A ‘risky’ trade

CAS prof’s courses dropped

CAS - Lena Yang
Graphic by Lena Yang

Annette Abma, an English professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, knew it was risky being a contract academic staff member, but she thought she would at least teach at the school until her retirement.

That is, until the end of June, when Abma sent out a letter to students in her online classes, “British Literary Tradition II” and “Children’s Literature,” stating there were no courses for her to teach in the fall or winter terms.

“I inquired about the courses and was informed that they ‘would not be offering any online courses this fall or winter.’  No ‘unfortunately …’, No ‘sorry to say …’, Not even a ‘dear Annette …’, Just no job for me,” Abma wrote in the letter.

After the letter was sent out, Abma told The Cord she had to contact the online learning department to ask if she could teach. She added that Laurier’s English department has not provided her with a reason as to why they are not offering Children’s Literature and English Literary Tradition to students.

“Every year they usually contact me in late winter to let me know, because I have seniority in the courses they always offer them to me so I get first denial, but I never heard from them,” she explained.

When a contract staff member gains seniority in a course, they become the first to get the class if it’s being offered to contract faculty, unless it’s taken over by a tenured faculty member. A contract academic staff member keeps their seniority for three years after the last time they teach at the university.

Abma said contract staff believe they have more security once they gain seniority.

“I think it’s just the administration and what’s happening with professional instructors — they just hired way too many and gave us all jobs for years and years and then suddenly you just don’t have a job,” she continued.

“It’s difficult to go year-by-year not knowing if you’re going to have a job but of course once you have seniority you start relaxing a little bit.”

Michele Kramer, president of the Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty Association and contract academic staff in the English department, believes the biggest challenge for contract staff is the insecurity of their positions, especially those who teach in the faculty of arts.

“We’re experiencing a slight dip in enrolment in the faculty of arts, so there simply aren’t as many arts students taking courses,” Kramer explained.

“We’ve got no real job security so we’re the first people to get cut if there isn’t enough work.”

Kramer noted contract staff are never “let go” from their jobs — there’s just a lack of work in the specific department. Kramer said this can be “just as devastating” as being let go.

Fortunately, contract faculty are able to regain their position in another term.

Kramer stressed that being a contract faculty member is a “risky position” to have, as well as stressful to anyone — even those who have worked at the university for over a decade.

“Some of these people have been working for Laurier for up to 20 years […] and they still don’t know if they’re going to have work in the next term or the term after,” she said. “That is why every time contract faculty go into negotiations they go in with big hopes that they can maybe get a little bit more security.”

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