Professors: Coming and going for cheap

By Falice Chin

Last year, there were rumours about several full-time professors at the University of Calgary being replaced by temporary or part-time teachers. This is a growing concern in academia, despite the apparent shortage of professors across the country. The highly prestigious and professional position of a university educator is now facing “casualization,”–a continuous increase in employment of sessional and part-time teachers over full-time ones. And although these casual positions are real jobs, one may see it as universities saving money by exploiting this cheaper alternative of employment.

As a response to this trend, the Canadian Association of University Teachers hosted a conference at the end of January which addressed some problems associated with casualization. The goal of the conference was to bring in negotiators from different institutions to making improve casual teaching positions.

"Over the last decade, there has been an increase in temporary employment in contract of university professors," said the conference’s organizer Vickie Smallman. "Problems in funding often cause the academy’s unwillingness in wanting to commit to long-term employments."

According to Smallman, more and more retired professors’ positions are filled by contract and sessional replacements. There are concerns these teachers do not acquire the same quality of office space, working condition and benefits.

"[Universities] are exploiting people who are qualified and who would prefer a full-time position," Smallman said. "They are not paid to sit on committee, or to be involved with students, even though many are dedicated teachers who have won multiple teaching awards. In fact, a lot of what they do is free."

The U of C is among many institutions employing a wide range of "contract workers"–these include sessional, part-time, temporary and contract-based full-time positions. However, the U of C does not acknowledge these positions under one category of "contract professors" as they vary in job duties and benefits. Furthermore, the U of C is not concerned with the number of positions currently filled by these professors.

"The number of Term Certain appointees is mostly irrelevant," explained Sandy Repic, Information Management and Administration Group Director. "For example, a faculty may hire one sessional instructor to teach six courses in one year and in the next year hire six sessional instructors to teach one course [each]. The same number of courses are being taught by sessional instructors in each year."

While the conference wants to ask why there is a steady increase in the number of contract-based positions within the academy, Repic claims the U of C is experiencing a different trend.

" Our Information available indicates the number of courses taught by sessional instructors has declined slightly at U of C since 2001," Repic noted.

Although this declining number may be true, the U of C’s Faculty Association is still concerned. In fact, TUCFA members pay more attention to how these contract-based workers may feel.

"On this campus, contract academic staff includes [many positions]," said TUCFA President Anton Colijn explains. "The problems with hiring sessionals–and there are many problems–include fairness, equity, low pay and little or no job security."

On top of these problems, Dr. Colijn feels there is an overall lack of commitment between the U of C and sessional professors due to the institution’s attempt to save money.

"[There’s] less ongoing commitment by the sessionals to the activities of the university, such as ongoing research activity, ongoing curriculum development and others," said Dr. Colijn. "In the light of the Academic Plan’s commitment to the U of C being or becoming a major research university, this is problematic."

In response to this, TUCFA also participated in the CAUT conference.

Meanwhile, some sessional professors at the U of C have adjusted. Dr. Elena Mikliaeva in the Department of Psychology, sees her teaching position as something very non-permanent.

"Maybe if this is my only job, I would be concerned," Dr. Mikliaeva said. "I focus more on my other full-time position, which is a research associate."

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