English Matters

The 76%

Sarah Kendzior’s April 11th, 2013 article in Aljazeera:


reports “76% of American university faculty are adjunct professors,” which means that most of them receive no benefits, including health care, make “an average of $2,700 per course,” and live below the poverty line.  Most PhD graduates in English Studies in Canada know this situation far too well, and Dorothy Hadfield’s excellent “Sessional Rep’s Message” in the Fall 2012 ACCUTE Newsletter, found here:


documents some of the ways in which the normalization of the  sessional or contract instructorship in Canadian universities means not just poverty for the majority of academic workers in our discipline but also massive disenfranchisement from decision-making, even at the basic Departmental level.  “It’s virtually impossible,” Hadfield writes, “for sessionals to have any effective voice in these discussions that will ultimately define their professional futures…. The situation is neither ethical nor sustainable…. It is necessary that we be able to mount a strong and co-ordinated campaign.”

A recent TransCanada Institute Think Tank on “Sustainability, Mentorship, and Intellectual Production: The Present and Future of Emerging Scholars in Canadian Literary Studies” attempted, in part, to consider this appalling structural inequity at the foundation of post-secondary labour management, and to imagine ways in which broad-based coalitions for change might meaningfully advance an agenda for social change.  At that Think Tank, I learned that coalition is not easy, that multiple forms of precariousness cross-hatch the lived situation of most “emerging scholars” in our own English Studies disciplines, and that despite vast differences in institutional positioning, most of those “emerging scholars” work in conditions of intrinsic and possibly insuperable “sadness.” Some of these points come across in the eloquent Hook & Eye blog posts by  Jade Ferguson (U Guelph) and Erin Wunker (Dalhousie):



In the coming weeks, TransCanada will be issuing a Think Tank report that will, among other things, point out some of the very small but still important things that Departments of English can do to improve, if only slightly, the situation of their adjunct or “contingent” faculty – things as basic as providing them with letterhead, or listing them, along with their research profiles, alongside tenured and tenure-track faculty on their websites.  Dorothy Hadfield’s call to ACCUTE members now working as sessionals please to be in contact with her – at accute.sessional@gmail.com or at dhadfield@uwaterloo.ca – to join in the ACCUTE sessional coalition, and to help set an activist agenda for just representation, remains an open one.

But it is clear that genuine equity and inclusiveness remain very distant goals in this present moment, and that productive work towards those goals will require a very diverse set of participants. Kendzior reports that “most tenured faculty have stayed silent about the adjunct crisis”: a silence that constitutes “a general contempt” not just for adjuncts but for “learning” itself.  It is resoundingly clear that ACCUTE must now do more to help change this situation, and we need your help in doing that. As a small beginning: is it time for the 80 separate scholarly associations within the Canadian Federation for Humanities and Social Sciences (CFHSS) to work collectively in the interests of the majority of our members?  Might such a strategic coalition help document the sessional situation more competently for Canada postsecondary institutions, help raise awareness of the enormous, and growing, inequity that underpins postsecondary teaching, and from there, in  alliance with other groups, seek ways to advocate meaningfully for real inclusion and change?

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3 replies »

  1. In response to your last two questions, a resounding “Yes!”. Can this be put on the agenda for the UVic AGM, and can ACCUTE take steps at this Congress to get the ball rolling on working collaboratively with other CFHSS associations?

  2. Collective work on this important issue is key, through ACCUTE, through CAUT, and on the local level as well. If we recognize that tenure won’t be safe as long as universities can hire faculty at a 2-to-1 or 3-to-1 discount, then we’ll see that it’s in our joint interests to a) reduce the # of superfluous PhD’s we train; b) ensure higher wages for contract academics in our collective bargaining; and c) provide viable career options for the PhD students we do train. We CAN manage the supply-side of this problem ourselves in these ways, at the bargaining table, in our admissions decisions, and in our professional training programs. Using our collective bargaining power and our intake power can actually achieve something.

  3. I think that you, Mr or Ms Anonymous, are proposing something Albertan government already voiced in their letter of “expectation”, focus on branding and a reproduction of more suitable individuals…

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