Walkout day shines a light on plight of part time professors

The prevalence of part-time contracts for professors means many earn less than the garbage man despite spending tens of thousands of dollars to get there.

(Andrea Bárcenas/AQ)
(Andrea Bárcenas/AQ)

On Feb. 25, adjunct faculty from a number of American universities plan to cut class to protest unfair working conditions as part of National Adjunct Walkout Day. Less drastic measures are expected in Canada, where part-time faculty are usually unionized.

Canadian Association of University Teachers president Robin Vose says at STU and across Canada, underpaid part-time professors are working for free when they research.

“They love their jobs and so they do it,” Vose said. “They don’t get paid for it. The universities work this fiction where they say, ‘We’re only paying you for your classroom hours and your grading hours. We don’t expect you to do research.’ It’s a fiction because the vast majority do it anyway.”

CAUT is an umbrella organization for faculty unions. Its posters hung on STU campus reads one out of three university professors are on temporary or part-time contracts. That ratio is closer to one in two at St. Thomas, not accounting for professors on sabbatical or leave.

Those part-time professors make between $5,638 and $6,239 per three-credit hour course they teach. The median wage for all ranks of full-time professors is between $100,000 and $125,000. President Dawn Russel has the most expensive contract at the school, totaling at least $250,000. A part-time professor teaching six courses would make about $35,000.

Part-time English lecturer Andrew Titus says the walkout day is a great idea to draw attention to the plight of union-less adjunct professors in America, but here in Canada, the situation doesn’t quite call for it.

“It’s an awkward position to be in,” he said. “I support everybody’s right to have a job, and I support every PhD’s right to equal opportunity to tenure-track positions, but the truth of the matter is the university is a business and they only have so many positions for it.”

Titus, like many other part-time faculty, works through the summer. He’s mowed lawns, shoveled top-soil, painted buildings, done short-term research jobs, and served as a note-taker in a labour negotiation. He and many other professors have received employment insurance, though new government restrictions make it difficult to get.

“I have three children, so I have to make money during the summer. So basically whatever comes, that’s what I do,” he said.

Titus never went for his PhD after his Master of Arts. In most fields, one can’t rise to the level of professor without a PhD. He believes there was less competition for tenure-track positions in the 70s and 80s, but by the time he got to university in the early 2000s, the popularity of academic careers caught up with the explosion in enrolment. He knew the market for his job, and decided that he would take a shot at being a lecturer anyway.

“It is still an excellent job, that I chose, and that I would not trade in for the world. I love teaching and when you love something this much, you make sacrifices. And as for my tenured colleagues, I hold no ill will towards them at all, understanding that we have made different choices and so are in different situations.”

STU communications director Jeffrey Carleton said STU worked hard to grow its complement of full-time staff, but financial restrictions keep the school from reaching its goals. In the past 18 months, the school has hired full-time teachers in sociology, education, journalism and communications, human rights, psychology, social work, and education.

” There are a lot of individuals who teach part-time who bring a lot of professional experience into the classroom, and you see that across a range of disciplines, but at the same time we’d like to add more full-time faculty,” Carleton said.

“We have competing calls on very limited financial resources.”

Over an average fiscal year, STU’s revenues rise one to 1.5 per cent, while expenditures rise 3 to 4 per cent.

Vose, who served as president of the Faculty Association of the University of St. Thomas from 2009 to 2012, says that business-first outlook is damaging universities.

He fears a growing division between teaching and researching, that universities conceived as corporations will more often hire inexpensive teachers while focusing on expensive research projects that aim to make waves in their field.

“The dream scenario is one where the government and society recognizes that universities are special places in society – the only places where people freely come together to explore knowledge, where they’re not tied to outcomes and products,” he said.

It’s not just universities either, said Vose. As the job market rebounds, reports consistently show more part-time, low security jobs replacing careers.

“This is something FAUST has been at the forefront of: recognizing that we’re not in this alone and that this is absolutely tied to the firefighters, to public sector employees, school teachers and journalists,” Vose said.

“Can we all see that society is better off when people are fairly paid and have some amount of job security, and have jobs they’re passionate about?”

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