The Spring/Summer 2015 issue of Academic Matters is now live online and arriving in faculty mailboxes across Ontario. It takes a look at the challenge of contract faculty work from an international perspective.
The increased use of part-time faculty is a growing challenge for higher education systems around the world. In many cases, it’s a grim situation for the talented faculty members trapped in precarious work. Andrew Robinson’s article in the issue is a powerful example of the kind of frustration – and the on-campus conflicts – bred by the vagaries of contract employment. But for all the gloom, there are hopeful signs everywhere.
The issue also features some heartening international stories of people and organizations pushing back against precarious academic work. From the UK, Jonathan White of the University and College Union (UCU) writes about the rise of zero-hours contracts in British universities, where individuals are given a position without any guarantee of actual paid work. He traces the work of the UCU to combat this trend, and highlights the success they’ve had putting this issue on the public agenda.
Similarly, Jeannie Rea describes the casualization of academic work in Australia, and how the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has been active in the fight to keep up employment standards in the academy. These articles make it clear that the rise of precarious academic work is a global phenomena. They also hint at the immense benefit of sharing stories, tactics, and solidarity across borders can help ensure that academic jobs remain good jobs.
On the subject of solidarity and defiance, this issue also features a new history of faculty unions in Ontario by Craig Heron. This article was originally given as a lecture at OCUFA’s Faculty Associations in the 21st Century conference, held in the fall of 2014. Natalie Coulter and Lorna Erwin provide an overview of the social justice work done by the York University Faculty Association (YUFA) in Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood. This type of social commitment is a template for how faculty associations can engage with issues in the broader community, such as the rise of precarious work in all sectors of the economy.
The issue also contains a call for professors and academic librarians everywhere to engage with the wider world of politics. Author Robin Vose explains that political engagement is a core component of academic commitment, and a responsibility we cannot shirk in a federal election year. Altogether, this issue of Academic Matters presents a stark view of some of the serious issues facing higher education. But it also presents ideas for facing up to these challenges, from personal political commitment to deeper engagement in faculty associations to engaging our associations with social and political issues beyond our institutions.
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