Ryan Sparrow / The Silhouette
While students are wrapping up their courses and gearing up for exams, negotiations are underway for contract renewal for sessional faculty members.
“Sessional faculty face a myriad of other problems, including the inadequacy of TA support, the rising cost of child care and a lack of decent health benefits,” said Alex Diceanu, a sessional faculty member who teaches in Political Science and Labour Studies.
CUPE 3906, the union that represents the approximately 300 sessional faculty at McMaster, is negotiating for its membership. The bargaining team for the sessionals recognizes that things need to change at McMaster.
“The biggest issue this round is job security,” said the union’s president Blake McCall, who did his undergrad and masters degrees at McMaster
“Many members have to apply for their job every four months, with some exceptions. This creates high levels of uncertainty leaving many sessionals without knowing if they are going to have a steady income on a semester-to-semester basis. Changing this to ensure security of our members is a top priority.”
Sessional faculty members, like many contingent faculty, are hired on a course-by-course basis, which makes it difficult to make long-term personal decisions like purchasing a home or starting a family.
As of 2013, Ontario still ranks the last in per-student funding at universities in Canada. The most recent budget announced is expected to include additional cuts to post-secondary education despite record enrollment.
One common cost-cutting measure for universities is to rely on increasing numbers of lower paid part-time faculty.
Continued budget cuts have resulted in a casualization of the academic sector. While some academic workers still have a relatively secure position, such as tenured professors, there has have been efforts to erode even their relative power in institutions.
The growth of precarious work in academia is accelerating. A University Affairs report from January 2013 states that, in the U.S., one-third of faculty at universities are contract workers. Experts suggest that Canadian data may indicate similarly high rates.
The UA report specifically looks at job insecurity, pay and benefits. Out of the nine schools surveyed, McMaster is one out of three that have no teaching load limit. McMaster sessionals also have no access to a pension and only have access to benefits through their union membership.
Temporary and part-time faculty are paid on average 50 per cent less than tenured professors, and they lack the job security and academic freedom that is afforded to tenured professors.
Most of the part-time and temporary positions are solely confined to teaching-only work, which can have an effect on learning outcomes for students, especially as their professor may also have to engage in additional research.
Gord Arbeau, a university spokesperson, described how, “McMaster values the important work that is performed by all employees at the University and believes all employees deserve fair and equitable contracts.”
“Negotiations work best when they happen at the table and not through the media or other avenues of communication,”said Arbeau.
Students are seeing the effect this has on their professors, and they are concerned.
“I think largely decreasing levels of tenure being made available to professors is an unfortunate trend for academia as a whole,” said Eric Gillis, incoming SRA Social Science representative.
“As in any round of bargaining we hope to better job security, and better wages and benefits for our members,” said McCall.