Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Struggle of Sessional Lecturers for Job Security at U of T

An Interview with Dr. Krista Hunt, member of CUPE 3902 Unit 3 and a BASICS supporter

BASICS #16 (Nov / Dec 2009)

by Luis Granados Ceja

Sessional Lecturers at UofT have been in bargaining for several months, and could be on strke as of November 9th. Many UofT Students, including supporters of BASICS Free Community Newsletter have been actively building a solidarity network on campus called Students In
Support of CUPE 3902.

BASICS: What are the demands of CUPE 3902-Unit 3?

Krista Hunt: The bargaining team is looking for a wage increase of 3%, which is the same amount of a wage increase that the Teacher Assistants got in our union. It covers basic cost of living increase. In addition to that, the other major thing is job security because currently we have no job security: we have to reapply for courses every 4 months or 8 months. People don’t know if they can afford to pay their rent or their mortgage; they can’t really plan ahead at all. The third is having some time allocated and funding allocated for sessional lecturers to do research because a key component of teaching is staying current in your field and publishing your research.

BASICS: A lot of students don’t seem to know that their professors are not full professors. Can you explain a little bit more what exactly a “sessional lecturer” is?

KH: A sessional lecturer is somebody who has graduated with a PhD and has not been hired in a full time position. The university relies on 30% of its courses to be taught by sessional faculty. There’s this myth that contract faculty are second-rate academics but in fact the system is set up that way. We have internalized that myth of meritocracy.

BASICS: How would you respond to the accusations that a strike could become prolonged and adversely affect students?

KH: The union has been willing to bargain, we actually started bargaining early in the summer to make sure that there was time for negotiations. So from my perspective the university is the one that is putting students in the position of having their classes interrupted. I don’t know if people know this, but the university actually makes money when we’re on strike because they don’t have to pay us. It’s in the best interests of both the workers and the students to have professors who are committed to the university and that the employer recognizes that with job security and a living wage.

BASICS: Do you feel that the university’s push for underpaid casual labour is indicative of a wider trend in Canada?

KH: Definitely, we see that the university is, interestingly enough, producing its own flexible labour pool. You graduate. You have no work... Your loans come due. What do you do? You take the contracts and people end up there terminally in these positions because there aren’t any other options.

BASICS: How can students demonstrate their support?

KH: I would say make sure we’re not divided. I think that if you’re interested in quality education, I would say strategically, that students need to come out in support of us – and make that support vocally known.