Monday, December 21, 2009

A Recap on the State of Higher Education in Australia

It's time to pull a number of disparate pieces on issues facing the academy into one place, so why not do it here on my nuts eclectic blog?

Finally, I'd like to finish by pasting in the feedback I received to an email I sent out to a number of sessionals (all postgrads or ECRs, mostly from Arts) at Melbourne University. I asked them: 1) are they paid for guest lecturing, 2) are they provided with office space, and 3) are there other issues with underpayment or unpaid work? Here are their responses in full, with identifying details removed:


December 2009

1

I have done guest lectures this semester at Melbourne and was paid for them- they were repeats from the year before. I also did some at Deakin and was amazed by how little I was paid as they didn't seem to have a rate for new lectures (i.e. that you have to write the whole damn thing up and spend about 10 hours on it if you're never given it before). In this regard, Melbourne seems to be taking into account the work required to generate a new lecture.

At Deakin there is no office space per tutor, but you can apply for a room throughout the semester at a specific time so you can set up a regular consultation time or work before or after classes. I've never taken advantage of this, but it's a nice gesture. You would know the score in Culture and Communication where there is little provision even for sessional coordinators. I'm sure Melbourne would want to at least meet what Deakin is offering.

The biggie in terms of unpaid work at Deakin is the online components of subjects. They have many off-campus students and the students in general seem to use the online sites (the equivalent of the LMS) much more than I've ever seen at Melbourne. We don't ordinarily get paid for this time, but I would always spend maybe 8-10 hours per week on there.

The biggest problem is using sessionals year-in, year-out. In the study I did at Deakin, I found that there were people who had been sessional tutors for 5-10 years, many of whom wanted an ongoing position. One guy at Deakin just got an award for 14 years service or something similar. People should not be sessionals for this long and there needs to be "stepping stone" positions that have a little more job security, but may not have all the trappings of tenure.

2

  1. I have given a 25 minute lecture (there were three of us making up the entire lecture with 25-minute talks) and no one was paid -- as far as I can tell.

    2) we don't get space as a casual tutor, but I have one as a PhD student, luckily.

    3) I was tutoring in a subject that required us to post and respond to an LMS question every week. This took up a fair bit of time, with no payment to account for it.

3

    1. Yes I am paid to give lectures. But unless lectures are asked for they are not given to postgrads in our department. I only got one lecture this year and I had to literally beg for it. This is not the coordinators' fault, the school has no money!
    2. We have office space but it is shared. The worst I experienced this year was one desk and computer for 25 tutors!
    3. I had to mark blogs this semester and I was only paid for 1200 words each while the blogs were supposed to be 2000 words each. It was also made clear to students that they wouldn't be penalised for writing more than the 200 words. I was marking up to 5000 words and being paid for 1200.

    My main gripe is that there is no way a department (particularly in Arts) can give you any sort of career path or reward long service. I have tutored 10 semesters of classes and will have to apply with everyone else next semester while rationing my money over the summer break with no guarantees.

4

While I was paid an hourly rate for guest lecturing, the figure really didn't represent the work in preparation to give the lecture, so I would say that in my experience guest lecturing is pretty underpaid. Especially if, as a tutor for a subject, you are asked to give multiple guest lectures. Instead of recognition as co-coordinator, or what have you, it seems cheaper and easier to be designated as a guest lecturer...

I had office space, but this was only because I'd applied for one as a postgrad through my department, i.e. there was no relation between my work as a tutor and having this office space. Even though I was one of the lucky ones, and I do realise this, the conditions were definitely less than ideal, since students would come for consultations while office mates would be in the room. An uncomfortable inconvenience for all involved - and who's to say which of us had the most right to the room at the time?

There is a finite provision for payment for student consultations - you probably know what this is, I've forgotten. Perhaps five hours per semester? Anyway, this is supposed to include all email correspondence, as well as a weekly office hour, which we are obliged to offer. That's right - the school/coordinator creates this expectation in the students that there is a weekly office hour to meet with tutors, but at the same time, tutors are told by admin at the end of semester that they will only be paid for 5, or 8, or whatever the set figure is. Let me say that this is a pretty clear example of pressure to do unpaid work! In any case, students come by outside of this office hour, and email traffic is enormous. QOT forms at the end of the teaching period ask so many questions about whether students felt like their teaching staff were supportive/available if they didn't understand material, etc, so obviously this is a major issue to do with the quality of the school. But not one they are willing to their staff pay for.

I'm sure I'm merely one in a large chorus, but hope this helps,

5

1 - Yes, I'm paid to give guest lectures and have never been asked to do so without pay

2 - As a casual tutor I share an office - there are two small offices between 20 tutors which is woefully insufficient and despite the timetabling of office hours to try and ensure they don't clash, they often do. It it is very difficult to listen to student concerns when other tutors are coming and going at the same time.

3 - I think that casual academics in this particular school are basically treated with respect and fairness. We could always get paid more but more of an issue is the lack of career paths - in other areas (eg natural sciences) there are a lot more research fellow positions that people can move into post PhD before going on to an academic B (academic A appointments seem to have died out) but in the Arts/social sciences these are few and far between. The university should be doing a lot more to create early-career academic positions as they will need these people to take over when the baby-boomers all retire.

6

I would love to respond to your questions! I have been employed at the university as a casual lecturer and tutor over the last two years.

1) I have always been paid for guest lectures and they are offered as paid work.

2) But with no office space. I have been using the communal postgrad office space which can disruptive to others if students wish to discuss anything.

3) The main issue i have with payment for work is pay negotiations that are still happening when a job is offered, which holds up a contract being drawn up. Postgrads should have time to be able to consider these details before accepting the job, but unfortunately there have been instances where this has not yet been resolved before teaching begins.

7

  1. We are not paid to give guest lectures, but we are told in advance that
    they will be unpaid. So far I have successfully negotiated with individual
    course coordinators that I be paid out of their teaching relief fund. I
    cannot speak for others.

    2. The school offers casual tutors use of two shared rooms with shared
    pcs, but tutors can only use them temporarily (i.e. to the best of my
    knowledge there is no lockable space )

    3. Tutors are not paid to attend lectures, although many do, especially in
    their first year of teaching a subject. More alarmingly, tutors are
    expected to attend meetings with their course coordinators but are not
    paid to do this. I have managed to wrangle pay out of one coordinator,
    declined to meet AT ALL with another for the entire semester of teaching
    (to the course's detriment) and had to pay one of my own tutors out of my
    own pocket when I was the coordinator for a course.

8

The issue I have with sessional teaching at Melbourne perhaps doesn't easily fit into some of the questions you've asked - even the last one.

Tutorial and lecture preparation time is underpaid. The simple rule here is to only work for the hours you get cash for. However, it's completely unrealistic, and prone to cases of self-exploitation from dedicated sessionals with a commitment to high standards. The University knows this, and it's a difficult issue maintain an argument on - for one thing, it gets caught up in the differing perspectives on the quantity and quality of 'knowledge work' measurable within a particular time frame. This is different from a set period of delivering material to a class.

Semester bleed is another issue I'm sure that you've heard about already: cases of late work, plagiarism and administrative commitments drag on well beyond the last paycheck.

Something else that bothers me is the inflexibility of coordination of course materials, subject descriptions and course design. To some extent, this covers both sessional and tenured staff - for cutting-edge programs to be developed there needs to be some modification of the massive lead-in to subject proposals (two years advance for the structure of assessment criteria in some cases) - nevertheless it impacts more on the quality of teaching from sessional coordinators since they often cannot deliver material effectively within an outdated framework and have little authority or recourse to adapt structures or the security to take risks (or even the paid hours to manage innovating subjects). This affects labour practices in the sense of morale and quality of teaching, paid or otherwise.

Oh, and also - don't get me started on new media and labour! The celebrated blogging software from University of Melbourne is a time-sink and massive case of exploitative teaching practice. Not sure if anyone has mentioned this yet.

9

I've just finished up as a sessional lecturer/tutor/course co-ordinator this semester, and wanted to give some feedback.

Overall, I think I had things comparitively good - office space, good admin support etc - but there were a couple of points I think it's worth raising. The main issue I encountered was the assumption that teaching stopped with the final lecture. Given that both the major essay and the exam were after this date, I was effectively not paid at all for the fairly extensive consultation I felt obliged to give students in those weeks. More importantly, from both mine and the students' perspectives, I think there's a problem with the assumption that casuals will always be available both during holidays and well into the following semester. When a student has, say, special consideration and is submitting after the due date, there may actually be no one connected with the course around to mark it. Hope this of some help!

10

No i have never been paid to give a guest lecture - I'm always just told that it will look good on my CV but it doesn't really to put down a whole lot of separate guest lectures when i have also had an actual lecturing position.

Usually there is one space offered for all the tutors but cause so many people use it i often had to find another space for tutor consults outside of my allocated hour.

The extra assignments or short answer questions that some of the subjects have on a weekly basis take up a lot of time and are mostly unpaid for tutors.

11

1) did not have an office

2) did more work than the hours I was paid for. That was mainly preparation and marking.

Now - what's your experience? We need as many voices as possible if we ever hope to have an impact! Collectively, we have power to see real sectoral change - individually, we might be able to fight for ourselves, but we won't see institutional and national improvements.

2 comments:

Necron 99 said...

Hi all,

I am a 2nd year Arts student at the University of Western Sydney (Bankstown). I've been following the plight of casual tutors/lecturers which I believe are being treated quite unfairly at our university, and obviously everywhere else as well.

I do not know if lecturers are paid for guest lectures but I doubt it. Casual tutors and lecturers share one medium sized room with about five or six cubicles and computers. Not very private, about 15-20 tutors share this space, maybe more, many tutors have no space.

There is also no pay for co-ordinator/tutor semester meetings or tutor attendance of lectures. Some do so anyway but less than half and I don't really blame them.

A couple of years ago, I was studying at the Australian Catholic University, where our lecturer strongly advocated online assessments through blogs and discussion.

I often advocated, at my present university, for such an assessment process but was met with little enthusiasm by UWS staff. I found it strange as I found it to be a richly rewarding experience, at least some interest would have made sense.

I have been an avid contributor to our unit discussion boards which we, students, have been using as tutorial and lecture support. They are also a form of stress reduction and release. Our co-ordinators are supposed to monitor and regulate these discussion boards, without specific pay though. Not having online lecturer or tutor support frustrates students, some lecturers and tutors refuse to do this without pay and I don't blame them. What tutor in their right might would want to regularly do so as well, is beyond me. Sure most tutors and lecturers are dedicated to their students but the university management takes such an obvious advantage of this sentiment to save a buck here and there.

I was at uni yesterday where I saw they were laying thousands of new paving bricks in previously unpaved areas. At the beginning of this semester they inserted lines of lightly coloured bricks in the main area of red coloured paving bricks, they also replaced all the outdoor benches, picnic table style tables (for lack of a better word) with brand spanking new ones. Car park fees are also increasing.

I actually complained about all this on the discussion boards, as it seemed to me excess money was being spent on aesthetic needs when obvious discrepancies existed regarding lecturer/tutor/student direct support. Even the co-ordinator of one of my units, the core unit for the History/Politics/Philosophy major or sub-major, was a casual. Are management wondering whether or not he put in extra unpaid hours. What do you think? I still can't get over that he was a casual.

The university denied the NTEU a space to discuss their proposed industrial action during last semester. Apart from members of the student union, only two, including myself, students showed up to show their support for their tutors and lecturers.

Connect now runs the bookshop and canteen, with little regard for students' needs.

I remember reading about a student union victory, in 2003, where tutorial class numbers were limited to 15. It is not uncommon to see tutorials with 30-35 students each. 5-6 years later, what the hell happened? What happened to it all?

When my father retired from full-time lecturing over 15 years ago, things appeared quite different. The ol' backwards two-step doesn't seem to be working.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tammi
I enjoyed reading about your research in Campus Review and, as Chair of the King & Amy O'Malley Trust, I was wondering if you had considered applying for a postgrad scholarship from the Trust for your work - see http://www.omalleytrust.com.au/. Applications for 2011 close at the end of June 2010.
with best wishes for your studies
Annette Gough
RMIT University