Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Back Again

After six months away from working as a casual academic, for personal reasons, I'm back doing exactly what I was this time last year.  Am I mad or stupid?  Or both?  It's week two and I'm still waiting for any of my five contracts to come through - I wonder when I will get paid this semester?  My intention was to look for alternative employment upon my return to work, but after a short search, I ended up saying yes to tutoring and RA work once more - why?  Am I lazy?  I feel embarrassed that after all of my, essentially, complaining on this blog, I've just returned to do the same roles, again.  I do take some comfort though in knowing that I am not the only one with this 'problem' (maybe it's some weird addiction).  One of my friends called me this week to say that she had finally said no to all offers... finally, it was an achievement worth acknowledging and celebrating.  Others though are caught in the same spiral that I am.

This article, 'Academia's indentured servants' by Sarah Kendzior (sent to me by Jen at the NTEU), makes some sense of this predicament.  The article nominates a number of explanations as to how universities have maintained such atrocious employment practices in the U.S.  Perhaps two that really resonated with my situation were the investment I have made so far into my academic 'career' and the cult like administration of universities that lead to feelings of unworthiness amongst their staff.  On the investment made by early career academics, Kendzior writes, " "Path dependence and sunk costs must be powerful forces," speculates political scientist Steve Saidemen in a post titled "The Adjunct Mystery". In other words, job candidates have invested so much time and money into their professional training that they cannot fathom abandoning their goal - even if this means living, as Saidemen says, like "second-class citizens". (He later downgraded this to "third-class citizens".)."  On the 'cult' of university administration she writes, 'Self-degradation sustains the adjunct economy, and we see echoes of it in journalism, policy and other fields in which unpaid or underpaid labour is increasingly the norm. It is easy to make people work for less than they are worth when they are conditioned to feel worthless....a list of behaviour controls used by cults - "no critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy seen as legitimate", "access to non-cult sources of information minimised or discouraged" - that mirror the practices of graduate school.'

At the end of last year, one of the universities I was (WAS) working for had significant cutbacks within the school I belonged to.  The cutbacks were not because of funding arrangements, but because of silly spending by the school, which resulted in cutbacks to teaching affecting students and sessional staff (and not the extra few too many professors that were hired).  Instead of my colleagues thinking that this situation was unfair and that continuing working at this school was untenable, there was a mad dash and scramble for the reduced hours and positions that were available.  I was fortunate to know that I was finishing and could sit on the sideline and watch it all unfold in shock and dismay.  These friends of mine who have so much to offer any employer work harder when their employment conditions are made worse.... is this cult like behaviour?  I'm not sure, it's not my field, but there was something uncanny about the situation.