The plight of Canada's contractual professors
You spent 11 years in training for this job but only earn $35,000 a year (or a lot less) when you're lucky enough to get work. You have a BA, an MA and a PhD, yet you endure the humiliation of re- applying for work every year. It's often not until early September that any job offers come your way - when you have no time to prepare for the work required. This lack of security, of vocational predictability, takes a heavy toll on you physically, emotionally and psychologically.
You are a contractual professor at one of Canada's universities.
And you should thank your stars if your tenured colleagues and secretaries do refer to you as a contractual professor rather than a part-timer, because the latter suggests that you don't really do this for a living. And you sigh with relief when your undergraduates finally stop thinking of you as merely their TA because it's not you, after all, giving the actual course lectures but a real professor.
You think back to your post-PhD days, when you were told that you'd have to have a good record of scholarly productions to get tenure nowadays. So you spent 15 years publishing numerous articles in refereed journals. Then you were told that you needed a book to get tenure nowadays. So you fixed up your dissertation, sent it to a prestigious academic press, and a few years later had it in print. Still, your alma mater kept you in the contractual ghetto. Then you were told that, given our competitive job market, you have to have two published books to get tenure. So you spent summer after summer doing research and writing a solid scholarly manuscript. A few years later, you had your second book, also published by a reputable scholarly press.
Armed with all this, as well as a 20-year record of pedagogical excellence, you ask about your chances of getting promoted to assistant professor - only to be told that the department isn't behind your candidacy for promotion because you've been around too long.
You hear rumours about every department's need for "new blood." While you may be somewhat sympathetic to a department's desire to attract the best and the brightest through external competitions, you wonder about their aversion to promoting their own bright PhDs - almost as if they have no confidence in their own graduate programs or their colleagues teaching in them.
You wonder about the issue of workplace loyalty. You and your contractual friends are responsible for a huge percentage of the teaching done at your university, many of them have PhDs, each has training in critical-skills pedagogy, most are highly effective in the classroom, each has a superb work ethic, and they have anywhere from five to 20 years' experience. All of which has made them marvelously versatile in terms of the how and the what of their pedagogical offerings. Yet their departments would rather expend a great deal of time, money and effort mounting external searches rather than look at the dedicated experts in the field right under their noses.
Of four kinds of contractual instructors, three of them are not really the focus of this discussion: graduate students; professionals who do have careers elsewhere and are in the truest sense of the term "part-timers"; and "ABDs" or postdoctoral instructors (many of whom have years of experience teaching in universities and do consider that work their primary source of income, but who haven't published anything).
The fourth group is the one that concerns me: contractual professors who do publish books and essays in refereed journals. It's perhaps much harder for departments to justify their steadfast refusal to grant these people assistant professorships, yet the rhetorical maneuverings that chairs and tenure and promotion committees resort to to deny them promotions can be truly astounding.
To be fair, some universities, such as York, are more progressive than others in dealing with their contractual professors. York agreed to two programs - one a special renewable contract that provided job security to a small pool of high-seniority instructors, the other a promotion program that converts a few contract teachers to limited appointments and tenure-stream positions. The renewable contract program is now defunct but the conversion program continues, though not with the vigour recommended by the faculty union.
Across the country, many university senators and governors find it much more cost-efficient to keep a large body of contractual workers, at much lower wages than tenured staff. After all, contractual work is the way of the private sector; why not apply this kind of thinking to the public sector?
The corporate mentality and the corporate paradigm can only be at odds with an academic agenda, and shame on any university administration that allows CEOs and right-wing think-tank representatives to call the shots. Shame on those university administrators who earn six-figure salaries while insisting that they can't afford to promote their own long-service contractual professors.
What it all comes down to is this: in Canada we have one class of professors denying another class of professors respect, job security, vocational dignity, the recognition they've earned and the income they deserve. It is a two-tiered system consisting of well-paid haves and struggling, disrespected, disenfranchised, underpaid, underappreciated have-nots - a lost generation of deeply dedicated, vastly talented, highly experienced scholar-instructors.
Some people call it a "feudal system." Some people call it "slave labour."
Some people call it a bloody disgrace.
Dr. Zimmerman is a contractual professor of English literature.