Oct 23 2014

The Precarious Professoriate

Category: Books and Articles,Contract FacultyBob Hanke @ 11:42 am

Ivory Tower or Temp Agency?

By Herbert Pimlott

(excerpted from Academic Matters, October 20, 2014)

“I never thought teaching at a university would become a dead-end job.”

Jason Sager, an innovative professor whose courses are very popular with students, made this comment when he told me of his difficult decision to leave academia, after teaching for seven years at Wilfrid Laurier University (where he earned his PhD in 2007).

Dr. Sager, like thousands of highly educated—and experienced—faculty members, working at universities across the country, are learning that our profession is indeed becoming a dead-end job—an unfortunate new twist on the PhD’s description as a terminal degree.

The growing number of precarious academic workers teaching an ever-larger number of undergraduate students is a threat. It is a threat to our profession, with serious implications for our working conditions, our compensation, and the future of collegial governance. It is also a threat to the existence of higher education and the public university as we know it. Indeed, it is also part of the tale of Canada’s shrinking middle class.

A common adjective for contract faculty is part-time. At one time, such an adjective was accurate because universities employed part-time professors—or, instructors with other careers outside of the university—to share their real-world expertise with students. However, the long trajectory of public funding cuts and massive increases in student enrolment has meant a surge in part-time faculty positions, filled with academics who have no other source of income. These part-time jobs for full-time scholars are the increasingly likely future for many graduates of PhD programs.

Most people, including permanent professors, don’t realize that the number of full-time faculty hires have not kept pace with growing student enrolments. They also might not realize how the expectations for tenure-track jobs have changed, becoming more stringent in response to dwindling positions and an increasing number of young PhDs.

I want to address what the growth in contract faculty means for faculty associations in Ontario. To do so, it is necessary to sketch out the rise of precarious academic employment, and the consequences of the growing use of contract faculty for the public university. Then we can examine the implications of precarious academic work for higher education, the tenure-track professoriate, and faculty associations. This issue is not only about the livelihoods of our colleagues in contract positions, but also the future of the public university.

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