone’s interests. Studies and anecdotes illustrate that Canadian academic life is becoming harsher for even well-established academic staff, because of increased pressure in the areas of teaching, research and service. There are more students and fewer full-time faculty to deal with them. Also, we hear false claims about the shortage of high-quality candidates for permanent, full-time positions.

There’s an army of contract staff in Canada ready, willing and qualified to step into permanent academic jobs. By involving contract staff in association and institutional life, by raising their
profile, and by giving them justice, we can create the academic institutions we all want.

Cindy Oliver, Catherine Christie, George Davison, Sandra Hoenle, Kelly MacFarlane, Geoff Martin, Karen Needham and Anne Skoczylas are members of CAUT’s contract academic staff committee.

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

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 (