Fair Employment Day highlights long-standing concerns

by Faculty Association | Filed under Fair Employment Week, October 2015, President's Message.

– By Sandra Hoenle, Faculty Association President –

The start of this academic year again drew attention to the precarious position of many contract academics; the academics we call sessionals at the University of Calgary. In Canada there was a rebroadcast of Ira Basen’s CBC Radio documentary (originally aired on Sept. 7, 2014) about the “dirty little secret” of Canada’s universities: that an army of highly qualified and poorly paid instructors with no job security or pension are teaching about half of Canadian undergraduates. Beyond that rebroadcast, Canada and the US produced a flurry of tweets in the Twittersphere, drawing attention to the plight of many contract academic staff: getting contracts at the last minute and frantically trying to prepare adequately; sessionals’ assigned courses being cancelled at the last minute; the large number of courses contract academics teach at more than one institution to be able to eke out a minimal existence.

The working conditions of contract academic staff are of national and international concern. The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) has decided to focus its efforts on Fair Employment Day, October 7, to provide a more concentrated effect and to align with fair employment for all precarious workers. By doing this, CAUT and its member associations have joined a coalition of unions and activists across North America and around the world to organize a series of events during the International Labour Organization (ILO) World Day for Decent Work. This kind of coalition work is vital in an atmosphere of increasingly precarious working conditions in virtually all sectors. However, as academics we also have to keep in mind that one of the cornerstones vital to our work: academic freedom, is virtually impossible for someone who is afraid of not being rehired.

And how do things look here at the University of Calgary? While the Faculty Association has been successful in the conversion of some long-time sessional instructors into instructor positions, as well as a sessional’s right of first refusal in applying for a further sessional appointment, the proportion of sessionals remains stubbornly constant. As you can see from the chart, “Academic Staff by Rank,” the percentage of sessionals remains at around 23 percent – the same as for associate professors, and the same percentage as last year and many years before. You can also see that some faculties make much higher use of contract academics than others: over 50% in one faculty and over 40% in three other faculties (“Academic Staff by Faculty”). While there is a need for some true sessionals – experts in their field who are employed elsewhere and provide expert knowledge to their classes – there remain too many Contract Academic Staff who are rehired year after year into positions that are clearly ongoing and should be filled as such.

While I am pleased that the university is committed to hiring 100 new faculty members into tenure track positions over the next 2 years, I have concerns that these new hires will further consign many of our members to the “Sessional Ghetto.” However, I remain hopeful that that our senior administration will do the right thing and at the very least hire some long-term sessionals, who have proven their worth to the university over the course of multiple contracts, into some of those positions.

I encourage our members who are concerned about the two tiered-system: Regular Academic Staff with support for all aspects of their work, ongoing contracts and academic freedom versus Contract Academic Staff with no job security, little institutional support and no academic freedom – to take action by signing the CAUT Pledge of Solidarity.

This year, in conjunction with Fair Employment Day, the Faculty Association is continuing to award Sessional Travel Grants to provide these members with an opportunity to profile their research (work some continue to do even though they may not be compensated for it) or attend conferences to remain current in their fields. Three grants are available to be awarded (more information and application information is available online here).

We would like to congratulate 2014 Sessional Travel Grant recipients: Susanne Cote (Anthropology and Archaeology, Faculty of Arts), Christine Mains (Communication, Media and Film, Faculty of Arts), Amber Porter (Classics and Religion, Faculty of Arts) and Kris Vasudevan (Mathematics and Statistics, Faculty of Science).


Comments are closed.