Although the data on sessional faculty in Canada is frustratingly scant, the authors of a new report have made a valuable if tentative contribution to the debate by scouring what little information is available. Their preliminary analysis suggests that “many of the popular assumptions concerning the increasing use of part-time faculty may be incorrect.” But, as with virtually all studies, they conclude with that near-universal refrain: “additional research is needed.”
The report, The “Other” University Teachers: Non-Full-Time Instructors at Ontario Universities, was commissioned by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario and released on July 15. It is an Ontario-only report, but will have resonance across Canada.
The use of non-full-time university instructors is on the rise in many countries, raising concerns about their working conditions and the implications for educational quality. Nowhere is this more so than in the United States, where the use of contingent faculty is widespread and groups such as the New Faculty Majority fight to improve the working conditions for these instructors. The name of this latter organization is instructive, as it is widely reported that contingent or sessional instructors now make up considerably more than half of all university faculty in the U.S. and perhaps as much as 75 percent (the recent book, Equality for Contingent Faculty: Overcoming the Two-Tier System, for example, claims the higher number).
What is the situation in Canada? No one really knows, because most universities don’t release the data. This often forces the media in Canada to rely on anecdotal reports or, worse, rely on the U.S. data.
Into this breach have stepped the four authors of the new HEQCO report. With a bit of sleuthing of institutional websites and other data – and with some additional information from the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations – they were able to make at least a few observations.
The authors found that the ratio of sessional instructors to full-time faculty appears to be increasing at some universities while decreasing or remaining stable at others. They also note that the conditions of employment for non-full-time instructors vary by institution. Fees ranged from $5,584 to $7,665 per half course, which is much higher than the average rates for adjunct faculty in the U.S.
Looking at other data, they note that at 10 universities, sessional instructors are represented by the same association as full-time, tenure-stream faculty, while at another 10 there are separate unions or associations. And while sessional instructors have various benefits guaranteed under collective agreements, often including some form of job security related to seniority or promotion, the authors note that sessional instructors “do not have anything close to the level of security associated with tenure.”
University Affairs, I should note, collected its own sampling of pay, benefits and work-related conditions of sessionals in our award-winning story, “Sessionals, up close,” published in the February 2013 edition. We also have a handy chart of these conditions for sessionals (in PDF) on our website. Some of the data may be out of date, but it is still the best snapshot of the situation I’ve seen for Canada.
As for the balance between full-time, tenure-stream faculty and sessional instructors, the authors of the HEQCO report had even less to work with. At one university, the estimated share of courses taught by sessional instructors during the fall and winter terms was roughly 25 percent. Meanwhile, the collective agreements at four universities limit the ratio of courses taught by sessional instructors to between 15 percent and 35 percent. Thus the situation in Canada doesn’t seem to be quite as dire as in the U.S.
In conclusion, the authors call for:
- A province-wide survey of sessional instructors to learn more about their background (academic and professional), employment situation and teaching load, as well as their perceptions and experiences.
- A more detailed study of institutional staffing patterns through the collection and analysis of data on employment trends at all Ontario universities; and
- A detailed analysis of staffing patterns within selected academic units at different Ontario universities and the implications of these patterns for educational quality and student success.
Let’s hope they get it.