A Tale of Two Professors

This article is from the WLUFA Advocate October 2016 5.1.

Dr. Teechferfude: You know that you’re only part of the university’s supplementary workforce don’t you?

Professor Weery: What do you mean? You mean like CAS? Part-time? No, I’m full-time, tenured; in fact I’m a full Professor.

Dr. Teechferfude: No, no, I don’t mean contract faculty. I’m contract faculty. And it is faculty, not staff; and it certainly isn’t “part-time”. I taught eight courses last year.

Professor Weery: Really! How many are you teaching this year?

Dr. Teechferfude: I don’t know yet.

Professor Weery: You don’t know? But it’s less than two weeks until term starts.

Dr. Teechferfude: Yes, I know. It is often like this. Maybe I won’t be getting any teaching at all this year. But most likely I will get quite a bit; that’s been the case for the last decade anyway.

Professor Weery: Well, there you go then. That’s part-time.

Dr. Teechferfude:  Grr. No, it isn’t. That’s precarity.

Professor Weery: Sorry, I wasn’t trying to insult you; just trying to be accurate.

Dr. Teechferfude: Well, here’s accuracy for you. You are part of a supplementary workforce.

Professor Weery: I still don’t understand what you mean by that?

Dr. Teechferfude: CAS, sessional, adjunct, part-time, whatever implicitly derogatory way you want to refer to us, we are the principal faculty work force in the 21st century University, the main group employed as teachers.

Professor Weery: No, that’s not right. I’m a part of the main faculty group of university employees. You could be gone tomorrow.

Dr. Teechferfude: Well, you are certainly correct about the precarious nature of my employment; but you are also quite wrong about which group is the principal teaching body. We teach a greater proportion of the courses offered and by far the majority of the students.

Professor Weery: So, you’re saying the full time professoriate is a marginal group within the university?

Dr. Teechferfude:  Well, in the future you could easily become so if things keep going in the direction they seem to be heading. But no; I’m not saying that; full-timers are a special group, a special privileged group. It is just that in the new normal for the Neo-liberal University, you are no longer part of the main work force; you are a supplement.

Professor Weery: No, I just can’t accept that. At my university CAS teach only forty percent of the courses.

Dr. Teechferfude: Only forty percent eh?

Professor Weery: Okay, that’s quite a lot. It’s been gradually increasing over the years; but it’s still not the majority of the teaching.

Dr. Teechferfude: The rates vary from institution to institution but forty percent is actually quite a bit below average for North America. According to the AAUP (American Association of University Professors) over seventy percent of all appointments in American higher education are non-tenure track. So, I guess that means that you are probably Canadian.

Professor Weery: Well, yes, I am. And of course things are better here than in the States.

Dr. Teechferfude: I’m Canadian too; and yes, things are better but things aren’t that bloody brilliant for us either. We have health care but that’s just because the government provides it; our job doesn’t provide it. And yes, things are better in many ways for Canadians than Americans; but that just means it’ll take a little longer for things to get as bad here. We are following the twin nightmare paths of the US and the UK. Essentially, we are all on our way to the destruction of decent higher education.

Professor Weery: Sigh. At least I’ll be gone by then.

Dr. Teechferfude: You mean you’re going to retire? We’d get a lot more courses if only people like you would retire. Hurry up then.

Professor Weery: No, I actually meant I’d be dead. I can’t afford to retire. I didn’t start in academia until late in life so I haven’t time to build up a sufficiently decent pension. If I retired it’d be “hello again poverty my old friend”.

Dr. Teechferfude: Well, I’m sorry to hear that. But I don’t have any pension at all! So I can’t feel too bad for you.

Professor Weery: I wouldn’t expect you to. Nor would I expect you to sympathize with my problems in the changing university. You said things would be better if only people like me retired. You’d get more courses. But the more teaching that is done by contract faculty the fewer full-time positions there are. We are not being replaced when we retire. So there will be more employment opportunities for you yes; but that means a greater proportion of my time, or that of those that remain as full-timers, that will taken up with admin. No, don’t say it. Doesn’t the increase in management take the load off of you professors? NO IT DOES NOT! It increases it. They seem to spend their time designing make work schemes for us.!

Dr. Teechferfude: Wow, a flash of real anger. So everything is not green in the full time profs’ garden? Well, well. But I’ll tell you about make work schemes! You applied for your job at your university once right?

Professor Weery: Well, I applied for jobs at other places before . . .

Dr. Teechferfude: Yeah, yeah; but you only applied once for the job you have now. I have been teaching at WLU, as well as some other institutions but that’s not the point here, for ten years. It’s not that I have to apply for my job again every year; no, no, I have to apply separately for nearly every course I teach.  And it’s a full-blown application too; I have to submit a course outline with my application.  So, because I don’t get to actually teach every course I apply for, I have to design a lot of courses that I won’t ever get to teach. Talk about time wasting!

Professor Weery: Yes, I can see that would be very frustrating. Your union should be designing and fighting for a better seniority deal.

Dr. Teechferfude: Huh, you think? But my union is also your union. It’s our union! Except that our union doesn’t do bugger all for me. Well, that’s not entirely true. But they don’t do enough! And they don’t do enough because the full-timers don’t understand that our fight is actually their fight too. They don’t understand that our long-term interest is actually the same as theirs.

Professor Weery: Well, hmm, but as I think I indicated to you earlier I don’t really have a “long term interest.” Whether death or retirement, whichever way it is not going to be that long; and the long term you are talking about . . . well it is to do with a future that doesn’t belong to me.

Dr. Teechferfude: It may not belong to you personally. But what about your children or grandchildren? What about your students?  Are you just a time-server or do you actually care about education? The future of higher education is important; it is important not just as a source of employment to you and me, but to the country, to the world!

Professor Weery: Okay, okay, I get your point. I’ll support you. When are you going on strike?

Dr. Teechferfude: When are you going on strike? When are you going on strike for something other than your pension? When are you going on strike for a change in contract faculty pay and conditions of employment; for the future of higher education?

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