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    • 14 MAR 16
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    Encouraging Voices

    Encouraging Voices

    Dan Nooney, PTS Instructor

    In addition to this post Dan also shared his pre-conference musings.

    Several weeks have passed since my return from the conference on “Confronting Precarious Academic Work” providing me opportunity for reflection, conversations with colleagues, and collaboration with our FSA professional advocates.

    The presentations were thorough in establishing the depth, impacts, and relentless advance of the use of precarious short term instructional contracts.  A quick check in a thesaurus for synonyms for precarious can highlight the nature of the problem: insecure, dangerous, uncertain, tricky, risky, doubtful, dubious, unsettled, dodgy, unstable, unsure, hazardous, shaky, perilous, touch and go, dicey, chancy, built on sand.

    To my mind, the description of the issue was unfortunately my strongest take away. The old adage ‘misery loves company’ was definitely a sentiment I felt. It was indeed lovely to make acquaintance with so many clearly highly qualified and deeply committed instructors struggling in their broad ranging fields. In many cases, their stories shed light on some of the ways that our BCIT precarious workers are not at the bottom of the proverbial barrel. This can undoubtedly be attributed to our being under the flag of the FSA.

    The emphasis on describing the negative impacts on the immediate emotional, mental, and physical health of precarious workers as well as on our teaching institutions and larger communities is not to say that the conference failed to focus on prescriptions for moving forward.

    The most obvious strategy coming out of the conference is broadening our range of advocates and encouraging the voices of our members wherever possible. Participation in events such as this one as well as expanding our connection to others through membership in organizations such as the current proposal to join CAUT,  Canadian Association of University Teachers, and engagement with international organizations like COCAL, Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor, are clearly invaluable in moving us forward to greater strength.

    Obviously, this is not the best forum for a highly detailed report on the substantive presentations that I was privileged to attend. Happily though, full audio files of the entire conference are currently available online. I would especially recommend Panel Session Two: ‘Responses to Precarity: Building solidarity among faculty, students and the broader community’ or the final Panel in Session Four and Town Hall plenary: ‘Which way forward?’

    Nevertheless, here are a number of points that impressed me:

    • Virtually all educational institutes are extremely reluctant to reveal the actual numbers of precarious workers. This is a question that should be asked and publicized widely.
    • Quality of instruction is compromised by a wholesale dependence on a precarious workforce of instructors which in no way reflects on the quality or commitment of these teachers.
    • Public perception of the context of teachers in post-secondary educational institutions completely fails to grasp the widespread and ever expanding nature of this problem or the ways in which it negatively impacts the larger society including the economy and jobs.
    • Multiple surveys and research demonstrate that the vast majority of the public believes that colleges and universities are already model employers, i.e. there is no problem.
    • Many instructors report pressures to perform for popularity and provide edu-tainment at the expense of education in an effort to gain some measure of stability for future course contract offerings.
    • The political neoliberal perspective is that universities should be turned into corporations and run as such. This results in commodification of instructors and education.
    • It is not uncommon for precarious teacher workers to disengage from their own union advocates out of a sense of hopelessness or in some cases actual exclusion from the membership in teacher unions/faculty associations.
    • Students and their parents, including high school students and their parents, may be our best allies.
    • The issue of precarious employment is by no means limited to academic work and we should seek solidarity with other groups working for social justice such as those working toward a $15 an hour minimum wage and women’s rights groups to name only two.
    • On a lighter note, where terminology matters, I loved the comment one participant made: “If they refuse to treat us as or call us ‘ordinary’ instructors, they had best call us ‘extraordinary’ because we are.”

    Of course many other aspects were addressed and issues brought to light at this conference, which will continue to be important in our ongoing struggles.

    I encourage everyone to listen to some of the presentations through the link above and more importantly to engage with our own Faculty and Staff Association.

    To that end, please do not hesitate to contact me or any of our FSA representatives even if it is only to tell your story and have your voice honored.

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  • Posted by Phil on March 14, 2016, 3:46 pm

    Thanks, Dan for your extraordinary work in this challenging area. It is much appreciated. I look forward to listening to some of the presentations.

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  • Posted by Peter Beresford on March 14, 2016, 5:45 pm

    Thanks for this update Dan. It’s reassuring to hear that the FSA’s continued efforts have kept us above the ‘bottom of the proverbial barrel’, as you put it. I’ll have a listen to the audio you recommended, and I am very curious about the first bulleted point you listed: "Virtually all educational institutes are extremely reluctant to reveal the actual numbers of precarious workers. This is a question that should be asked and publicized widely."

    In my opinion, this number could/should be publicized in rankings like Maclean Magazine’s annual university rankings. Maclean’s methodology currently doesn’t include a count of precarious workers: http://www.macleans.ca/education/measuring-excellence-the-methodology-behind-macleans-universities-rankings/

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  • Posted by Anonymous on February 7, 2018, 11:58 am

    Since the 1980s the emerging belief in influential parts of society on shareholder primacy and corporate personhood has led to an under-appreciation of the role that human beings have in organizations. The diminished public trust in political leaders and public sector, and trickle-down theory of economics, plus increasing demand for public services for diverse (aging) populations has led to downward pressure on funding to higher education (and other public sectors). What was once an enriching and potentially innovative teaching/learning experience for Teaching Assistants, the working professional class, and retired class (in the 1960s and prior), and for students and institutions in higher ed, has become an overgrown economic dependence (an addiction?), with winners and losers. The problem is systemic, in the context surrounding and beyond higher education. It would be better if the situation does not arise, where people feel they need to cobble together multiple precarious jobs to create a worklife that produces living income and has a path for future advancement, and where employers issue precarious contracts. Overuse creates a dependency (on both sides) and weakens the PSE system. Btw, there are some studies that show overuse of adjuncts is associated with diminished student retention, probably because their connection to the collective resources and core of the institution is constrained, transactional, and precarious.

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