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CAUT Bulletin Archives

December 2011

Fair Employment Week Chalks Up 10 Years of Advocacy

Anniversary marks some improvement, but contract academic staff still lag far behind their regular colleagues.

Fair Employment Week was created a decade ago by a group of individuals and organizations to shine a spotlight on the poor pay and working conditions of contract academic staff.

Since then, the week-long aware­ness-raising campaign over the plight of contract academic staff, also known as Campus Equity Week in the US, has proliferated across university and college campuses in North America.

“Fair Employment Week has be­come an important opportunity to recognize the valuable contribution of academics who work on limited-term and per-course contracts,” said James Turk, executive director of CAUT. “These often invisible members of our scholarly community now constitute an absolute majority of academic staff in the United States and comprise a significant percentage of the academic staff body of Canada.”

According to Turk, Fair Employment Week is designed to generate awareness of the ways in which the casualization of academic staff undermines the integrity of post-secondary institutions, and helps mobilize action for change.

From petitions to posters to handing out peanuts, academic staff associations have used a variety of creative tactics to inform students, colleagues and the public about the prevalence and working conditions of academics in contingent appointment, who have lower pay, less job security and fewer rights than their tenure-track colleagues, and to advocate for improving those conditions.

“As important as the past 10 years have been, we are still only beginning to combat the exploitation of contract academic staff in Canada,” Turk said. “Better pay, job security and ensuring that contract academic staff obtain the same rights as regular academic staff is an on-going struggle.”

Contract academics are still paid far less than regular academic staff. Contract academic staff are offered on average just under $4,000 to just over $8,000 for a one-term course, depending on the subject taught and the type of educational institution. Net gains on job security have been limited but can include rights of reappointment on a per-course basis, or to a number of courses over a period of time. Few collective agreements cover other factors for contingent appointments, such as support for scholarly or service activities.

“The ultimate goal must be to ensure contract academic staff obtain the right to be fairly compensated for their teaching, research and service on a pro-rata basis, gain access to academic decision-making, have academic freedom, and ultimately, advancement on a career path as do their regular academic staff colleagues,” Turk said.