Pop Quiz: What can we do about academic labour?
Happy Labo(u)r Day to our Canadian and American readers!
Though the holiday has suffered from some cultural drift over the years since its inception (serving now mainly as an excuse for back-to-school sales, barbecues, and a post quem non for wearing white), I thought it might be nice to get in the spirit of its 19th century roots and really think about the status of the teaching profession as regards workers’ rights and fair practices.
The years since the 2008 financial crisis have not been good for the profession overall, with many universities facing budget cuts and hiring freezes, and increased efforts by governors in some US states to balance their own budgets on the backs of their public school teachers, sometimes engaging in some ruthless union busting in the process.
The last couple of years have also seen the creation of the Adjunct Project, a large-scale initiative to document the wages and working conditions of adjunct course lecturers at colleges and universities across the US. It began life as an open spreadsheet on Google Docs and now seems headed toward some preliminary efforts at organizing adjuncts and collectively advocating for fairer and more consistent contracts and conditions nationwide.
I sincerely hope that the project is able to do some good by exposing the worst offenders and allowing people looking for adjunct work to make informed decisions about where to seek employment, but ultimately the root problem will have to be addressed by tenured faculty with a commitment to providing permanent positions.
What have your experiences been with the labour market? Are you happy with your union? How can it possibly be that higher education is orders of magnitude more expensive than it used to be, yet 75% of courses are taught by adjuncts who don’t even earn a living wage?
The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it to appear Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 3pm ET.
Featured image: Labour Day Parade in Toronto ca. 1900, City of Toronto Archives.