FEW 2021 Petition

End Precarious Employment Practices at Mount Royal University

We, the undersigned, call for an end to precarious employment practices at Mount Royal University. These include the rampant overuse of contract appointment categories (e.g., per-course “sessional” contracts) for carrying out the University’s core academic mission, which includes delivering credit instruction to 10,000+ full-load-equivalent students.

According to Mount Royal Faculty Association membership data, about half of the academic staff at MRU are employed on a contract basis. These highly qualified colleagues, responsible for over half of all credit instruction at the University, strive to develop course materials and provide learning environments of superior quality and yet must do so without adequate institutional supports: meaningful job security, compensation for research and for maintaining other forms of professional currency, offices, adequate levels of pay, and, in many cases, even basic benefits. Instead, even long-serving contract faculty must reapply for work each semester, with little or no certainty about what they will be offered, if anything, ahead of each new term. Most experience long periods between teaching semesters during which they are not employed by the University, even when developing or updating course materials in preparation for an anticipated future contract.

Within Canada, women, members of racialized groups, and members of other marginalized groups are known to be overrepresented within contract appointment categories [1]. Consistent with these and other national data, faculty association data at MRU suggest that, for many, their contract work is a primary source of income and that close to half would be unable to pay their bills without it. Less than one quarter say they are retired or working professionals sharing experience on an occasional, part-time basis. In short, although some contract instructors are working professionals who teach on the side as a way to give back to their communities, the reality is a large academic staff underclass without whose expertise and vitally important work the University would not function. A reliance on precarious employment practices reinforces and perpetuates inequities and is therefore incompatible with real commitments to social and economic justice.

Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic has helped to reveal the deeply exploitative nature of precarious employment practices at MRU. Contract faculty (like all faculty) have undertaken an unprecedented amount of work to redevelop courses, under tight time constraints, in order to continue to meet students’ learning needs. Contract colleagues have done so while continuing to endure low levels of pay and without other crucial supports. MRU administration’s promise in the spring of 2020 [2] was that the months leading up to the 2020-2021 academic year would be used by faculty and others to prepare for a sustained period of alternate course delivery–spring and summer months in which most contract colleagues, a large segment of the academic staff complement, are not in fact employed by the University. MRU’s promise of an excellent student experience and an emphasis on student success despite the pandemic was therefore premised on an intensified reliance on and exploitation of a precarious academic workforce. We call for an end to precarious employment practices at MRU. In particular, we call for:

  • Better institutional, provincial, and national data gathering, as well as regular reporting from MRU and governments on contract employment at the University and beyond, including with respect to salary and benefits, workload, and equity matters;
  • An institutional and provincial commitment to protecting and increasing the size of the full-time, permanent academic staff complement at MRU;
  • Enhanced pathways to full-time, permanent employment specifically for contract academic staff already teaching at MRU;
  • Fulfilment of MRU’s commitments concerning contract academic staff and other faculty-related issues as articulated in the University’s 2017-2022 Academic Plan, approved by the General Faculties Council on May 18, 2017; and
  • Fairness, including improved working conditions with respect to job security, compensation, benefits, and other institutional supports, for those academic staff who teach on contract, no matter the reason.

We believe Mount Royal University’s mission is for the public good. As such, it needs a well-supported academic staff complement that has been set up for success and that is comprised of faculty who are empowered by the institution to do their best work and to exercise their academic freedom. Building a university on a foundation of precarity hurts real people and communities and makes accomplishing our mission harder. Let’s set all faculty up with the best conditions for success.

[1] Out of the Shadows: Experiences of Contract Academic Staff. September 2018. Canadian Association of University Teachers. https://www.caut.ca/sites/default/files/cas_report.pdf
[2] MRU President’s June 1, 2020 email to the campus community.

Goal: at least 200 signatures. If the goal is met, this petition will be submitted to the MRU President and to the Chair of the MRU Board of Governors. In this case, Alberta’s Minister of Advanced Education may also be notified of the result.

End Precarious Employment Practices at Mount Royal University

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Signatures to Date: 143
Signature Goal: 200