CUPE3908: Part-time and contract faculty are often referred to as the invisible workers at our universities. At Trent University, we are organized as CUPE-3908 Unit 1 academic workers.

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OPEN LETTER: Working For a Better System

PETERBOROUGH, ON— Friday June 26, 2015


Part-time and contract faculty are often referred to as the invisible workers at our universities. At Trent University, we are organized as CUPE-3908 Unit 1 academic workers. In Canada, part-time faculty teach more than half of undergraduate courses at our universities. Every Trent undergrad student will be taught by part-time faculty at least once, and for the vast majority, several times during their four-plus years of study. Some undergraduates may even be taught by part-time faculty on a more regular basis than by tenured faculty. Part-time faculty and graduate teaching assistants increasingly lead seminars, workshops and labs as well as lecturing and leading many courses. Oftentimes, undergraduate students never know whether they are being taught by a full-time, tenured professor or by a part-time instructor. This owes to the professionalism, skills and dedication that part-time instructors bring to the classroom.

An earlier model of part-time teaching often saw professionals coming into the classroom to impart practical experience as well as theory to students. That worked well for those educators and still does for many who are full-time teachers, lawyers, nurses and so forth. But for many of us, we are working part-time, as full-time scholars. Planning beyond the next semester is nearly impossible for most. We are part of an increasingly large group of workers across the post-secondary landscape who hold multiple degrees, have outstanding teaching evaluations, undertake ambitious research projects and have all of the skills of tenured, full-time faculty.

The TUFA Collective Agreement defines full-time faculty as anyone teaching 2 or more full-credit courses, but doesn’t specify a time frame. In recent years, TUFA has interpreted this to mean a 1.5 course maximum September to April, with an additional 1.5 courses over the entire calendar year. In the last round of bargaining, without any consultation with our membership, the TUFA executive have threatened to discontinue this practice and have attempted to limit part-time faculty to work no more than 1.5 courses over the entire calendar year. This equates to a potential difference of just slightly more than $20, 000 in gross income. The employer has rejected this, but it is our understanding that TUFA is now trying to advance this new position via a grievance, which is ‘on hold’ over the summer months. It is also notable that while TUFA members’ pay is determined by a parity formula, Trent’s rate of pay for CUPE instructors on a per-course basis is on the lower end of the pay scale in Ontario, and indeed, across Canada.

Rather than taking this highly problematic stance, we believe the TUFA executive and its members should stand alongside us in helping to better our working conditions. TUFA can use its power to advance solutions supported by part-time and full-time faculty, or to limit the most precariously employed faculty members’ ability to work.

We will be releasing a more comprehensive report in the coming months, but we want all interested parties to know that this restrictive policy is virtually unmatched across the country – as it exists today in practice and even more so as proposed. The overwhelming majority of contract, part-time faculty in Canada is afforded the opportunity to work as much as double our members’ limit, and in some instances, more. At York University, part-time instructors can work up to 5.5 full-time courses in a calendar year. At Carleton, the maximum workload for the fall/winter term is 2 full-time courses and 3 courses is the maximum over the calendar year. At the University of Manitoba, sessional academic workers can work up to the equivalent of 5 full-time courses per academic year. At Dalhousie, conditions are similar to Trent in that the limit is 1.5 for the Fall/Winter terms, but the summer course load is 2 full courses. At both Victoria and Simon Fraser in British Columbia, currently, there are no maximum course loads for sessional instructors.

What is sometimes lost in all of this is that our focus, as part-time faculty, remains squarely on the student experience. We believe adamantly that our working conditions as part-time faculty relates directly to the classroom experience of our undergraduate student body. In this context, we have begun organizing efforts for a fall symposium that will continue to draw attention to academe’s labour practices around teaching today in Ontario. We will focus on issues like the growing number of part-time faculty, the skills and expertise that our part-time faculty bring to classrooms, how full-time faculty can join our cause, the potential benefits of teaching-stream faculty integration, the inspired fight for zero tuition, and the plight of our student academic workers who we view as vital to today’s university workforce. Achieving greater solidarity is an overarching goal.

We hope that everyone who has a vested interest in this issue will let the TUFA executive know that our part-time faculty deserves better than what exists, and than what TUFA may be seeking to put in effect in their next collective agreement.

James Onusko, PhD
Vice President, Unit 1
CUPE Local 3908

Last modified: 26-Jun-15

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