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CAUT Bulletin Archives

March 2014

Professors & students occupy Western’s birthday hashtag

Western University assistant profes­sor Warren Steele is fed up with being taken for granted and exploited. And on Friday March 7, the contract academic staffer decided to tweet about it.

Steele, who teaches in the faculty of information and media studies, joined in with a number of others in an online occupation of Western’s Founder’s Day Twitter hashtag #since1878.

“I’ve been a part-time professor for six years. I don’t earn a living wage. #since1878 #purpleandproud,” tweeted Steele.

The Founder’s Day hashtag was created as part of a day-long promotion of Western’s birthday, history and culture.

“I saw a huge love in,” said Steele. “I thought the other side of the story had to be told, the exploitation of the love. That’s why I decided to post. I looked at what was being said and I thought it was mostly vacuous and uninformed. So, I decided to pull the veil away.”

He wasn’t alone, as other non-tenured instructors and students slipped their protest message into the cascade of positive declarations via Twitter.

“This #foundersday I’m celebrating like I did last year: by struggling to feed my children on a sessional’s wages. #since1878,” tweeted fellow part-time professor Eric Lohman.

Contract academic staff in Canada are shouldering an increasing amount of the undergraduate teaching load at Canadian universities and colleges, but the strain of their poor working conditions is not widely understood.

“The number of people working under these conditions is growing exponentially, and we are reaching a breaking point,” said Alison Hearn, president of the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association.

“It’s time to ask about the ethics. How can our students feel okay about being taught by instructors who are not being respected enough to be paid a living wage.”

Steele, who teaches four courses a year and earned a take-home pay last year of $25,650, says he’s encouraged by the positive response he’s received from many colleagues and students. The hashtag occupation has become a featured story in Western’s campus student newspaper The Gazette.

“For me it’s a success,” said Steele, “If you look at the comment section in the stories, there is a conversation happening about these issues. Arts and humanities and science students are talking about their own labour conditions. I think that is absolutely vital.”