Monday, October 24, 2016

Putting a Face on Contract Faculty Members: A Recent Study

Guest post by Kate Lawson for CAUT’s Fair Employment Week

Most of us would agree that academic jobs should be good jobs. But many of us have little knowledge of the real working conditions and academic background of contract faculty members, colleagues who are also known as “sessionals” or “part-timers.”

A recently published study by C.C. Field and G.A. Jones from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) provides much-needed data about who contract faculty are at Ontario universities.

If you think that “sessionals” teach “part-time” by choice, that they lack a terminal degree, do not engage in research, or teach “on the side” because they have a full-time job elsewhere, then you are thinking of what Field and Jones call classic sessionals. In their study, classics sessionals comprise 24.8% of those surveyed.

By contrast, 61.3% of contract faculty are what they term precarious sessionals who rely on their income from instructional work.

Field and Jones state that they use “the term ‘precarious’ for two reasons: first, many are working full-time equivalent workloads (when courses are available) on a semester-by semester basis, with little or no job security; and second, these sessionals are likely to be either hopeful or disillusioned with the idea of having a full-time permanent career in the academy.”

So who are the “precarious sessionals,” according to Field and Jones?

  • They are likely to be female (60.2%); 
  • They are likely to hold a PhD (70.94%); 
  • They are likely to work on short-term contracts of less than 6 months (53.9%); 
  • They are likely to aspire to a full-time position with benefits in the academy. 

Do “precarious sessionals” work part-time?

  • many are working full-time equivalent hours and course loads; 
  • 63.1% teach an average at least two or more courses per semester in the winter/fall.

Is the “precarious sessional” pool a transient one?

  • Field and Jones report: “One of the most surprising findings is that sessional faculty are not as transient a group as one might have anticipated. In fact, over 15% of our sample have been working for more than 15 years as a sessional instructor. Only 12.6% of respondents reported that they had worked one year or less, with 26.12% having between 2 and 4 years of experience, and 26.8% having between 5 and 8 years of experience. Those with 9 to 14 years of experience make up the final 17.8%. Roughly one-third of all respondents had 9 or more years of experience as a sessional instructor.” 

Do “precarious sessionals” engage in research?

  • 37% are pursuing an active program of research, even though research is typically unremunerated. 

What are the effects on individuals of short-term contract work?

  • 89% find short-term contractual employment to be a source of considerable personal strain (compared with only 29% of classic sessional faculty). 

What do contract faculty earn through teaching on a sessional, part-time, or contract basis?

  • roughly 45% of sessional faculty earn less than $19,930 (the Low-income measure after tax);
  • 25.6% earn between $19,930 and $39,999; 
  • 17.3% report a middle-class income of between $40,000 and $79,999; 
  • 2.6% of respondents earn more than $80,000

Field and Jones’ study also provides a lot of useful suggestions for department chairs at places such as UW. For example, in order to help improve the working conditions for contract faculty, chairs can try to ensure that they have:
  • Contracts issued well in advance of the teaching term; 
  • Timely access to learning management systems, photocopiers, the library, and professional development opportunities; 
  • Private office space so that contract faculty can meet students; 
  • A stable email address; 
  • Invitations to department meetings; and 
  • Supplies such as whiteboard markers, paper, and letterhead. 
If you care about the quality of higher education in Ontario, you should care about the working conditions of contract faculty members. I urge you to read the study in its entirety.

Field, C. C. & Jones, G.A. (2016). A Survey of Sessional Faculty in Ontario Publicly-Funded Universities. Toronto: Centre for the Study of Canadian and International Higher Education, OISE-University of Toronto.

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