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.
“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”.
That 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.