Sessional profs walking a tightrope

Number of contract faculty continues to grow despite efforts of faculty associations

TRUFA president Tom Friedman (Wade Tomko/The Omega)

According to Statistics Canada, the number of contract staff at post-secondary institutions in Canada has increased by 200 per cent since 1999. At the same time, the number of regular professors has only increased by 14 per cent.

“It’s not just the lack of job security and the lower pay, it’s that they don’t have the ability to upgrade their professional development, they don’t have the same support, if any, and they also can’t fully participate in the governance of the institution,” said TRU Faculty Association president Tom Friedman.

TRUFA’s collective agreement with the university currently allows for only 30 per cent of the university’s faculty and academic support workers to be sessionals. While certain departments may have a higher percentage of sessionals than others, TRU as a whole must maintain at least 70 per cent of their faculty as tenure or tenure-track.

While the number of contract faculty at TRU is comparatively low to other post-secondary institutions across the globe, Friedman would rather see less, not more sessionals at the university.

“The university basically says we have to run a third of our programs with these individuals,” Friedman said. “We keeping telling them that isn’t a target. If it was under 30 per cent we would be delighted.”

Across North America, faculty associations participated in Fair Employment Week at the end of October. For TRUFA and Friedman, this meant a chance to talk with students and staff about the precarity of being a sessional professor, an issue that has been highlighted by the college faculty strike engulfing Ontario.

In the Ontario college system, nearly 70 per cent of faculty are sessionals. Yet according to George Davison, president of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of B.C. (FPSE), Ontario faculty are also fighting for more academic freedom.

“They don’t have educational councils or senates,” Davison said. “Our system is dual governance. In the Ontario colleges, faculty are second-class citizens. It’s the administration who makes the decisions on educational policy.”

Though Ontario’s situation is dire, the number of contract faculty at universities has increased across Canada, a result of what Friedman says is the corporatization of universities.

“Most of the universities now are being run like corporations, which is a troubling trend,” Friedman said. “Instead of being a public institution, largely supported by the government through public grants, we are becoming a private institution largely supported by student tuition and private donations.”

The result of the corporatization of universities isn’t just higher tuition and unfair pay for contract faculty either. With continued budget cuts, more contract faculty are being hired, less research is being conducted, class sizes are getting bigger and many universities, including TRU, aren’t able to fully meet their regional mandates.

Under the former B.C. Liberals, FPSE and local unions weren’t given much room for bargaining on such issues. But both Davison and Friedman have hope for what a future under the NDP may bring.

“Ever since the Liberals came to power in 2001, it’s been very difficult to bargain anything. Now that we have a friendly government again, we will see what we can do when we come to bargaining in March of 2019,” Davison said. “The reality for any of us, is that’s been a difficult bargaining atmosphere for the past several years. So, we are hoping things change.”