Sunday, 25 March 2012

What's in a Name?

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,  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!/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 and then also read comments from uni casual website's Casual Voices page .  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.

Suggestions welcome!      


  1. I (now aka @VanessaVaileNFM formerly tweeting as @NewFacMajority) RT'd your post and link and will also send elsewhere out on the tubz. A number are already following the conversation on Twitter.

    Josh Boldt, from the Adjunct Project, which you mention reading, is now planning something on naming. The crowdsourcing document has number of international entries too. Since 2002, I have not had much success with periodic attempts to interest colleagues in international connection and casual labor as part of globalization (pardon my Yank z's). Maybe now is the time for it to register.

    The subject cycles regularly on adjunct / whatever (just don't call me late for dinner ... and pay me more) lists. Marc Bosquet was working on it a few years back too but the projected article never materialized.

  2. I'll throw my hat into the ring -- actually, already have with this post of my own proposing the term "extraordinary faculty"

    I like it because it conveys both the negatives and the positives of being off the tenure track. Would love to get feedback.

    Maria Maisto
    President, NFM

  3. More, less recent, less directed at naming than the condition, but understanding it in a broader context may help naming.

    Article: The New Geography of Work: Power to the Precarious? by Andrew Ross, Theory, Culture & Society, 2008.

    Book (previewed in Google Books): Nice Work If You Can Get It: Life and Labor in Precarious Times ny Andrew Ross, NY UP, 2009

    Academic Labor in Dark Times, Henry Giroux, March 2009