As those of us in CUPE 3909 know, Universities have been increasingly relying upon Sessional Instructors to teach a higher percentage of their undergraduate courses over the last decades. Years of decreased government funding and neo-liberal style management of University finances on the part of administration have meant that funding has not developed to hire new tenure-track faculty or replace those who retire. At the same time, enrolment has continued to rise. Picking up the slack has been a low-paid casual labour pool made up of the many Masters and PhD graduates who cannot find full time academic employment. This phenomenon has been receiving greater media attention in recent years, and this fall once again a number of articles and news reports have appeared on the subject. CBC Radio One, in fact, aired a one-hour documentary on the subject entitled, “class struggles” on Sunday Edition with Michael Enright on September 7. (Listen to the documentary here.) This was accompanied by a news report stating that more than half of undergraduate courses are now being taught by contract academic staff and discussing the poor working conditions under which these staff labour.
University Affairs has also once again turned their attention to the topic. In a piece called “Academy of Broken Dreams“, Tim Pettipiece has detailed his own experience with teaching, research and publication resulting only in frustration as the few tenure-track jobs that do exist go to other candidates.
In his response, University Administrator John Osborne agrees that a “lost generation” has been created in the academic world due to a lack of funding which prevents universities from hiring. In a later article, he also agrees with Pettipiece’s controversial assertion that hiring committees for the few jobs that do exist favour British or American scholars over those trained in Canada.
All of these are worthwhile reads. However, while it is important for sessionals who are “frustrated academics” to understand that their current position is a result of systemic factors and not personal failing, this insight only goes so far toward providing real help. Bemoaning the lack of tenure track positions does not call them into being and the reality is that it is unlikely that our current governments will suddenly provide the funding necessary to hire new tenure-track faculty. Nor have Universities, including U of M, paid anything but lip service to the notion of converting sessional positions into more secure full time positions as professors or instructors. Sessional Instructors need to continue to fight for recognition, respect and better working conditions within a situation that is unlikely to change any time soon.