Outlining the problem our part-time faculty face
This time of year is marked by its celebratory nature and atmosphere of togetherness; StFX partied the day away during Homecoming on Saturday, September 30, and we are now gearing up to spend time with loved ones and acknowledge all that we’re grateful for on Thanksgiving. It is a time to appreciate the community we have been afforded, and the acceptance we feel within it. However, in doing this, we should also understand exactly who and what contributes to this community.
In the past few years, over 100 members of our teaching staff has been designated as part-time or contract faculty. These professors teach our classes, much the same as any other full-time or tenured professor. There is no visible difference to us as students; we are able to learn and receive valuable feedback and mentorship from these professors, without any significant indicator that they are treated any differently by the university. We get to remain oblivious, expecting the same education and aid from all our professors, without knowing that they are treated far worse that we could ever expect. It is important to understand why this is wrong.
Part-time or contract faculty are not compensated for their work in the same way that full-time and tenured professors are. Monetarily, part-time professors are paid far less than their colleagues, as, according to a study conducted by Dr. Karen Foster, 27.5 percent receive less than $10,000, 18.1 percent receive between $10-15,000 per year. This income is hardly enough to constitute a living wage, which is made increasingly problematic in a rural area such as Antigonish; one StFX part-time professor noted that because of the remoteness of campus and the lack of job opportunities within town, it is hard to be able to supplement one’s income. Paired with a lack of opportunity for upward mobility or promotion, income for these professors is stagnant and insufficient.
Financial concerns are only exacerbated with the lack of job security within part-time work. Contract professors can never be sure if they have a position from year to year, or even semester to semester. They are only able to teach two courses per term, and have to cater to fulltime faculty who are able to “assert their desire to teach certain courses, which can squeeze parttime instructors out of work”. Part-time instructors are also unpaid when not on contract, which, for many, occurs during the summer when they do a lot of their academic research; any of this labour occurs on the dime of those professors themselves, without any compensation from the school.
Part-time staff is also not afforded the same resources as their colleagues, meaning that their academic work is also affected by their position. Financial resources provided to departments to help send members to academic conferences or funding for research purposes are not extended to those in contract positions. Around 41-50 percent of professors in Nova Scotia stated they had no access to professional development seminars funds, and conference and research travel funds. This lack of funding thus means that professors are unable to flourish fully in their field, presenting papers and creating discourse about their subject matter in an imperative area of work that is complicated without proper financial help.
The worst of this all is the lack of acknowledgement afforded to these essential members of staff by the university itself. One would think that the school would appreciate the hard work and dedication of these workers, as they contribute not only to our academic life by teaching students, but also to our school community by aiding in different facets of campus life. Instead, their academic work occurs without notice, StFX ignoring the enormous contributions of these necessary workers. When asked what they hoped to see change, one part-time instructor at StFX noted, “It’s really just a matter of the university acknowledging that the labour contributed by part-time instructors is essential to the university, and is therefore worthy of respect and fair compensation”.
The culmination of all of these factors has a severe impact on the well-being of these contract professors. Imagine working in your area of interest, aiding those around you, while constantly being underappreciated and undercompensated. The instability in this lifestyle can lead to mental health problems, which are worsened by a sense of isolation that comes along with the position. Part-time instructors are unable to know who other part-time professors are, thus no community exists for like-minded conversations to occur, nor can they go to their colleagues who are unable to truly empathize with their situation. Part-time professors might also be wary of expressing any difficulties as they want to be viewed as reliable sources of labour to be employed on a regular basis.
In talking to some of StFX’s contract instructors, it is remarkable that, despite the difficulty of their situation, there is a real sense of solace and delight found in teaching and interacting with students. No matter what, they attempt to ensure that their students are unable to tell the difference in educators, as a StFX professor stated, “I take seriously my role as a mentor”. They write reference letters in the summer when they are not paid, they are available for help at their office hours, and they participate in StFX community events. However, they still fail to feel as though they are truly a part of the community with the lack of acknowledgement and concern when it comes to their situation.
One StFX instructor stated, “My great regret is that students don’t know that their professors fall into two categories, with one group being significantly more disadvantaged than the other, even though the delivery of education to them does not differ in any noticeable way.” As students, we should be able to sympathize with their situation, especially as many of us will be entering the work force ourselves in a couple years, with all the uncertainty that comes with it. Thus, the least we can do to ease the burden of our professors is to recognize whether they work on a part-time or full-time basis and adjust our expectations accordingly. Further, we can implore the school to change the way it treats these clearly exploited yet necessary members of our community. They aren’t asking for much, merely the basic appreciation everyone would desire for their hard work and fair compensation in the form of stable appointments and a living wage.
In the spirit of the time, it is right and just to give thanks and celebrate our community, but we must attempt to uplift those who are currently being marginalized within it.