Supporting sessional colleagues important for student success

by Faculty Association | Filed under Fair Employment Week, October 2013, President's Message.

– By Paul Rogers, Faculty Association President –

Last year, for the first time, the Faculty Association offered Sessional Travel Grants as part of Fair Employment Week (FEW). The response to the grant program was tremendous and the Association has decided to offer them again this year as part of FEW 2013. The purpose of these grants is to provide sessional academics 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.

For those that may not know, FEW (running this year from October 21st to 25th) is a national event that raises awareness of the difficulties inherent in being a member of the contract academic staff (at the U of C these staff are also known as sessionals). Contract academic staff are often on the front lines of attacks on academic freedom, quality, fair treatment, and the value of research. Universities continue to lean on contract academic staff as an inexpensive, flexible workforce. At the U of C sessional instructors are typically hired to teach individual courses; they are not expected to do research and they are not offered long-term or even medium-term commitments beyond the individual courses. These academics often work for low pay, and with the uncertainty of whether or not another short-term contract will be extended to them.

The numbers of academics in these positions continues to grow both nationally and internationally.  This growth is of significant concern to the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), which is why CAUT annually plays a coordinating role in FEW. CAUT has recently launched a new website supporting FEW:

Here at the U of C, like campuses elsewhere, the working conditions of sessionals directly impact the learning conditions of the students they teach. Through offering this travel grant program the Association is hoping to provide opportunities for sessional academics they would not otherwise have. Three grants are again available to be awarded (eligibility criteria and deadlines for application are available here) and information has been sent to all sessional members.

Based on the applications, the Association decided to award four grants last year. We would like to congratulate the FEW 2012 grant recipients: Marie Farrell (Faculty of Education), Brad Mahon (Department of Music), Christine Mains (Department of Communication and Culture), and Derrick Nault (Department of History).

Grant recipients traveled broadly, attending events in Canada, in the U.S. and internationally, engaging in work that  impacts their research and teaching. One of the Sessional Travel Grant recipients reported to the Association that, as a sessional instructor, having the opportunity to attend the conference meant being able to experience a broad range of thought-provoking research and conversations that she will bring back to her work with students. She noted that being able to integrate the thinking and perspectives of researchers in her field into her work at the University of Calgary, will help her provide a richer educational experience for the students entrusted to her. Another recipient reported that the conference provided the kind of opportunity to build a career that those on the tenure track often take for granted, and those who piece together careers out of sessional contracts can only wistfully imagine.

The Faculty Association is pleased to help these sessionals with their academic endeavors through this program. But ultimately it is up to universities to better support their contract academic staff. The Association was pleased, through the recent ratification of the Collective Agreement, to convert a number of long-serving, full-time sessionals to ongoing appointments. While this covered the most egregious cases, the Association would like to see more job security for other long-time sessionals.

In March 2013 the Association took a snapshot of its membership which revealed that 22.8% of academic staff at the U of C at that time held sessional positions. Not much has changed over the past year regarding the statistics on the faculty and gender of sessionals. You will find that the number of sessional academic appointments are almost equal to the number of Associate Professors, and they are employed in every corner of the University. In addition, over half of sessionals are female which is in contrast to statistics for ongoing academics.

It is important to emphasize the incredible dedication of these individuals to their jobs since sessionals 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.

Next: Sessional Travel Grants available

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