Part-time Contract Faculty Doing Bulk of Undergrad Teaching
If you’re an undergraduate student at university, the job security and professional life of your instructor is probably the last thing on your mind. Reports are showing, though, that more than half of all undergrads are taught by poorly paid, part-time contract faculty, a situation that some say is having a bearing on the quality of university education.
CAS, or contract academic staff, have to apply each semester to continue teaching, and many of them teach at more than one institution. They have little job security and do not enjoy the benefits and pensions, among other perks, that full-time professors take for granted.
Termed ‘sessional lecturers’ at some schools, part-time professors also get paid much less, even when teaching the same courses a permanent instructor might teach, or even when they contribute research, publish, or serve on committees on their own time and resources.
Although some contract faculty have regular income from their professional ‘day job’ such as in fields like law or journalism, and though some are semi-retired and are happy with their contract situation, many struggle to make ends meet.
Basically serving as academic labourers, part-time teachers are what makes the business model of universities possible. Wilfrid Laurier University instructor Kimberley Ellis Hale terms it the university’s “dirty little secret.” At Laurier, the figures reveal that the university educates over 50 per cent of its students on less than 4 per cent of its budget.
With enrollment climbing, institutions need more instructors at an affordable price. Sessional instructors fit the bill.
But do they offer the best in education?
Pat Rogers, Wilfrid Laurier’s vice-president of teaching, says: “Universities are really strapped now. I think it’s regrettable, and I think there are legitimate concerns about having such a large part-time workforce, but it’s an unfortunate consequence of underfunding of the university.”
Those concerns include the inaccessibility of part-time instructors. Contract teachers are generally not available to interact with students since they spend less time on campus. Studies show that students do best when they have access to one-on-one time with their instructors.
Then there’s the fact that paying for the cheapest labour does not always guarantee the best quality education.
Although some schools see the need to return to a more traditional full-time faculty senario, it’s unlikely the current situation of contract academic staff will end abruptly. After all, money talks, even in the classroom.