Higher Education is Pushing More Professors into Poverty

The summer of 2014 I received a phone call that would forever alter my career as an English professor. The chair of my department called me to tell me that the college will be getting rid of contract faculty starting January 2015. Of course, I was a contract faculty there. My heart dropped. My mind raced.

“Why? Does that mean I won’t be teaching anymore?”

“Faculty will have an option of either going part time (6 hours a week) or sessional (over 15 hours).” My chair answered.

3903-and-506-picket-5
Seneca students helped distribute leaflets to their classmates as they waited for the bus.

“Okay” I stammered, “that’s not so bad, perhaps I can make it work”.

“I am glad you’re looking at it from a positive light, if you have any questions, I’ll be in my office this week”.

 

 

 

college-profThat night I thought about it. Working less than 6 hours barely covers the cost of childcare. On the other hand, working 15 hours (classroom teaching hours) means that I will have at least 5 classes with 35 students in each class, writing essays every two weeks. That’s around 175 essays to grade every two weeks. I usually mark in the evenings after kids go to sleep. How am I supposed to finish marking, and give my students the appropriate feedback that they need to improve their writing in this way?

I wouldn’t be able to do that. I concluded. It’s not fair to my students. They’re not there to get a grade, they’re there to learn and improve their writing.

To me Faculty Working Conditions = Student Learning Conditions. The conditions in the department were not great for student learning.

Did you know that 31% of professors live in poverty and impoverished economic conditions? The corporate model of current higher education conditions is pushing more and more professors into poverty.

Contract faculty do not get paid for office hours, emails, grading and marking, professional development. They do not get summer off, a sabbatical, or vacation pay. Even with all of that we were still okay with it. 70% of faculty in Ontario colleges are contract faculty. However, when they get rid of contract faculty and shift to part time and sessional instructors, they push the vulnerable teaching population: almost retired professors, moms like myself, and many many others. More importantly, faculty will not be unionized. And that, more than the working conditions impacts job security, health and dental benefits, and overall union support.

Needless to say, I decided to leave the college. I would be doing an injustice to my students if I stayed working under these conditions. Many left, many stayed. Everyone did what is best for their family and circumstances.

No one talked about the changes. It happened behind closed doors. Teachers were hurt. We said goodbyes and shed some tears, all behind closed doors. And that hurt the most. Many full time faculty didn’t even know what was happening with their colleagues. Hence the phone call from my chair. Each contract faculty apparently got one. The college didn’t want to go on email records and let people know this was happening.

So last week, I got an email from one former colleague. She wants us to take a stand against what happened Winter of 2015. Reading that email brought so much flood of emotions. I didn’t realize when I finished reading it that I had tears all over my face. They’re organizing a standout and a day of action on September 28. I plan on being there.

 

16 thoughts on “Higher Education is Pushing More Professors into Poverty

  1. Now I understand why you left teaching. i was curious. On a smaller scale the same things often happens to public school teachers. Cut backs mean less teachers, often leads to increased class load, larger classes, less prep time and more paper work ( for little or no raise) and increased contributions to our benefits.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I know several instructors who have suffered the same fate. You are an exceptional teacher Rusel. It is a huge loss to students but sadly this is the reality for many of us. I left last December because I was juggling 6 part time jobs to make ends meet. My last full time teaching job was in 2007 when I worked in Hong Kong. Students and instructors deserve more. Best wishes to you Rusul. Patrice Palmer (I would like to re-post the infographic – could you please send me the link?)

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Standing with you in my heart, Rusul. I didn’t know this heartbreaking story.

    [I suspect it is much worse in the US where government doesn’t provide health care in the way it exists in Canada. But it’s also worse in a more socially conscious country kind Canada to have this kind of injustice]

    Liked by 2 people

  4. While I have read about this trend again and again over the last few years, this post brings it home on a whole new level. The video is startling. Those statistics are dumbfounding. And we also know that women and people of color will experience these disparities even more strongly. Our resistance is overdue and this work cannot be left to adjunct faculty alone. All of us in education need to be in on resisting and ultimately reversing this damage.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I’ve been through the same situation. Thank you for sharing your story. Re: The Day of Action, what did you mean by ‘Being there’? It seems like there is no particular event, we are just meant to wear a button or email an image.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hmm, I did get an email from people that are organizing it, it turns out they’re still waiting for the college to approve them being there. I think they’re aiming to have a table, and an ice cream truck? to get the word out to the students. I’ll be at the Newnham Campus regardless that morning, just to show some solidarity to those who choose to show up and be there.

      Like

  6. Been working as a sessional instructor for 6 years. All the same conditions here. No vacation, benefits, pension, dental, etc. It pushed me to a nervous breakdown and deep depression and made me quit teaching. Glad I quit. Life’s too short for that shit.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Rona, I am glad that you quit and don’t feel that pain anymore. I feel the exact same way. Life is too short. I worry about the students that have to deal with the repercussions of such a system, and people who can’t leave. 😦

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