The Faculty Association has launched its campaign, "Sessionals: Paid Peanuts" in support of the University of Calgary's temporary instructors. Students and staff alike can find displays in many academic departments around campus that bring attention to Fair Employment Week. FEW is an annual awareness week that recognizes the exploitation of contract academic staff at post-secondary institutions. Universities and colleges nationally and internationally participate in FEW, which runs from Mon., Oct. 30 to Fri., Nov. 3.
Contract academic staff at the university include sessional, limited-term and contingent-term instructors. This year the association's campaign focuses on term-certain (sessional) instructors. Sessional instructors are those academic staff members who are hired for a period of 12 months or less. Many sessionals teach one or two courses per year, but a substantial number teach what would be considered a "full load" or more. For some, this is an add-on to a career elsewhere, but for a surprisingly high number, the sessional instructor category is in academic limbo where they survive on modest stipends, waiting for the opportunity to enter the full-time academic ranks. Sessional instructors are not expected to do research and they are not offered long- or short-term commitments beyond the individual courses.
Contract academic positions have continued to compose a significant percentage of the academic staff complement at the U of C. Sessional academics compose almost one-quarter of all post-secondary academics, totaling more than 500 staff. Without including the members in the faculty of medicine in the calculation, sessionals comprise 31 per cent of university academics. I would also like to note that there are more sessional instructors at the U of C than associate professors. Surprisingly, in some faculties the number of sessional staff surpasses the number of tenure-track academics.
The Faculty Association is concerned that we are increasingly creating a have and have-not campus where some academics receive much of the resources and security, while others are treated poorly. I also do not want to underestimate the incredible dedication of these individuals to their jobs. Most sessionals are highly qualified, extraordinary individuals who care deeply for the university and their students.
I would also like to add that the plight of contract academic staff members is not just about getting a reasonable salary and appropriate benefits. It is about whether we truly believe there is a connection between research and teaching at universities. (How true is the rhetoric if we are going to allow those doing the bulk of the teaching to be frozen out of the research enterprise?) It is about whether we believe in academic freedom. (How can you feel free to speak the truth in the classroom, when it means you may not have a job in a few months' time?) And, of course, it is about whether we believe in fairness and treating each other with dignity.
I ask that during this week we remember the valuable work done by the university's contract academic staff and how through respect and self-education you can play a vital role in improving the workplace for our sessional instructors.
Anton Colijn is president of the University of Calgary Faculty Association. The Gauntlet encourages guest columns from faculty on campus issues or world events. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.