Ann Bigelow has worked full-time for Western University for over 15 years. Throughout her career, she's served as president of the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association and has been acting chair of the DAN Management department for two six-month terms.
However, even after 15 years, she's still being hired as a limited-term faculty member.
Bigelow spoke about her experiences at an event for Fair Employment Week, an annual event organized by the Canadian Association of University Teachers that highlights academic contract issues across the country. The week ran from Oct. 24 to Oct. 27 and an event was held at Western on Wednesday, Oct. 25.
“Universities, including Western, have been hiring more professors on short-term contracts with low wages, no job security and limited access to benefits,” Bigelow said in her speech. “It’s time for this to stop.”
More full-time teaching opportunities and job security for part-timers are also issues fuelling the current province-wide college faculty strike. Ontario college faculty are on strike in an attempt to secure better working conditions. The Ontario Public Service Employees Union wants more job security and academic freedom for college faculty. They are calling for the number of full-time faculty to match the number of contract faculty members. The College Employer Council said meeting the demands would cost an additional $250 million each year.
Over two weeks into the strike, the two sides have yet to meet at the bargaining table.
Stephen Pitel, UWOFA president, said that although the association is troubled by the fact that OPSEU and CEC have not met, they support the position college faculty are taking since these issues are felt at the university level as well.
In February 2016, UWOFA estimated that 56 per cent of undergraduate and graduate courses at Western are taught by contract faculty — teachers who work from contract to contract and are non-tenured, non-probationary university teachers.
However, Keith Marnoch, Western’s director of media relations, said many part-time faculty are employed full-time outside of Western. He also said many part-time faculty are graduate students who are seeking teaching experience so that they can effectively compete for teaching positions when they graduate. In addition, he said some part-time faculty meet temporary needs. For example, to cover for tenured faculty members who are on sabbatical or to teach courses in response to sudden changes in student demand.
Pitel said Western's faculty association is set to meet with the university to negotiate their own collective agreement this spring 2018. Western's faculty collective agreement outlines the terms and conditions of employees in their workplace, their duties and Western's duties as the employer. It's renegotiated every four years.
UWOFA is currently at the beginning stages of the collective bargaining process and is gathering input from its members. As a result, Pitel said it's hard to tell exactly what they will pursue at the collective agreement negotiations. However, he said he's confident increased compensation and heightened protection for contract faculty will likely be on the table.
During the last collective agreement, Marnoch said UWOFA agreed that instead of receiving benefits, part-time faculty would be paid an additional compensation amount “in lieu of benefits.” Its intention is to enable them to purchase a health benefit plan if they wish.
Johanna Weststar, a DAN Management professor, said the decisions to hire contract faculty are financial and do not create better learning environments for students or better working environments for faculty. As opposed to the current Ontario college faculty strike, she also noted that a province-wide strike would not be possible at the university level since each institution has their own union.
“At a minimum, I’m optimistic that we will be able to continue to achieve improvements in the working conditions, particularly for contract faculty,” Pitel said.