Campaign recognizes CAS profs

Graphic by Joshua Awolade

Graphic by Joshua Awolade

Ontario universities have reached a point where half of their courses are being taught by contract academic staff. Despite this heavy reliance on contract faculty, universities continue to provide them with poor working conditions. With consideration of these issues, a campaign has been launched by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations.

Kate Lawson, OCUFA president, explained the drive behind the campaign is to raise awareness about important contributions made by contract faculty that often goes unnoticed.

“I do want to begin by stressing that I think many contract academic staff members are really excellent teachers and dedicated teachers, but they really struggle in the face of these problems of poor pay, of no access to benefits — in some cases there are very few benefits, poor job security,” she said.

She also noted that they are rarely given office space and have to negotiate teaching at several different institutions at once.

Jason Sager, a CAS member who teaches in the history department at Wilfrid Laurier University, explained the inability CAS have to budget long-term because they never know if they will be teaching courses the next term or how many they’ll be teaching. He said they are limited in their teaching, their research and their personal lives, where they are unable to do things such as go to the dentist or get mortgages.

“Just the basic expectations that one would think that people of our education, of our talents or our abilities should be able to have without having to fight for it,” Sager said.

This term Kimberly Ellis-Hale, a contract staff member in the sociology department, is borrowing an office from a faculty member who is on sabbatical. However, when she doesn’t have access to an office she finds herself meeting with students in hallways, stairwells or the Concourse, which doesn’t help her “do a great job of teaching.”

Beyond the poor working conditions CAS face at Laurier, several contract staff also expressed the prejudice they endure.

“There’s a huge class system here at the university,” said Helen Ramirez, a women and gender studies CAS member. “I get the message on a daily basis that I don’t have the same status as regular faculty. I’m not as smart, I’m not as competent as my regular faculty colleagues because they have the markings of success.”

Ellis-Hale explained that in a meeting in December with Laurier president Max Blouw, he asked in what ways he could address some of the issues CAS face. One professor suggested simply changing their name to contract faculty.

“If he was really committed, he could have pushed that forward,” Ellis-Hale said. “And that hasn’t happened.”

Contract professors also experience increased surveillance. Michele Kramer, a contract staff professor in the English department, explained that while full-time faculty have academic freedom, CAS are often heavily watched by administration. Their course outlines might be combed through or any absences might be questioned despite it being for professional reasons, she said. They also have to worry about what they say for fear of not being re-hired.

“Nobody babysits them,” said Kramer of full-time faculty. “The difference between us and them is that frequently we are babysat in a way that is sometimes insulting. We’re checked over in a way that shows a real mistrust of our ability to be professionals in our classroom.”

CAS also don’t have voting rights at faculty meetings, nor do they have representation at senate or the board of governors, despite the fact that many have been teaching at Laurier for many years.

“Collectively we bring a great wealth of knowledge that is never tapped, is never accepted as being legitimate for having a voice on these institutional bodies,” said Ramirez. “It’s insulting and it’s a loss to the university.”

Nelson Joannette, a history CAS professor, said administration often makes the argument that the university is a business and this means they have to be competitive.

 

“We have to pay low salaries because everybody else does,” he continued. “What a non-academic way of thinking.”

 

Kramer explained that universities cater to the government’s way of thinking because they want to get funding. But this doesn’t fulfill the mandate of what universities are supposed to be doing.

 

“They’ve been the place where thinking gets expanded, where radicals shake the bars of things and so it’s so unfortunate that our university doesn’t want to be a leader instead of a lemming, a follower,” she said.

 

According to Lawson, the Ontario provincial government provides the lowest level of funding per student in Canada, which influences the number of professors that can be hired. She also said the student to faculty ratio in the province is 29:1, while the rest of Canada is 23:1 which means there are fewer professors teaching more students in Ontario.

 

“Part of the problem is lack of money,” she said. “And part of the problem is lack of will on the part of the employer, of administrations to pay properly for academic work.”

 

Ellis-Hale said she’d like to be able to tell Blouw to be brave. People who have famously instigated change, echoed Kramer, are those who were innovative. She urged Laurier, Blouw and other universities in Ontario to take on this role.

 

“Contract faculty aren’t going anywhere. Universities aren’t going to come up with extra funds to suddenly bring in a whole pile of tenure track faculty,” she said. “So let’s innovate and create a system that is fair for all.”

 

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