On Campus

Contingent faculty and the crisis of casualization

An article in today’s National Post discusses the ongoing impact of the increased reliance on contingent faculty in Canadian universities over the past couple of decades. The article suggests that the shift in the composition of the academic workforce will result in increased tension and labour strife in the coming years as this large complement of contingent university workers seeks out compensation and benefits on par with their full-time tenured colleagues.

The casualized academic workforce is, in part, a product of reduced public funding for post-secondary education and the neoliberal economic experiment of the last quarter century. The development of a two-tiered academic workforce has also frequently been tied to the corporatization of universities. By this I mean the displacement of academic values and citizenship interests in universities in favour of market principles such as competition, profit and private-interest. This outlook sees university education as a consumer commodity with market principles emphasizing greater choice, customer satisfaction and monetary return on the individual’s investment in further education.

It should also be recognized that the growing reliance on part-time/casual labour is not distinctive to universities. Increased casualization of employment, with low wages and greater worker flexibility, has been a dominant labour-market trend in Canada over the past 20 or so years.