By Gülberk Koç Maclean
A hearty thank you to the permanent MRU faculty and the MRFA bargaining team for supporting contract faculty in the recent negotiations, helping them thus far in acquiring fairer working conditions. Contract faculty may now apply for the new position of Senior Lecturer – a promising development. They are now able to access the MRU Recreation Centre in the summer without extra fees, and the move to full-year scheduling has helped ease the precarious work conditions of MRU faculty to a certain extent. But contract faculty need your continued support. There are still areas that need to be addressed to bring about a fair work environment for every MRU faculty.
The following issues that I hope to raise awareness about with respect to the working conditions of MRU faculty do not apply to those faculty who choose to teach only one or two courses in a year, as well as being employed full-time elsewhere. The issues I will discuss apply to most of contract faculty whose livelihood depends on being employed by MRU. These faculty work just as much as permanent faculty, yet do not enjoy the same benefits as permanent faculty in regard to job security, health insurance, life insurance, and MRU pension.
Like permanent faculty, contract faculty prepare and deliver lectures, lead tutorials, conduct labs, invigilate and grade exams, respond to questions from students in class, after class, and at home, but often outside their contractual hours. Some contract faculty also do research and publish. Unlike permanent faculty, however, when contract faculty do research, they have to do it in their own time. Granted, contract faculty are not hired to do research, but for many of them, the pursuit of knowledge is a vital and necessary part of scholarly life. It is not divorced from the expertise that qualifies them to teach.
Permanent faculty have job security, while contract faculty have to lead their lives in uncertainty from one academic year to the next.
Permanent faculty can rest assured that they will lead a relatively comfortable life in their retirement years thanks to the pension they will receive from MRU, whereas contract faculty are worried as to how they will take care of themselves and their family when they reach their not-so-golden years.
Health and life insurance is another area of unfairness. A contract faculty member needs to pray that they will not get sick or die when they are between contracts, while such a consideration does not even occur to permanent faculty.
I can imagine an objection at this point: “Look, nobody forces people to work as contract faculty. They can do something else with their lives, if they really think that they’re being exploited here.” You’re quite right. Nobody forces people with Masters or PhD degrees to teach on a contractual basis. But the fact is that some choose to do it because they love teaching, they love learning, they love helping students and being part of the MRU intellectual community. And just because someone makes themselves available for exploitation does not mean it is morally acceptable to exploit them. In Canada, this principle is reflected in the efforts that go into improving the policy of minimum wage, the requirement to provide safe work conditions for employees, laws on sexual assault, children’s rights, minority rights, and so on. Therefore, contract faculty’s love for the teaching profession should not be taken advantage of, but given its due compensation.
After all, fairness in working conditions helps establish solidarity amongst faculty members, and solidarity is, and ought to be, one of the essential values we uphold as MRU faculty.