Professing for peanuts

By Nicole McPhee

The life of a sessional instructor is not easy as there are long hours, poor pay, few (if any) benefits and an uncertain future.

"I’ve had limited benefits for two years, but it’s never guaranteed from year to year and I could easily not have them next year," said University of Calgary sessional English instructor Randy Schroeder. "My guess is most sessionals throughout North America have no formal benefits whatsoever."

Schroeder’s plight was addressed by the Canadian Association of University Teachers during their Fairness in Employment Week. According to their Web site, CAUT believes that the overuse and exploitation of contract academic staff, or sessionals, is one of the biggest challenges facing the academic profession today.

The U of C Faculty Association President John Baker expressed concern over the plight of sessional instructors.

"The U of C has one of the best situations, so what state is everyone else in?" he said. "And they’re in a far worse state in the U.S. than we are in Canada, as 80 per cent of academic staff at some institutions are sessionals."

Schroeder expressed the belief that contract instructors should be employed only under certain circumstances such as the unforeseen absence of a regular professor or if the sessional has a level of expertise in a particular field that cannot be duplicated.

"Any ongoing teaching needs should be taught by ongoing faculty," he said. "No more sessionals, except in the very particular situations specified in the collective agreement."

Sessional positions are characterized by strict definitions. Instructors are hired only to teach and are not required to do research or committee work. Nonetheless, Schroeder explained that most sessional instructors put as many hours into their work as tenured faculty.

"Some sessionals do a full component of service work and there are also many sessionals who do a lot of research," he said. "How can you be an adequate teacher unless you do some kind of research, not only into pedagogy, but also your field of research? If you’re not current and well-informed and you’re not adding to your field, what claim can you make to being a teacher?"

Sessional instructors at U of C comprise just under 25 per cent of the total academic staff. Schroeder countered concerns that not hiring sessional instructors would lead to a shortage of instructors at universities and expressed that campaigns like FEW could only improve the situation.

"The ongoing duties handled by sessionals would have to be handled by some form of ongoing appointment," he pointed out. "That might mean converting sessionals into some sort of ongoing appointment and that might mean hiring nation wide, so then you might be at one insitution with benefits and a pension."

For more information on ses-sional instructors and FEW, visit

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