Issues impacting Part-Time Academic Instructors

Written by Philip Girvan, this article first appeared in the Winter 2016 edition of The Beacon.

Canadian post-secondary institutions have become increasingly dependent on temporary or Contract Academic Staff (CAS). CAUT director of research and political action, Sylvain Schetagne, notes in the October 2015 issue of the CAUT/ACPPU Bulletin, that “[m]ore than 30 per cent of academic staff in Canadian post-secondary institutions are faced with short-term insecure employment and struggle to find decent work”.

Last Fall, a survey on the conditions of Contract Academic Staff in Nova Scotia conducted by the Association of Nova Scotia University Teachers (ANSUT), in collaboration with Dr. Karen Foster, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Social Anthropology at Dalhousie University, was circulated. StFX is no stranger to this shift from full-time tenured staff to precariously employed short-term contract staff, and the StFXAUT will find results from the survey a useful resource.

Table 1 lists the numbers of contract workers (both Limited-Term Appointments and Part-Time Academic Instructors) working at StFX over the past several months.

Table 1

Date StFXAUT Membership Limited-Term Appointments Part-Time Instructors Percentage of
LTAs and PTAIs
May 2015 393 32 65 24.6
June 2015 289 17 20 12.8
July 2015 294 14 29 14.6
August 2015 309 20 17 12.5
September 2015 379 24 51 19.7
October 2015 385 25 62 22.6
November 2015 401 25 76 25.2
December 2015 386 25 64 23.1


While percentages of Part-Time Academic Instructors (PTAIs) and Limited-Term Appointments (LTAs) contracted by StFX are below what CAUT indicates is the national average, important issues, some of them unique to StFX, many of them common to part-timers working in post-secondary educational institutions across Canada, are impacting the work and life of part-time academic staff members.

Two meetings were held in November to get a better idea of these issues. Approximately 20 part-time staff took part. Three meeting participants spoke with me. All three mentioned that the meetings were their first opportunities to meet other PTAIs, share stories, and discuss common issues. Bruce Sparks, a PTAI with the Writing Centre, serving as a Member-at-large with the StFXAUT Executive Committee, and involved in the organization of both meetings, noted that the impetus for the gatherings came from PTAIs who wanted a space were they could voice, “common concerns and [discuss] issues that arose because of the nature of the employment”. Randy Lauff, Senior Lab Instructor in the Biology Department, and as well as a PTAI over the last twenty years, emphasized the importance of the PTAI’s meeting at this time as it would allow them to communicate issues to the StFXAUT during the lead-up to collective bargaining “with one voice”.

Challenges and issues discussed included compensation, the lack of availability of pension funds, inadequate health care and lack of other benefits, the inherent difficulties of pursuing research on one’s own time with no support from the university, the fact that the PTAIs are required to annually reapply despite having taught a particular course for several years, and a perceived lack of respect.  One PTAI who requested to remain anonymous for the purposes of this story informed me that “it’s not just the lack of security, but that you’re not accumulating any kind of rewards or benefits for service over time. That, of course, applies as well to any kind of professional funding for research or library work”. This speaker indicated that the lack of acknowledgement of Part-Time Academic Instructors’ merit and experience “can sort of be professionally demoralizing at times.”

Sparks noted that “there’s a sense that the university really doesn’t take you that seriously. You’re not a real academic even though you’re teaching academic courses for credit…you’re excluded from a lot of things: awards, grants, sometimes you’re excluded from departmental activities, and other times you’re expected to be part of the departmental activities”.

PTAIs emphasized that the perceived lack of respect does not just come from university administration, but from full-time faculty as well. One PTAI said “tenured professors sometimes expect that whatever’s offered and regardless of how inconvenient a part-time person will jump at whatever’s offered, even if it’s the day the term’s starting. I think we have a right to say no in the way that they do too… but there’s always the attitude of well ‘you’re kind of in a desperate situation how could you turn down the offer’?”. There are even concerns over what the PTAIs should call themselves. The term ‘faculty’ is perceived as possibly infringing on the identity of the full-time faculty. Spoke Mr. Lauff: “we call ourselves part-time faculty. [That] the faculty don’t like [it] is my understanding because faculty is their realm”.

Details are being sorted out, but a roundtable is scheduled to take place Friday, February 26. It is expected that this roundtable would be an opportunity for administration, full-time faculty, and possibly students, to address perceptions of PTAIs and get a better understanding of their situation.