Sessional instructors get shafted

By Kelli Stevens

Allison Dube is an instructor in the department of Political Science. After listening to him for less than ten minutes, it is immediately apparent that while he loves his work, he is horribly frustrated. Allison Dube, along with about 500 other University of Calgary faculty members, is a sessional instructor.

“I love this institution but I feel, without question, that they are taking advantage of the love I have for doing what I do,” said Dube.

Anton Colijn, president of the Faculty Association, supports Dube’s point.

“It is very difficult for sessional instructors to eke out a living,” said Colijn. “Sessional instructors are underpaid and overworked, as well as underappreciated. Many sessionals are perfectly qualified to have tenure, but other circumstances tend to give them second-class job status.”

A week ago, the Canadian Association of University Teachers put on Fair Employment Week to raise awareness of the issues facing sessional instructors. In addition to being underpaid, sessionals find it hard to receive benefits and they have very little job security.

Colijn says that raising awareness is important right now, as sessionals are in the middle of a collective agreement that cannot be renegotiated for over two years.

“Awareness is significant right now because some tenured faculty members may not be aware of how serious the situation actually is,” he said. “Making them aware of the reality could help the sessionals’ cause when it comes time to renegotiate their agreement in a couple of years.”

But, while Colijn sees increased awareness as important, Dube wonders if the Faculty Association is really doing enough.

“The Faculty Association negotiates on our behalf, but when you look at my situation can you really say that anyone is representing me?” asked Dube. “Personally, and without meaning to be nasty, I can’t really say ‘yes’, but they still extract union dues from me.”

Just what does Dube mean by “my situation”? With a mortgage, the cost of healthcare and the cost of utilities, he could not afford to teach at the U of C if it weren’t for a modest outside income.

Telling the story of his first contract with U of C, Dube explains that he earned about $25,000 for one year’s work–or five half-courses. Thirteen years later, in 2002-2003, his earnings have actually gone down, even though he is teaching the same number of courses with about four times more students.

Additionally, to qualify for benefits, Dube and other sessional instructors must be considered full-time, meaning that they teach six courses. Dube questions this stipulation.

“With growing class sizes and everything else we do, this notion of three courses per term is hard–I can’t do it and offer the services that students deserve,” he said. “If I cut corners it would be easier, but I don’t like teaching that way.”

The question of job security darkens the situation further.

“We only know year by year if we’ll get work,” said Dube, who added that when it comes to the university motto of publish or perish, it is even harder for sessionals to keep their heads above water, because unlike tenured instructors, sessionals are not given leaves or sabbaticals for their own work.

Dube’s situation looks pretty dismal, and the university seems to have little to say about that. Both Roman Cooney, Vice-President External Relations and Ron Bond, Vice-President Academic and Provost, failed to respond to requests for comment on this issue.

Fortunately, said Dube, his love for students, the U of C and especially for the political science department–which he describes as family–keeps him going, even when he feels taken advantage of.

“I recognize that no one’s twisting my arm to do this,” he said. “I’m here because I love it and because I care about the students. My only way of handling the situation is to forget about it, otherwise I get too frustrated. Maybe I would complain more, but we sessionals are aware that we don’t have much security and we’re expected to be happy campers.

“We don’t want to go on and on too much because there’s another round of budget cuts coming up and we all know that we could be the first to go.”

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