Apr 06 2012

Contract Faculty Representation and Academic Freedom

Category: Academic Freedom,Contract FacultyBob Hanke @ 5:30 pm

Contract Faculty Should Agitate For Representation

How and why one professor created a contract faculty committee
by Kane Faucher
(excerpted from University Affairs, April 2, 2012)

In mid-February, I and a group of dedicated contract instructors saw our committee voted into existence as part of the governance structure of our faculty. After several months of meetings that involved itemizing our concerns, and the drafting of our terms of reference aligned with the academic unit’s constitution, we finally attained meaningful representation within our unit. This marks a somewhat unprecedented move in faculty politics, recognizing the heavy debt owed to our most vulnerable and precarious members: the part-time instructors who, in some units, teach a majority of undergraduate courses.

This is not a process that other faculties and departments can easily duplicate, unless there is political will among administrators to enfranchise their part-time instructors to combat institutionalized inequities. The first hurdle many part-time instructors face is fear – that any action they take may be perceived as insubordination and thus limit their employment opportunities. As well, they may suffer a certain degree of learned helplessness, feeling that it is impossible to alter the current structures to allow for meaningful dialogue between contingent faculty and the established members of academia.

In some ways, we can consider such agitation for fair representation according to Pascal’s wager. If one’s labour is contingent and precarious in doing nothing, then pushing for representation at the risk of not being given a contract for the following year may result in the same scenario. Among contingent faculty, there are no guarantees of future employment, and so this group has the least to lose in improving their conditions.

The cynic will be quick to state that being en-franchised within one’s academic governance structure is far from the ideals of attaining job security and benefits. In addition, this service component would most likely not be remunerated.

But, rather than viewing this as a divisive stance, part-time faculty should recognize that forming their own committee and seeking to establish a participatory role in the life of an academic program is good service experience. It also makes the contract teacher more visible in the unit and allows him to become a stakeholder in curriculum development. Moreover, it may bring together part-time members who otherwise don’t have occasion to interact. Organizational health and efficiency is improved by consulting with relevant stakeholders – which would include perspectives from “the trenches.”

What does visibility mean? It means being a welcome participant in the decision-making process, being acknowledged for professional and research contributions outside of one’s contract, having a collegial “hallway rapport” with full-time colleagues and a collective will to end classist labour divisions in academic culture. A collective stance may end instances of arrogance, condescension, outright hostility and any other marginalizing attitude from some faculty members who engage in a practice of discrimination.

To read the rest of this article, click here.

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