October 7 to 11, 2019
The working conditions of contract academic staff (sessionals) are of both local and national concern, which is why the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) annually promotes and plays a coordinating role in Fair Employment Week (FEW). This year, FEW runs from October 7 to 11 and is a national event that raises awareness of the difficulties inherent in being a member of the contract academic staff. These academics are often on the front lines of attacks on academic freedom, quality, fair treatment, and the value of research.
Normally, sessional instructors at the University of Calgary are contract academics who are hired to teach individual courses; they are not expected to do research and they are not offered long- or short-term commitments beyond the individual courses. These academics often work for lower pay, and with the uncertainty of whether or not another short-term contract will be extended to them.
In 2018, the CAUT published the first national survey on Contract Academic Staff in universities and colleges. A copy of the survey entitled “Out of the Shadows: Experiences of Contract Academic Staff” can be found online here. Some key findings from the survey include:
- Between 2005 and 2015, there was a 79% increase in university teachers working part-time.
- 53% of respondents want a tenure-track university or full-time, permanent college job.
- 69% of survey respondents feel their working conditions need to change.
- 45% of respondents reported that if they did not get their contract instructor pay, they wouldn’t be able to pay their monthly bills.
- Two-thirds of respondents said their mental health has been negatively impacted by the contingent nature of their employment, and just 19% think the institutions where they work are model employers and supporters of good jobs.
The Faculty Association at the U of C was not surprised by these results and many of the responses to the survey reflect the anecdotal experiences of sessionals we have been privy to year after year. In March 2019 the Association took a snapshot of academic staff at the U of C which revealed that 24% of academic staff at that time held sessional positions. The number of sessional academic appointments was greater than the number of Associate Professors. In addition, over half of sessionals are female which is in contrast to statistics for ongoing academics. Sessionals are employed in every corner of the University and some Faculties employ more sessionals than others. In some cases the number of sessional instructors make up a third to over a half of academic staff in a Faculty.
It is important to emphasize the incredible dedication of sessional academics to their jobs since they are highly-qualified individuals who care deeply for the University and their students. The Association has always recognized that the concerns of contract academic staff should be the concerns of us all. Please let your colleagues and administrators know that the unfair treatment of sessionals at the U of C needs to be resolved.