As sent to QUFA members by Paul Young via qufacomm, 22 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.
In 2008 QUFA’s bargaining team secured effective language to enhance job security at Queen’s for professors hired on a contract basis (Term Adjuncts). In 2011 Queen’s Administration worked hard to remove that language from the Collective Agreement. When that failed, they responded by hiring fewer Term Adjuncts in most undergraduate programs. As you know, enrolment in undergraduate programs is increasing and class sizes are growing. The result is heavier workloads for the tenure-track and tenured professors, who are left with more teaching and an ever-increasing burden of committee work, advising, and supervision.
It is also disturbing to think about what will happen to graduate students who are completing their degrees and looking for employment. As Mark C. Taylor noted in 2009,
“The dirty secret of higher education is that without underpaid graduate students to help in laboratories and with teaching, universities couldn’t conduct research or even instruct their growing undergraduate populations. That’s one of the main reasons we still encourage people to enroll in doctoral programs. It is simply cheaper to provide graduate students with modest stipends and adjuncts with as little as $5,000 a course — with no benefits — than it is to hire full-time professors.” (Mark C. Taylor, “End the University as We Know It,” New York Times, April 26, 2009)
What makes this a “dirty secret” is that the prospect of these students obtaining permanent academic employment upon graduation is dwindling, particularly in certain areas such as arts and humanities, precisely because of our institutions’ preference for hiring faculty on limited contracts and on the cheap. Queen’s Administration has made their prospects even more difficult. When they are actually hired to teach at Queen’s, these graduate students (now Term Adjuncts) are generally not paid to participate in university committee work and have little or no access to research funds, resources, and facilities to do their work. It is difficult if not impossible for them to continue their research programs. Since they are not paid to participate in university committees, they have little say in important decisions about what gets taught. It is remarkable that despite heavy teaching loads, many of these individuals perform invaluable service to the university, win teaching awards, and boast publication records that rival those of tenured faculty.
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 for the institution. 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.
I invite you to join us to discuss these issues at the Grad Club on Wednesday October 24 from 4-6 (your first drink is on us). It is our hope that you will continue these discussions with all members of the Queen’s Community.