Uni­ver­si­ties should pay up

The Aurora (Labrador City) - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky

I have a lit­tle scrap of ad­vice for con­tract teach­ers at Cana­dian uni­ver­si­ties.

But first some back­ground. Con­tract fac­ulty, or ses­sion­als as they are some­times called, now out­num­ber full-time tenured or ten­ure-track pro­fes­sors at Canada’s uni­ver­si­ties.

The con­tract po­si­tions pay less, are of­ten part-time or short-term con­tracts, and they let uni­ver­si­ties save money. A re­cent study of 67 Cana­dian uni­ver­si­ties by CUPE and the Cana­dian Cen­tre for Pol­icy Al­ter­na­tives — us­ing free­dom of in­for­ma­tion re­quests to col­lect data — found that 53.6 per cent of in­struc­tors are now on con­tract. These are con­tracts that pay as lit­tle as $5,000 a se­mes­ter, or as the study puts it, “which means that an in­di­vid­ual can teach a full course load at some uni­ver­si­ties and still be liv­ing in poverty.” Eighty per cent of those jobs are part time.

Here’s how the num­bers break down in At­lantic Canada: Nova Sco­tian uni­ver­si­ties re­leased in­for­ma­tion that shows 53 per cent of their fac­ulty were con­tract staff; New­found­land and Labrador, 52 per cent; Prince Ed­ward Is­land, 39 per cent; and New Brunswick, 47 per cent.

That’s a whole lot of in­struc­tors.

Sim­ply put, con­tract in­struc­tors are very much the steer­age pas­sen­gers on the SS Academia, well be­low first class and without even a port­hole where they can see the ocean.

And keep in mind: they are fully trained, qual­i­fied aca­demics. They’re just not paid that way. But back to that ad­vice.

Hey folks — union­ize, and if you are union­ized, strike. Or sue. Or do both.

Be­cause it’s not go­ing to change any other way. As the study pointed out, “Our find­ings lead us to the con­clu­sion that the heavy re­liance on con­tract fac­ulty in Cana­dian uni­ver­si­ties is a struc­tural is­sue, not a tem­po­rary ap­proach to hir­ing.”

Why am I so cer­tain it won’t change?

Be­cause uni­ver­si­ties have been hap­pily steal­ing my work as an au­thor for years, and telling me I should just put up with it, be­cause they are “ed­u­ca­tors.”

(It’s worth not­ing that they only steal be­cause they can get away with it — while my work is re­pro­duced at will and added to course packs that uni­ver­si­ties sell to stu­dents at a profit, in­ter­na­tional jour­nal con­sor­tiums ex­tract mil­lions of dol­lars in pay­ments from Cana­dian uni­ver­si­ties. The uni­ver­si­ties pay up in that sit­u­a­tion — be­cause they have no choice.)

About su­ing? In my case, Ac­cess Copy­right, which rep­re­sents au­thors, took a test case with York Univer­sity to court and won hand­ily over a year ago. York is us­ing the same ex­cuse to copy my work that ev­ery other univer­sity in the coun­try is.

But York has ap­pealed, and the foot-drag­ging goes on. As far as I’m con­cerned, if York’s ap­peal fails, Ac­cess Copy­right should file sim­i­lar ac­tions against ev­ery univer­sity that’s vi­o­lated copy­right for ev­ery dime they owe, right back to when they stopped pay­ing for copy­right in 2011. If that cre­ates great hard­ship for uni­ver­si­ties, tough.

I don’t care if they are ed­u­ca­tors. Thieves should pay resti­tu­tion for what they take.

But back to con­tract ses­sion­als; uni­ver­si­ties are steal­ing your work, too, and they will con­tinue to steal it be­cause they are first and fore­most busi­nesses, de­spite any high­fa­lut­ing claims about “higher call­ings” and the no­ble cause of ed­u­ca­tion.

If they can low­ball you on price, di­vide and con­quer and get your work for cheap — or bet­ter yet, for noth­ing — they will. If they can freeze in­di­vid­ual con­tract staff out and never hire them again be­cause they are “dif­fi­cult” or be­cause they want a fair wage, they ab­so­lutely will. And they’ll prob­a­bly have staff write ar­ti­cles de­fend­ing their be­hav­iour.

Don’t con­fuse the busi­ness of run­ning a univer­sity with any love of knowl­edge, fair­ness, col­le­gial­ity or higher pur­pose. That’s just a cap and gown they like to put on for spe­cial oc­ca­sions.

Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 36 SaltWire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­[email protected]­gram.com — Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

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