Contract Academic Staff

Categories: Bargaining Updates 2012, Lecturers, Sessionals

We have two general types of members who teach: those who are tenure stream and those on term contracts of one type or another.  How many of our members are contract faculty? A lot more than many people realize. In February 2012 there were approximately 3,430 members of the bargaining unit (because of the way UBC reports employment data it is difficult to get exactly accurate “snapshot” numbers).  Of those members, about 100 (3%) held non-instructional positions, about 2,515 (73%) held tenured stream appointments and the rest, about 815 (24%), were on limited term contracts of one type or another. Most members on contracts are either Sessional Lecturers (about 600 members) who hold appointments of less than one year, or 12-month Lecturers (about 160 members) who hold appointments of at least one year. The remaining members on contracts are typically appointed to “without review” positions as per UBC Policy 42.

While it would appear that about one-quarter of all instructional members are contract academic faculty, that number is deceptive. Sessional Lecturers constitute about 600 members in any given month during the Winter term, but the numbers are higher when an entire academic year is taken into account (e.g. in 2010-2011, 891 members held sessional contracts). Combined with 12-month Lecturers, well over 1,000 different members work at UBC each year under contract.  These members do a very significant amount of undergraduate teaching, accounting for as much as 70% (or more) of all undergraduate instruction in some departments.

The status of these contract academic faculty is, for the most part, abysmal.  A recent arbitration process resulted in a ruling that most Sessional Lecturers have the right to only a single course per year. Even Sessional Lecturers who have been teaching the same courses for ten years or more (and there are many such people) have to compete with each other annually for any work above the one course per year minimum. Sessional Lecturers who do not have at least a 50% workload are denied most heath and welfare benefits. Even full-time Sessional Lecturers, unless they teach every term, lose their health and welfare benefits in the summer. The median annual income of Sessional Lecturers in 2011-2012 was $10,475. Of course most Sessional Lecturers do not work all year. The median monthly income of Sessional Lecturers, counting only months during which they were employed, was a whopping $2,268.

Although the Sessional Lecturers classification is structured as if it was designed for casual, part-time, temporary work, the reality is that approximately 300 of the Sessional Lecturers employed in 2011-2012 had been employed for over 5 years and approximately 450 of them taught seven or more months of the year. Although the University repeatedly dismissively refers to Sessional Lecturers as people just “dragged in off the street”, whose teaching abilities have never been properly assessed, they can adduce no evidence that the distribution of teaching abilities among Sessional Lecturers is any different than the distribution of teaching abilities among other instructional classifications. In truth, a large percentage of Sessional Lecturers are not casual labour. They are a significant and increasingly long-serving component of our membership trapped in a precarious employment classification that is inadequate for the employees who provide a major contribution to the undergraduate teaching responsibilities of the University.

The situation for 12-month Lecturers is both better and worse. They have full-year jobs, are entitled to year-round health and welfare benefits, and their median monthly salary is much higher than that of Sessionals. In February 2012 the median monthly salary of 12-month Lecturers was $5,883. (By contrast, the median monthly salary of Instructors was $7,936 and the median monthly salary of members of the professoriate was $10,182.) On the other hand, 12-month Lecturers have absolutely no right to reappointment as a 12-month Lecturer and, unless they previously held a Sessional Lecturer appointment, they have no right to ongoing employment at the university at all.  This despite that they are in positions that are eligible for merit and progress through the ranks (PTR) salary increases. It makes no sense at all for members in a classification eligible for PTR not to have long-term security of employment.

The situation we currently face with the status of contract academic faculty is completely unacceptable. Most contract academic faculty hold Sessional Lecturer appointments, appointments that, at best, make sense for staffing part-time temporary positions. Yet the work of Sessional Lecturers is clearly on-going, and in almost every department that employs Sessionals, there are more than enough courses taught by Sessionals to justify allocating Sessional work to full-time positions. 12-month Lecturers, on the other hand, hold positions that are designed to be held by permanent employees, given their salary structure, yet they have no employment security at all.

The Association is proposing three simple, yet important, modifications to the existing language pertaining to Sessional Lecturers and 12-month Lecturers. First, to give 12-month Lecturers a right of reappointment. Second, to give Sessional Lecturers the right to accrue, on a seniority basis, courses in the “sessional pool” for which they are qualified. Third, to ensure that 12-month Lecturer appointments are filled internally, from the pool of Sessional Lecturers, and are only advertised externally in the absence of qualified internal applicants. Although these proposals may seem modest, we think they will improve the job security of that one-quarter of our members currently employed precariously as contract academic faculty.