What it’s like to be an under-paid Ontario college instructor

Opinion: Teaching at Ontario colleges pays so much less a university that there is very little incentive to put up with it if there are other options

Striking college faculty rally in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct.25, 2017, calling on the province to send college administrators back to the bargaining table. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Thomas campean

Striking college faculty rally in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017, calling on the province to send college administrators back to the bargaining table. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Thomas Campean

Lisa F. Carver, PhD (Soc) Post Doctoral Fellow, SSHRC funded ACTproject, Research Associate, Department of Medicine and Adjunct Professor, Department of Sociology , Queen’s University, Ontario

This piece was originally published at The Conversation.

Ontario’s 12,000 college faculty, represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), begin voting Tuesday on the latest contract offer from the College Employer Council’s (CEC). Their strike, now in its fifth week, is the longest job action in the 50-year history of the Ontario college system.

Currently a part-time assistant professor in sociology and post-doctoral fellow at Queen’s University, I am not directly engaged in this strike. Last year, however, I experienced the realities of being a part-time contract instructor at an Ontario college.

While I was studying for my PhD in 2016, I was looking for opportunities to develop my teaching skills. I had already designed and taught one course at a university, an experience that whet my appetite for teaching. I was eager to try another course. I applied for and was offered a college course. I was told that I would be teaching two sections of 25 students, each for two hours a week.

This sounded perfect for me. Four hours a week in the classroom left lots of time for the work required outside class and my own studies. The university course I taught previously had paid for my time in the classroom. It had also paid an allotment to cover time spent preparing for my classes, creating and marking student assignments and meeting with students.

I assumed that the college course would be the same.

Unpaid for 75 per cent of my hours

Over the next month I prepared for my new teaching position. It wasn’t until the first month had passed that it occurred to me to ask how I would be compensated for time spent outside of class — preparing lectures, marking assignments and interacting with students and other staff.

An administrator emailed me back, saying: “All part-time teaching within the college system in Ontario has the same remuneration and it is based on teaching contact hours only. There isn’t additional pay for marking and prep work. I apologize if that was not clear.”

Given that I was still early in my career as an instructor and I needed to get more teaching experience, I decided that it was worth working the unpaid hours.

What I did not realize was that this course was very heavy in marking time. The students were learning how to write a thesis, so there were several written assignments. I tracked my time and found that it took 20 hours to prepare the course, including updating the syllabus, creating the course’s online presence, designing assignments, attending meetings (by phone and email) and responding to emails from administration and students. It also took 50 hours to mark the student assignments, eight hours to prepare the lectures and 24 hours of teaching time.

In total I worked on this course for 102 hours and was paid for just 24 hours. So I worked 78 hours of unpaid overtime. Although most of my work was as a “volunteer,” it was good experience. As a graduate student, I felt it was time well spent.

Because of this, I accepted a second course, in the last year of my PhD. As this course neared completion, I asked for a meeting to discuss permanent employment. It was then I learned that the time I spent teaching at the college would not provide any advantages to me if I did apply to a full-time position there.

Always a bridesmaid, never a bride

Scholars have pointed out that this undervaluing of part-time faculty by paying only for time spent in the classroom is actually a type of professional disrespect.

Teaching at Ontario colleges pays so much less than teaching at a university that — unless you’re a new graduate looking for a training opportunity — there is very little incentive to put up with the exploitation if there are other options.

Part-time professors are “almost always a bridesmaid, almost never a bride.” Stuck in a part-time role, they are unable to transition to full-time positions because they don’t have the spare time to do the research and publish the articles that result in success on the job interview shortlist.

A win-win solution?

Colleges must rectify this with two simple and free policy changes: Classify part-time professors as internal candidates when the full-time job competitions open up, and enable part-time college teachers to build seniority while employed part-time.

In addition to what is currently on offer in their contract proposal, colleges could:

  1. Designate current and previous part-time instructors who have taught within the past year (12 months) prior to the posting as internal applicants, and;
  2. Enable part-time instructors to build seniority while employed part-time and carry that seniority over periods during which they are not employed.

These ideas extend the OPSEU proposals, protecting part-time instructors from unemployment periods designed to eliminate seniority and internal candidate status.

In May 2017, I was contacted a third time by the college. I had finished my PhD program, and now had several years of teaching experience in both university and college courses. Although I was grateful for the offer, I turned down the third course.

The ConversationI would have seriously considered accepting that job if I had known I would be gaining seniority and would be considered an internal candidate when the “real jobs” came up.

This piece was originally published at logo-6ed98023442246a1b432bd646eec8daf94dba5361825aeacd7d7ca488c268e96

The Conversation


What it’s like to be an under-paid Ontario college instructor

  1. It hardly seems like a fair bargaining situation.

    What incentive does the college have to bargain in good faith?

    They’ve already taken the students money for the semester and they aren’t paying the teachers anything.

    Perhaps a class action law suit representing the students would even the playing field.

    • For all her education, the author of the article seems to fail to grasp the underlying cause/effect at work here. Our colleges and universities are churning out a product for which there is not enough demand. Undergrad programs are filled with young adults looking to become university professors. The author’s own statement- “that whet my appetite for teaching”- suggests that she invested considerable amounts of time, effort, and money with no real grasp of the economic potential.
      Every year, we are graduating more students from colleges and universities who have spent years, and accumulated large debts, pursuing higher educations for which there is little commercial market. We graduate more future university professors (see author’s bio notes above) than we can possibly use. We have a roughly 25% over-supply of school teachers. We have a huge over-supply of young people who have advanced degrees for which there is no value to society, and many of them, like the author, are clamoring for their “fair share” of public money.
      Maybe some of them ought to try and remember some of their basic economics courses that they took. This is what a “market correction” looks like.

      • These colleges are generally more vocational in nature. They are supposed to more adequately prepare students for trades and service oriented jobs.

        But do you realize that the professors currently have no governing bodies over the content of their curriculum. In college they don’t even need teaching certifications.

        Many of the courses are hopelessly outdated and the students don’t know any better. The college professors want a new contract that maintains this lunacy.

        But it gets worse. Professors not only teach outdated academics, but their work ethic influences young minds. Nice example.

        Personally, I think we’re doing it all wrong. Instead of kids and out of practice adults teaching kids, everyone should start in physically demanding services, then learn more specifics to be engineers and managers in middle age, to become teachers in those fields until retirement.

        There is a natural order to this.

        • There was a time when colleges were more technical/trades oriented, but now they have just become another way for high school grads to avoid entering the workforce and doing real work. As Mark Steyn puts it ‘ we now have young adults that go to school until Grade 28!”

          The colleges have NOTHING to lose since most of these students are paying for their ‘education’ using student loans which are pretty available. Whoever thought giving thousands of dollars to 18 year olds was nuts.

          So I don’t feel a lot of sympathy for these sessionals/instructors. I was a sessional at a technical school/college but it was a second job after my full time job. The only reason I was good at it was because I brought not only my education to the sessional teaching but ALSO my experiences from my full time job.

          But now we have these instructors who are going through advanced education thinking that they deserve/merit a full time, well paid college teaching job. Sorry, but that is not on.

          The only ones who are really suffering through this are the students, but if any of them were smart they would realize that college and university has NO concern for their education and they would look elsewhere.

          For for the strikers – get a full-time real job and treat sessional teaching as a side line – oh wait – no one wants someone with a PhD in sociology – I’m shocked (not really)

  2. What union-management collusion has done over the years is buy off the tenured class with over-the-top compensation/benefits while sacrificing the instructors. Today, management is trying to stem the cost tsunami by resisting the shifting of many contract instructors into full-time roles, because the cost is simply too great. Same stupidity crushed GM into bankruptcy. Management (i.e Provincial Govt) needs to stop taking the easy way out in every negotiation with rich buy-offs of the top tier, because the bottom-tier eventually demand parity. Hey OPSEU, would your professors agree to a 10% comp rollback in order for more instructors to become full-time? That way, the overall taxpayer wallet wouldn’t go through the roof.

    • Luca- Despite the fact that you have offered up a perfectly reasonable solution, one that even an ardent anti-government type such as myself could support, you stand a better chance of photographing Bigfoot than getting almost any government entity to accept pay cuts in order to solve a predicament.
      In the worldview of those people, being a highly paid public servant is already enough of a sacrifice. Being a slightly less highly paid public servant is a bridge too far.

  3. I believe the longest job action was in 1989 when the strike lasted 28 days. At any rate 28-30 days of school were missed in 1989.

    Lisa — I suppose you are just starting out in your career. So your step level on the part-time faculty pay scale is not that high. But suppose you were bringing your PHD and 20 years experience into the class room. I’m not sure what step level that is. There are 21 step levels based on the agreement I accessed. So let’s say you come in at step 10 which pays $120.14/hr.

    24 contact hours x $120 = $2,880.
    102 actual hours / $2,880 = $28.24/hour.

    $28/hour is not bad — it’s not great either. But you could see how this would attract an experienced instructor who is retired or semi-retired. And I can guarantee that your prep & marking hours would go down with every iteration of the course you taught due to familiarity with the course material.

    There is no doubt that Ontario has created a terrible situation in which they are relying on part-time instructors to carry full-time like loads. Give it a few years — I suspect you’ll be back in the classroom.

    • Nice try. The actual number is approximately $20.80 per hour. If you were to hire an engineering consultant or financial consultant you’d pay several times more than that. That’s less than the average pay for an ordinary roofer. Given the average contract hours, a college instructor’s annual pay is less than half that of the average kindergarten teacher. Beyond the low pay scale, the notion that random hires, frequently hired after the term has started, can somehow be an optimal solution is flawed; worse, the latest notion advanced by college administrators is to solve the problem by using scheduled overtime for salaried employees (somehow not breaking any labor laws?).
      “But you could see how this would attract an experienced instructor who is retired or semi-retired.” maybe you could but I can’t – even $28 is a fraction of an experienced engineering consultant’s median contract rate.

  4. Aren’t vocational colleges better served by part time instructors who actually work in the areas they are teaching? It would be a shame to see colleges start to approach the level of uselessness of the modern university. Changing the staffing model to one of fulltime career instructors sounds like the quickest way of getting there.