Open Letter from a GTA Partial-Load Prof

So the following letter has been published at the website of Fanshawe College’s Local 110  I wanted to pass it along, and I encourage you to share it with your colleagues, referring them to this page of the Local 110 site.
I’ve taken the liberty of adding a couple of links to the letter below, to provide some additional background context to the author’s points.
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At great risk to her career, a partial-load professor asked us to circulate the following letter anonymously.

Dear CAAT-A faculty members:

I know that many of you have waited quite some time for an increase in your salaries. After the proposal by the College Presidents this past winter to the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development requesting a hefty increase to their salaries, I know that many of you deserve an increase in your salary too. And you do.  The 7.5% increase over four years seems like a tolerable offer along with the other proposals.

Like you, over the past three years, all members of the bargaining unit have worked hard and dedicated themselves to ensuring that our students have acquired the skills they will need in their future careers. Every one of us deserves a raise. However, note that the offer by the colleges does not provide any gains for partial load, counsellors and librarians.  The proposals offered by the colleges won’t change the workload or the unfairness quite a number of our members experience.

The changes to Article 22, Pregnancy and Parental Leave, proposed by the College provides beneficial changes but considering that a significant portion of professors at GTA colleges are partial load, they will not benefit from this adjustment.  Eight years ago, I was pregnant with my first child along as well as two other full time faculty members in our department. Being partial load, I was not offered a teaching or working contract for the following semester as my due date was during the term, but the other two employees were assigned other duties until their pregnancy leave kicked in. Unlike my full-time colleagues, who received 93% top up pay and the opportunity to extend their leave for another 12 months on Employment Insurance, my only source of income was EI but my leave was cut short. Unlike my full-time colleagues, my time was cut short as my EI would have ran out before I could return to teach at the start of a semester.

Bridging health benefits over the pregnancy and after the birth was another challenge. I was informed by the college’s HR representative that I could only bridge my benefits if I had an offer of employment, a contract, outlining my return to work within the six-month time period. During my ten plus years teaching in the Ontario College system, I have never had a contract that extended beyond four months and never received an additional contract that went beyond the semester I was to teach.  My supervisor, who was very compassionate and understanding, informed me in both circumstances that a contract could not be offered: not for one until the birth of my child nor after the birth of my child to extend my benefits.  Looking ahead without coverage was fearful and left me anxious of how I could deal and pay with what could happen with a new child.  Like me, there are many female partial load faculty I have known who leave the college before the start of a semester because their due dates interfere with contract dates.  As well, when we leave, coverage is rarely ever an option. I was diagnosed with post-partum depression and while I obtained assistance from municipal resources, I look back asking how extending benefits  without such challenges and complications or having benefits for the duration of a contract period while in the third trimester could have helped me cope better. This is why the Bargaining Team’s proposal of 12-month contract for partial load employees and adjustments to bridging benefits work for us as members of a collective bargaining unit.  It extends the same protections and rights to all.

The colleges wish to continue the extend the moratorium on Article 2 grievances for another four years. At Seneca College in the Winter 2015 semester, it cut partial load employees in favour of part time and sessional. This not only eroded the collective bargaining unit at the college but also impacted greatly the income and seniority of many partial load employees who had worked at the college for a number of years. As a result, the following summer and following semesters, many former partial load employees were unable to apply for Employment Insurance benefits and since the cuts, these professors had to seek additional teaching contracts at a second and sometimes third college. Some have left the college system, all of whom were valued professors. As well, this reduction in partial load led to the increase of more part time faculty, a class of workers not protected under a collective agreement. As a result, the college was able to offer teaching contracts to employees with less seniority and experience than former partial load members. The union’s Report on Education addresses the impact that the increased use of contract employees has had on full time members.  The current Collective Agreement provides job security protection to full time professors, counsellors and librarians, but not for partial load. The Bargaining Team’s adjustments to partial load’s job security and seniority helps ensure that partial load members who have acquired the experience and expertise can continue to do so. It works for all of us.

Finally, we all know that librarians and counsellors are just as crucial to student success as the professors and instructors. We collaborate with our colleagues in these areas to ensure students are given the support and resources they need to succeed not just in their program but when they enter the workforce. Unlike full time professors, counsellors and librarians do not have workload calculation formula. Listening to their experiences at the General Membership Meeting has helped me understand that partial load professors are not the only ones impacted by the current collective agreement. In some colleges in Ontario, there are no librarians and there is no ratio determined for counsellors and librarians per student enrollment.  They are truly overworked and need a workload calculation formula just like their colleagues and need specifics in the collective agreement that help them do their job well.

I want us all to get our salaries increases, to receive a fair wage, to be paid for all work, and to have a fair collective agreement, but if the union accepts the College’s proposal to wait until 30 days after Bill 148 goes into effect, January 1st, 2018, we cannot ensure that these “consequential adjustments”  to ensure “revenue neutrality” requested by the Colleges will be fair. The proposals that the union Bargaining Team sets out for all our members are in line with the changes to the Employment Standards Act and set a precedent for fairness. This is why the proposals put forth by the Bargaining Team work. It works for all of us.

The Colleges’ proposals do not address any of the demands put forth by our members and this is why we need to vote “Yes” to strike to ensure that negotiations continue to address union demandsLet’s fight together to ensure fairness for all members of our collective bargaining unit.  It is about “us”, for all of us, not just some of us.

Partial Load Professor

Region 5

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Feel free to offer your feedback to the letter, or to share your reactions with the letter’s author (I’m pretty sure we can make sure that any responses come to the author’s attention), by clicking “Leave a Comment”, below.

Back-to-School Edition: The Case for Hiring Full-Time

I’m honoured to devote today’s post to a letter that I received from a full-time college prof, who argues that the ongoing health of the college system, the quality of the education it provides, and its larger role in the Ontario economy all depend in no small part on breaking the college system of its addiction to adjunct faculty.

It’s a theme I hope to come back to througout the year, and I urge all faculty — full-time or adjunct — to share their experiences and their opinions about how we can collectively address this issue.

On to the letter — my sincerest thanks to the author, and to you for reading it.  Best of luck on the first days back to school.

The Case for Hiring Full-time

I was a sessional professor at a college in 1990 for 10 months. I remember feeling like I was being literally thrown into the classroom, which I actually found quite thrilling for some reason.

I was younger then.

I went through the curriculum documents and the textbook, if there was one, and somehow managed to put together something. I was enthusiastic and smiley and the students and I had a pretty good time together. We made some movies, put together a newsletter, held debates – it was great! But I remember there was this nagging voice at the back of my mind: Is this what I was supposed to be doing?

In some ways, the teaching was easy but evaluation was another matter entirely! How do you assign a mark? What do you base it on? Whom do you pass or fail and why? Well… I passed everybody that first session. I mean, they all did their work and nobody really stood out one way or the other to me. It was either that or fail them all, I guess.

Everyone around me was so busy and no one asked what I was up to or offered any suggestions about anything one way or the other. They seemed happy with me when I appeared to know exactly what I was doing, so … well, I won’t say any more here or I’ll get myself into trouble.

I also remember how stressful it was, not knowing if I had a job next month or not. And even worse, what was I going to do 10 months later? Fortunately, there were tons of students and I got my 10 months’ stint. I had finally figured everyone out by that time, too. I even failed a few students, and not just because they never showed up.  Anyway – I figured everything out and then *poof* I had to go… Where? I had no idea.

They gave me an amazing letter of recommendation. “Outstanding”, it said. I’m so proud of that letter and still carry it around with me everywhere. I have it right here! The college and I were a fit!! I could feel it. So why did I have to leave? Why couldn’t they keep me on? And why were they always frantically looking for new people just like me to teach there?  Professors like me who won’t know what they are doing for a session or two, and who will have to leave as soon as they figure it out. It doesn’t make much sense, really!

Well, it is more than 10 years later and I’m full-time now. I wasn’t a sessional long, lucky me – 10 months at one college and 10 months at another. Now I am one of those busy ones who can’t see a name in the ever-changing horde of new sessional professors my department constantly employs.

I experience the tension from the other perspective now. Before I heard, “the sessionals don’t prepare students for this”, “weren’t aware of this”, “lost this”. Now it’s, “the full-timers earn these huge sums of money and only teach ‘x’ number of hours, while we have to do all this for so much less!” And “they get paid holidays, but we have to go on EI”. It is not a nice tension and I’m sure it exists in other departments, too. I don’t know how this is supposed to make you feel, but frankly I feel embarrassed and angry.

And I notice, because I teach the upper-level students quite a lot, that the quality of the students graduating is better when they have been taught by professors whose names I know and recognize. I can see first-hand that it does make a difference to have professors on staff full-time who attend staff meetings, participate in curriculum development and discuss pass and fail benchmarks and strategies.

 So why is this going on? Why is this total reliance on contract faculty acceptable? Is it necessary, financially and logistically? Is it in the best interest of our students, our colleges and society as a whole? This is a wealthy, civilized country isn’t it? When I try to explain this to friends and family, they are shocked: Sessionals teach more hours, don’t get benefits, and can only work 10 months. However, it seems to me that if they teach the same students and classes and pay the same taxes they should get the same pay and benefits. That’s what should be happening.

We are told that there just isn’t the money to hire full-time. Companies all across the board are hiring on a more short-term contract and part-time basis. They have books to balance and that, they say, is the only way to do it. Don’t get me wrong, profit is important. Someone has to balance the books and I’m glad I don’t have to do it. (I have a hard enough time with my own finances.)

But, to take an example, I do fork out the extra money and take the extra time every day to buy and prepare decent food. It keeps me and my kids healthy and strong and, in the long term,  I know I will be spending less money on medication and health care. In other words, I’ll be saving SunLife thousands and thousands of dollars.

I’m trying to make the point here that quality makes financial sense. Quality and profit are twin sisters – they need each other and you don’t have to be a Toyota Hybrid to understand that. Of course, cars are easy to recall, but how do you recall a thousand students?

And I do see money in the college system. It’s being spent on renovations and computers and I’ve also heard of big salary increases of 11% and 15% bonuses for upper management. Wait a second! Bonuses? Why are they getting bonuses if they can’t hire full-time? But the bonuses, it seems, are profit-based, and profit they do achieve. Wonderful! Now find a way to calculate bonuses based on profit and quality, and I’m all for them.

Fortunately, I think this “revolutionary idea” seems to be catching on because, according to the newspapers, the salaries of hospital CEOs will now be based on profit and performance. Honestly, I can’t believe it took us all this time to come up with that one. Anyway, money! It seems to be there but what, I wonder, is the best way to spend it?

 I often walk through the U of T downtown campus – everyday sometimes – I love the place. And is it even better looking than it was in my day! Flowers and trees and shiny new buildings! Wow! But the last time I took a course, which was a few years ago, it cost 10 times what it did back in 1985 when I was a full-time student there. And there were 90 people in the class, whereas in 1985 I only remember there being about 25 or 30.

It was not the same intimate and intellectual experience, even though the professor was amazing. Poor guy, I remember the look on his face the first time he came into the classroom. Scratching his head, he stared at us and seemed to want to walk right out of the room again.

So these are trends we are seeing across the board. But what is better for students, we need to ask, beautiful buildings or small affordable classes? And what is better for students: professors with direct experience and expertise – ones they recognize in the hallway, have heard about from other students and can go back to for a visit and a letter of recommendation, or professors who come and go like the breeze?

More to the point, is this really smart long-term planning for the colleges? We are in a recession, yes, but refusing to hire full-time is not good for recessions. Jack Layton made that point earlier in the year. Full-time jobs mean big consumer spending. When I was a sessional, I lived in a rental, shopped at “No Frills”, and didn’t go on holiday. Now, I own my own home which I renovated (thereby keeping other Canadians employed), I shop for food at organic farmers’ markets, and I rent a cottage every summer. I had no idea getting a full-time job would change my life so much.

Just think of all the big purchases college sessionals and part-timers are dying to make, and how that could help the economy. More than that, think of all the kids they could be having, who they could eventually send to colleges and universities like ours. I used to be one of those single mothers taxing the system. Now thanks to my full-time job, I have enough money in RESPs to send my daughter to McGill. That’s where she’s going in September, and I’m very proud of her.

We need to hire more full-time professors in the colleges. It just doesn’t make any sense not to. No matter how you look at it. It needs to become a financial priority and the money can and should be found. It would be better for the students, all of the professors, the colleges and even … for society as a whole.

 

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A Partial-Load Veteran in the GTA…

…reminds us of the degree to which current hiring practices in Colleges and Universities are dissuading the brightest and most motivated people in society from pursuing professorship as a career.

I am an 11 year veteran of the partial-load trenches and I would gladly give up any increase in pay over the next 3 years just to get the same work-load conditions of my full time colleagues and vacation pay. I also teach part time at a university, and there are semesters when I work more hours than my full time colleagues, have to travel to 2 locations to do it, with no fixed office to work from. Yet I still have to work during the “vacation” months in order to pad my salary and get me through the rest of the year.

I have considered seriously that I should just give up this teaching “habit.” But like all junkies, I happen to enjoy it! My supervisor, colleagues and students are all great. I just can’t quite afford to do this job.

The part-time position I hold at the university was previously a full time one that has now been split in 2 for the obvious cost-cutting reasons. I have definitely scaled back on the amount of time I put into certain aspects of my teaching, simply for my health and sanity’s sake.

It is time for the province and colleges to stop subsidizing education on the backs of part-time and partial-load employees. So as much as I love my students and would not want to compromise their year in any way, I have voted in favour of this strike, and would vote against the colleges’ “final offer” if it comes to that.

I suppose that part of the question is whether a society that truly believed in the value of education would not value the individuals who provide it enough to ensure their ability to continue in their role as educators.

A Partial-Load Prof from Northern Ontario Writes…

…to remind us that the current offer does nothing to strengthen the weakest among us:

I am PT/Partial Load depending on the semester. I love my work! I enjoy my students. I am currently in my fifth consecutive semester of instruction – if I am not available for “my” course it will go to someone else, with no promise of return. I enjoy my breaks between semesters as a chance to rebuild my energy for the next round – because I give out a lot of my energy in class, in preparation so that I can be the best I can be, and in marking for as many as 124 students. I would like to call these breaks a vacation but that would imply vacation pay, to which I am not entitled. Unlike any other Provincially-regulated worker outside of the College system I am exempted from the basic entitlements of the Employment Standards Act (by Order in Council – rule by appointed members of Cabinet). This is discriminatory on human rights grounds, as my choice of work/employer – and that employer’s need for my skills – requires me to forfeit basic rights extended to all other workers. I am paid for my work, I in turn pay all deductions as any worker would, and I am covered by WSIB and the Occupational H&S Act.
I request from my bargaining agent (I have one when I am Partial Load) that we begin with the basic rights of all other workers. 4% vacation pay on every cheque would help bridge me through those unpaid breaks between semesters.

One Prof Writes…

As a partial-load prof, I often feel the tension between giving my students what they need and doing my best with the time I have.  I am not compensated for the dozens of emails I send my students each week that provides them with further thought and feedback.  I literally read dozens of items (articles and books) in preparation for my classes, not including the countless hours at home marking and evaluating their work.  While I love what I do, it’s becoming increasingly burdensome, and to the point that I can’t do certain things that I feel I need to do to help my students learn (I can’t, for example, allow them re-writes, since it would take a long time to re-mark those assignments).  I’m hoping for full time soon, but unfortunately my college is in a ‘no hire’ position at the moment.  Having worked hard to update my credentials (an MA in Humanities and a B.Ed) at my own expense (colleges do not reimburse partial-load faculty for courses taken outside the college), I have not been granted an opportunity to even apply for full time work, even though college enrollment is up 10% across the board.

A strike seems to be the only option, and the only way to get a proper settlement and get our voices heard; the college management is not willing to listen, and I would venture to say, is condescendingly numb to my concerns.  It’s not a fun time during summer when I need to scramble to find extra hours here and there to make ends meet.  That never seems to be a factor in their proposals.