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CAUT Bulletin Archives

May 2010

Nothing Casual about Academic Work

By Penni Stewart
In academia, it is common to distinguish between full and part-time work. A notice of motion before CAUT Council last month challenges us to rethink this nomenclature. The motion submitted by CUPE Local 3902 at the University of Toronto, called on CAUT to replace “full-time” and “part-time” terms of employment with “regular” and “contract” academic staff in CAUT policies, model clauses and communications.

Dr. Leslie Jermyn, one of the motion’s sponsors, is a member of the CAUT Executive’s advisory committee on contract academic staff and the Unit 3 representative at CUPE 3902. She notes that at conferences and other CAUT events, members regularly talk about full-time and part-time faculty as if these categories capture the reality of contemporary academic work. In fact, she argued, although “full-time” may still describe a category of tenure-track and full-time contractual appointments, it is misleading to describe everyone else — the increasingly large contingent workforce — as “part-time.”

“There is nothing part time about my job,” says Dr. Jermyn, who regularly teaches three or four full-year courses in anthropology, most at the University of Toronto. She has been teaching on contract since she received her doctorate 15 years ago. Although her union has successfully negotiated a number of protections, Leslie still must apply for her courses on a yearly basis, and suffers all the small and large indignities that come with “casual” status.

She has office space “in so far as possible,” has little or no support for course preparation or student supervision, limited job security and benefits and perhaps most important her income is barely enough to make ends meet. It also means giving up holiday time because she is teaching year-round.

Casualized academic staff are also vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the educational market. A number of universities — Leslie’s included — have recently announced language program closures, many of whose classes are taught by contract academic staff. Leslie remains active in scholarly research and service and, given her heavy teaching load, her work has literally become her life. Not surprisingly, recent studies on work-life balance have shown that contract academic staff are paying a heavy price with health issues and stress.

Leslie’s long career as a contract academic staff is not atypical of the increasingly casualized academic workforce in Canada and globally. This year, in the United States more than 75 per cent of academic positions are off the tenure track and the number worldwide is close to 80 per cent. At the larger Canadian universities, the figure is reaching 50 per cent. Many individuals like Leslie, who came into the labour market in the early 1990s, expected tenure eligible positions once the cohorts of faculty hired in the mid- to late 1960s reached retirement age.

Not predicted was the worldwide movement restructuring post-secondary education, as ascendant neo-liberal governments adopted corporate models in universities and colleges, while reducing per student spending. This restructuring was neither automatic nor the inevitable consequence of economic downturns or a losing contest with health care for government dollars. Rather, it signaled a new policy direction for governments.

Casualization is unraveling the fabric of the academic profession by creating a two-tier workforce, where a minority practice their academic craft and the casualized majority do most of the undergraduate teaching. In some provinces there is musing about going the next step to create
“teaching only” institutions. Academic freedom, which has long been understood to depend on job security, is also threatened by the tide of casualization.

At one time we might have depended on collegial bodies such as university senates to address this crisis. But senates and senate-like bodies — increasingly dominated by university officials — have failed to resist this tide, or to take seriously its consequences. Academic staff associations are starting to address contingency at the bargaining table through negotiating the size of the faculty complement and seniority rights.

CAUT’s position is that associ­ations should bargain for staffing requirements that support the full range of academic responsibili-ties, regardless of the nature of the appointment.

Leslie Jermyn argues that a first step in addressing these issues is to put an end to the fiction of part-time work. But we cannot stop there. Regular academic staff must join forces with contract colleagues or witness the decline of the entire profession. We must press our unions, associations, employers and governments to recognize the human and economic costs of casualizing la­bour. We must also incorporate contract academic staff into the leader­ship of our associ­ations and unions, and to this end CAUT Council voted to establish a new standing committee on contract academic staff.