Fair Employment Week at Queen’s, 22-28 October (15 October 2012)

Fair Employment Week (FEW) is a coordinated nationwide observance promoting awareness of the role of contract academic staff on campus.  Canadian universities rely increasingly on Contract Academic Staff—that is, on hiring experts to teach for contractually limited periods. Contract Academic Staff must generally have the same academic credentials as Regular (tenure-track or tenured) Academic Staff. To students and colleagues, they are generally indistinguishable in terms of their research qualifications, teaching, and commitment to the University. The only invariable distinction between Contract and Regular Academic Staff lies in the University’s commitment to them. By definition the University has no commitment to the long-term intellectual and professional development of Contract Academic Staff.

The Academic Writing Team recommended in 2010 that Queen’s strengthen ties between research and teaching. Most academics have no training in pedagogy; it is their research that qualifies them to teach. On the other hand, Contract Academic Staff are generally not compensated for research. Yet a  QUFA survey of 2007 showed that in many cases Contract Faculty maintain research programs. The University should compensate all faculty to conduct the research that informs their teaching.

Not only are Contract Academic Staff not paid for the full range of academic responsibilities, but even where they do exactly the same work as their tenured or tenure-track colleagues—in the classroom—they are paid less for it. Students pay the same fees, regardless of the nature of their professor’s contract. They have a right to be taught by academic staff who have fair compensation and full and equal access to facilities and professional development.

Hiring Contract Academic Staff only to teach is intended to save the university funds in the short-term.  But there are significant problems and long-term costs. Academic freedom is the foundation of our work in the academy. It ensures the right of qualified individuals to create and disseminate knowledge according to their professional judgment and conscience. Equally important, it ensures that they have a voice to shape and guide the academy itself. The primary protection of academic freedom is tenure. Contract Academic Staff do not have tenure. This practice undermines academic freedom. That, in turn,  undermines the proper work of the University and endangers its reputation and its future.

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