English Matters

Representing the New Faculty Majority

We still don’t have competent statistics about contract academic faculty numbers within the Canadian postsecondary industry, a fact that speaks volumes in support of the hypothesis that ignorance is motivated.  We do know that the numbers are growing.  One report, on staffing at the University of Ottawa in 2011, located 850-900 contract faculty against 1200 tenured or tenure-track faculty.  Another found that about one-half of all undergraduate students at the University of Waterloo are taught by contract faculty.  The situation is better known in the United States.  In a President’s column, MLA President Michael Bérubé reported that “adjunct, contingent faculty members now make up over 1 million of the 1.5 million people teaching in American colleges and universities.”  By all appearances, the landscape of postsecondary teaching in Canada is being terraformed into something alien to the spirit of equitable participation and just labour: a place where the majority of “higher education” teaching is carried out by people with shamefully lower salaries than their tenure-track colleagues, a place where job insecurity is the emerging new normal, a place where the principle of academic freedom is everywhere giving way to a fear of speaking out.  English Departments are at the centre of this transformation.  In her 2012-13 Report to ACCUTE, published in our Summer 2013 Newsletter, Canadian Association of Chairs of English (CACE) President Margaret Steffler reported – and this from a voluntary survey – that at least 45% of teaching in Canadian English Departments is carried out by CLTAs or Sessional Instructors.  Had the CACE survey included all English Departments in Canada, including those in all the colleges, the numbers would have been much higher.

We don’t know the numbers, but many ACCUTE members do know a great deal about the experience of part- and full-time sessional labour in Canadian Departments of English.  You inhabit a deeply uncertain space within the Department, let alone the Faculty and the University.  A member of a majority, you are nevertheless, for the most part, invisible.  Your full-time salary is perhaps a quarter of what your average tenure-track colleague makes. You may lack benefits.  You have no institutional pension plan.  You teach about double the number of classes and students than do the tenured members of your Department.  Your greater exposure to actual student experience doesn’t give you much of a voice, however, in determining things like curriculum requirements, course texts, assignment norms, and the like.  Indeed, your access to decision-making within the Department is, most probably, muted, and possibly non-existent.  If you’ve been in the system for long enough, you have probably had your course assignment changed just days before the teaching semester began – this with significant economic consequences.  If you are just coming into the system, you may have found yourself locked out of the photocopy room when you showed up for your evening class, and with no sense of who to call in order to get your syllabus photocopied.  You may well have found yourself without library privileges during the break between academic terms.  You probably feel that if you speak out too loudly about your situation, There Will Be Consequences, and ones that will matter deeply to your present, and future,  professional well-being.

We must do more within ACCUTE to represent the growing professional concerns of what Indhu Rajagopal, in her 2002 book Hidden Academics:  Contract Faculty in Canadian Universities, calls the “intellectual proletariat.”  We need to be more vocal as public advocates for equity in postsecondary labour, and more systematic as investigators of employment exploitation.  We need to collaborate better on this issue — with our sibling scholarly associations, with faculty associations and unions, and with the CAUT.  We need to voice our concerns within the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, an institution that has yet to consider the untenable situation of contract faculty labour in Canada, let alone take a stand on the issue.  We need especially to examine ourselves and our own association, and to ask:  is ACCUTE capable now of representing the majority of those who work as Canadian College and University Teachers of English?

One initiative ACCUTE is now pursuing is to develop a short, one-page Checklist of Best Practices on contract academic faculty in English Departments in Canada.  Our checklist will probably not address the many contract, and salary & benefits, arrangements that pertain to contract academic faculty:  these differ widely across the country, and the advice we have received from the CAUT is that these important issues are best addressed through unions and faculty associations. What the checklist will do, we hope, is further recognition of and respect for contract academic faculty at the Departmental level.  We plan to send this checklist out soon to our campus representatives and to members of CACE, in the hope that most English Departments will find time in their Department Council meetings to consider these best practices, and to find innovative ways to implement them.

It goes without saying that this initiative, in itself, is in no way sufficient to the challenge that lies before us.  But perhaps it is a start.  Our team for the development of this best practices checklist is an ad-hoc committee of ACCUTE administrators and contract academic faculty.  We will report further on this initiative in this Newsletter, and at our Annual General Meeting in St. Catharines in May.  If you have thoughts on what this checklist might usefully include, do please email them to us, or post them on the ACCUTE website.



Categories: English Matters

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