A labour of love

This theme is in relation to the (in)visible conference.

Multiple surveys have established that contract faculty suffer from low wages, high stress and poor working conditions. A Conference Board of Canada survey revealed that within a decade most PhDs found work outside the academy despite aspiring for a tenure-stream position. Other PhDs joined the ranks of contract faculty to build experience until a tenure stream position opened up. Unlike in most fields, however, accepting temporary work inside the academy carries the stigma of a ‘failed academic.’ Departments almost never consider contract faculty for tenure-stream, regardless of publication history or distinguished service.

Given awful prospects, why don’t contract faculty just quit? Surveys reveal that the main reason is that most contract faculty love what they do. Consider that most professors invested six years of their lives to earn a PhD. This investment makes it difficult to switch careers, especially to a junior position that might be better remunerated, but not require their sophisticated skills. Second, most contract faculty are passionate about teaching and research. Given that contract faculty seem to enjoy the academic life, is it legitimate to pay them as seasonal workers rather than professionals with our society’s highest credential?

The answer to that question depends on what kind of university you want to create. If your goal is to pay contract faculty the lowest rate the market will bear you can create a class of professors who are dispirited and incentivized to cut corners. If your goal is to create an institution that promotes fundamental Canadian values like wellness, diversity, and human rights, you would focus on your institution’s weakest links: indebted students and underpaid contract faculty. If Canadian universities are public institutions for higher learning it would make sense to invest in professors that are a student’s primary source of contact with the university.