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CAUT Bulletin Archives

October 2010

Change Needed to Engage Contract Academics

By Geoff Martin
CAUT member associations have been very successful in organizing contract academic staff and this has resulted in better pay and work conditions. But contract academics still face challenges in making the remuneration leap. And as the post-secondary sector increases the number of contract academics, their participation in the governance of academic staff associations and institutions needs to improve so that contract academic staff are included, recognized and respected in the communities where they teach.

Academic staff associations need to nego­tiate pro rata terms of employment for their contract members. This means a remuneration package in proportion to that of a regular appointment that includes teaching, research and service duties, regardless of con­tractual status.

To achieve this, we need to reverse de­c­ades of employer efforts to create “teaching-only” positions that undermine the integrity of the academic career. Greater efforts need to be made to expand the opportunities for contract members to participate in all aspects of association life.

According to a recent CAUT survey, many academic staff associations have contract academic representation on their executive boards, and some have contract academic staff committees. This is a good first step, but more needs to be done to overcome barriers to involvement since contract academics tend to be overworked, underpaid and often have more than one employer.

Some barriers can be overcome if contract academics are paid for service to the association. Collective agreements can include provisions whereby the employer pays stip­ends to the association to reimburse members for service such as executive positions, bargaining, and other committee work.

Constitutions and bylaws can be updated to remove procedural and financial bar­riers to contract academics’ involvement in the association’s governance structure. Some associations have done this and currently have contract academic staff serving as presidents.

Ensuring contract members are active on bargaining teams is especially important since putting the issues of those who work off the tenure track at the top of the agenda can improve the quality of academic life for everyone.

Earmarking specific association funds for contract academic staff issues will not only mobilize members but also help educate regular academic staff, students, and other academic workers about the uncertainties that go along with being a contract academic. One venue is Fair Employment Week, held during the last week of October, when associations across the country sponsor events around non regular employment at their institution.

Study after study tells us that Canadian academic life is becoming increasingly difficult. There are more students and fewer regular academic staff appointments so that institutional dependence on a variety of contract teaching is likely to increase. The time is now to involve our contract colleagues in our associations and in institutional governance, raise their public and professional profiles, and work toward the pro rata model so that we can create the post-secondary institutions that we want.

Geoff Martin is a part-time political science professor at Mount Allison University, professional officer for the Mount Allison Faculty Association, and former member of CAUT’s Contract Academic Staff Committee.

The views expressed are those of the author 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 (