Letter to the editor
Half of MRU’s professors are exploited and abused through the growing use of part-time, contract labour practices
Author chose to remain anonymous.
On March 14, Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, wrote an editorial decrying the exploitive labour practice of universities hiring professors through part-time contracts.
It notes that most professors have been forced into a makeshift, two-tier employment situation akin to a “Victorian-era apprenticeship.”
Sadly, the situation at our own MRU is particularly abusive — where about half of MRU’s teachers are part-time, contract employees. (This statistic is based on numbers found online for MRU’s website, although some were incomplete and some didn’t specify between full-time and part-time positions).
Some of the problematic characteristics for contract and part-time jobs from the university include:
No rank. MRU refuses to grant any professional title to its part-time profs. The result is that those teaching the majority of classes at MRU are faceless, title-less “part-time contractors.”
No business cards. Professors, whether given the title or not, must interact with textbook publishers, professionals in industry, colleagues at other universities across the globe, people in the community and high school staff. They attend conferences and professional meetings. They represent MRU everywhere they go, yet a business card is denied.
No pension. Part-time faculty members are excluded from any right to a pension. Though many teach full time each school year, they are not granted any type of MRU-related pension.
No job security. Contract faculty members are required every semester to apply to teach the same courses they’ve always taught. It’s the ultimate survival of the fittest. One slip up and your career is over. Indeed, MRU contract professors are treated on par with temporary foreign workers at fast-food outlets.
No private office space. Contract professors are assigned a desk shared by other contract employees, with or without a computer station, and located in a common room with many such contractors. No privacy is afforded for meetings with colleagues or students.
No continuous health care benefits. Health care benefits are cut off immediately upon the completion of a semester; thus, most contract faculty endure four months each summer with no benefits.
No long-term benefits. What will happen if I am struck with a chronic illness? Unable to take a contract for the next semester, I will be without work. Having no benefits or pension, I will find myself homeless. I live with poverty staring me in the face.
No professionalism offered. The university expects my level of engagement to be that of a full-time professor. But it neither treats me so nor pays me so. Clearly, a part-time contract is an impossibility because the nature of our clients dictates so much more than a contract can imagine.
Undergraduate students arrive in a key transitional period in their lives, and there is no question that professors become significant mentors and confidants as they navigate their post-secondary journey — personally and academically. But every effort by a contract professor in this regard is an act of great humanitarianism because non-classroom engagement is not part of the contract. It’s a kind of forced volunteerism.
Should I attend convocation? Student award ceremonies? Meetings? Department retreats? Performances and presentations by my students? Should I write letters of reference for my students when they apply for jobs and internships?
You would hope the answer would be “yes.” It has been. But it should become “no.” I am not paid to do any of the above.
Already you can see how it is that the institution operates with the assumption that I am a full-time employee — for there really is no other way. That’s what’s evil about the widespread use of “contract” faculty. It exploits the fact that as people working with people, contract ‘professors’ have done the right thing with students — the humanitarian thing — the unpaid thing. But that doesn’t make it right.
Few professional development opportunities. While each contract professor is provided a few funds for PD annually, the lion’s share of funds are distributed by each of the university faculties via committees comprised of, you guessed it, full-time professors. My own stack of rejection letters is testament to the reality that almost all of the hundreds of thousands of PD funds annually go to full-time professors.
No equity. While the rest of the world demands equal pay for equal work, MRU’s treatment of its teaching faculty is the polar opposite.
While The Globe and Mail reports that universities across Canada pay an average rate of about $7,500 per three-credit course, MRU pays substantially less: about $5,700 per course for those teaching in their first ten semesters. An average of three courses per fall and winter semester would generate an annual income of about $34,000 — from which union dues, income tax and CPP are deducted.
A full-time, assistant professor holding a doctorate and five years of previous teaching experience starts at about $77,000 and is granted an incremental raise of about $3,000 each year until 14 years — climbing to nearly $145,000 as a full professor.
However, a contract professor is placed at level one on the grid despite previous teaching experience and doesn’t receive a pay raise until having taught ten semesters. Small increments are granted every five semesters to a maximum of 30 semesters — resulting in a career-ending contract of $6,927 per 3-credit course.
The divide is jaw-droppingly inequitable ($41,500 versus $145,000) — more than a $100,000 difference annually for employees with the same credentials conducting the same work with the same number of students.
No equity II. Should a full-time professor be interested in teaching a course previously taught by a contract professor (whether qualified or not; whether having garnered excellent student evaluations or not), s/he simply claims it and the part-time faculty member (who may have developed the course over many years and who may have had successful student reviews) loses the course.
No questions asked. No discourse. No announcements made. No reason or justification given. Voiceless and powerless, contract faculty have virtually no rights on campus.
No other profession in Canada would tolerate such inequity. Imagine announcing that more than half of all nurses, postal or auto workers, judges, school teachers, or MLAs be moved to a part-time contract similar to contract professors — marked by the breathtaking list of inequities noted above.
You’re right; it is simply unimaginable.
In the final analysis, part-time contract instructors are treated as if they are indispensable and disposable — when the truth is that they are anything but.
Teaching at the university level cannot be doled out by the hour. It has no relationship with oppressive, unjust, two-tiered contractual arrangements bereft of any dignity whatsoever.
Teaching contracts were invented because they are the cheapest way to run a university. But it is also cheating — the greatest crime possible on campus.