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September 26, 2002 Part-time faculty across the continent walk the walk



by Carol McQueen

More than 200 part-time faculty members from across Quebec, Canada, the U.S. and Mexico will be on campus the weekend of October 4-6 for the fifth conference of the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labour (COCAL).

According to 1998 figures from Statistics Canada, contingent academic labour — part-time faculty members who do not hold tenured positions — constitute about 40 to 45 per cent of the total teaching staff of universities across Canada.

This is a chance to take stock of the gains made in recent years in terms of increased salary and respect, and brainstorm on how to tackle remaining inequities, including lack of job security.

Maria Peluso, president of CUPFA, the Concordia University Part-time Faculty Association, describes the salary divide in stark terms: “It’s cost-efficient for universities to have part-time faculty. We cost 30 cents per faculty dollar.”

Such inequity is felt most severely by those academics for whom part-time university teaching is their only source of income. They earn approximately $6,000 per course at Concordia, with no pay between contracts. It creates a vicious circle for many part-timers.

“When you’re trying to earn an income, it’s too difficult to do research,” said Angela Ford-Rosenthal, who has taught courses in sociology since 1987. Not being paid during the summer also severely restricts her research opportunities, and without research publications, it’s almost impossible to gain access to tenure-track positions. Often, part-timers work at more than one university or CEGEP to make up the shortfall.

Improvement in recent years

Conditions for part-time faculty members were even worse only a few years ago, but Quebec’s strong tradition of unionization has brought important gains for part-timers across the province. This includes Concordia, which has CUPFA and the Concordia University Continuing Education Part-time Faculty Union (CUCEPTFU).

“Conditions have been much, much better since the collective agreement [negotiated by CUPFA in 1997] has been in place,” said June Riley, a part-time finance professor for the past 14 years. “It’s been a transformation in the way we’ve been treated at Concordia.”

Not only were pay rates increased, but part-time faculty members now enjoy a seniority system. Those with 90 credits are allowed to teach up to 18 credits a year, or six courses, for a total of about $36,000. They also gainedsome benefits and some integration into decision-making bodies at the university.

This improvement in working conditions is one of the reasons the predominantly American COCAL voted to have the conference outside U.S. borders for the first time.

“The American members of COCAL have always looked to Canada as an example because we have much better labour laws,” said Vicky Smallman, co-organizer for the conference for the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT). “It’s easier for us to unionize, and we have a much greater percentage of academic staff in Canada represented by certified unions.”

Since almost all of the part-time faculty unions in the Montreal area, including those at Concordia, are renegotiating their collective agreements this fall, Brenda Grant, president of CUCEPTFU, said that the conference is also a way to “raise our profile, let people know who we are.” Thus, on the Friday afternoon of the conference, a “mobilization walk” will take place from Concordia to the Université de Québec à Montréal.

What bothers the Music Department part-timer Louise Samson is that she has less time to play the piano in public concerts because she is “just trying to survive” financially. If she were to fall ill, she would only be covered to 80 per cent of her pay for the rest of her contract. “What do you do after that?” she asked.

Pierre Ouellet, vice-president of CUPFA and part-timer in the Political Science Department since 1992, knows he is one of the lucky ones in terms of seniority vis-à-vis other part-time faculty, but he still has no idea as to whether or not he’ll get a course from one term to the next.

David Vivian, who has taught in the Theatre Department since 1996, finds it difficult to meet with students when he must share an office with 18 other part-time faculty members. He also worries about the low level of part-time faculty representation on university bodies when part-timers at Concordia number nearly 900 people.

“We only have two representatives in Senate, and no one there for us from the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science, or from the John Molson School of Business,” he said. “On the Board of Governors, we have one representative, and he is there only as an observer.”

June Riley, of the Finance Department, probably speaks for all part-time faculty members at Concordia when she says “there is always more work to do.” The COCAL V conference, with its thematic title It’s time for a new deal, is where they intend to start.

For more information about the COCAL V conference and how to register for it, please see http://www.cupfa.org/COCALV/.