The Howe inquiry into casual workers and the impact of insecure work conditions on the community concluded last week after holding hearings in 23 locations around Australia. While the hearings were not specifically related to casual staff in higher education, hopefully some attention will be brought to the tertiary sector by the casual academics who spoke at a number of the hearings. A recent article in the Australian also indicated that the increasing casualisation of the tertiary workforce was threatening teaching and learning quality at Australian universities, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/growth-in-casual-academic-staff-threatening-quality/story-e6frgcjx-1226307623692. Hopefully though, I've already established how Australian universities undervalue their teaching and research staff, my concern is how bad is it going to get?
Adjunct or Non-Tenure Track verse Casual or Sessional
Well, my concern is that the situation gets as bad as things are for casual academics in the U.S.. Recently on twitter I've been part of a conversation on the various names for casual or sessional academics (credit for this topic goes to New Faculty Majority
and Daniel Maxey https://twitter.com/#!/danmaxey). In the U.S. these positions are described as 'adjunct' or 'non-tenure', translating to a position description for someone who is 'not essential' to the organisation and not permanent. I would think that both of these terms are problematic and this is apparent in the current poor conditions for casual academics in the U.S.. I recommend reading some of the comments from The Adjunct Project Blog http://adjunctproject.com/blog/ and then also read comments from uni casual website's Casual Voices page http://www.unicasual.org.au/casual_voices . Between the two pages you will read a number of parallel stories and while I think 'casual' or 'sessional' academic is the lesser of the two evils for a name, the situation is much the same. I think the challenge here is to seek a better term for casual teaching and research staff - what is a title that sets us up for a greater, more secure position at our universities? Something more specific, with agency and meaning about the contributions we make to higher education.