Toward Restoring a Holistic Conception of Academic Work: A Strategic Response to Precarity

Friday, 20 July 2018: 17:30
Oral Presentation
Janice NEWSON, York University, Canada
Claire POLSTER, University of Regina, Canada
In recent years, the poor working conditions and inadequate salaries and benefits of academics who hold part-time and limited-term contracts have become a flashpoint for progressive scholars, campus activists, and union leaders in mobilizing support for labour justice for these workers. Many of these mobilizations have aimed to rectify the precarious employment situation of these workers by creating new kinds of fulltime, teaching-only academic positions with improved pay and benefits, job security, and opportunities for career development.

This paper argues that this response to the plight of part-time and limited-term workers assumes a too narrow conception of precarity and in so doing, may not only exacerbate the precarity of these workers but also contribute to forms of precarity being increasingly experienced by most academic workers, including those holding continuing and tenured positions. It expands the notion of precarity by shifting focus from academic workers to academic work as a whole. Starting with the conception of academic work as an integration of research, teaching, and public service that prevailed three or four decades ago, it tracks how corporatizing processes have fragmented academic work and re-constituted it into tiered categories, each with its own range of responsibilities and privileges, and levels of pay and benefits. It shows how each tier experiences its own forms of precarity stemming from, interacting with, and reinforcing those of others.

While not denying that institutionalizing teaching-only academic positions may provide short-term improvements for some academic workers who currently hold part-time and limited-term positions, the paper questions whether this strategy addresses the increasing precarity of academic work itself, and proposes, as an alternative, political interventions based on a more holistic conception of scholarship that reunites research, teaching, and public service in ways that better serve academics, students, and the public interest generally.