Standing in the shadows of the academy Part 2

Nice Work If You Can Get It: Part 2

Standing in the shadows of the academy: A multi-part series on the hidden work of contract faculty at Western

It is a Monday afternoon in the summer and Mark Yaniszewski is on the 401 en route to teach political science at the University of Toronto. On Tuesday he will get up and do it all over again, only this time he will pull out of his driveway in Waterloo and head west to London. On Wednesday: U of T. Come Thursday, it is west again to Western.

Contract employees come in many forms. Some have a limited-term appointment, hired for a term at a certain salary. Others have a limited-duties appointment, here to teach one or more courses - for $6,500 or so per term - like piece work.

Yaniszewski, who has a limited-duties appointment at Western, is one of a growing legion of precariously employed contract faculty in Ontario. Armed with PhDs, they are unable to secure tenure-track positions and have to settle for short-term contract work. The lucky ones get one-year or multi-year contracts, but many go from course to course, often scrambling term-by-term for employment.

This is the case for Yaniszewski (pronounced Yani-chev-ski). The exuberant and dedicated assistant professor has been traversing southern Ontario for 12 years, stringing together enough teaching jobs to make ends meet as a part-time contract faculty member.

“I always tell people I teach at the University of the 401,” said Yaniszewski, who has been teaching part-time at Western for eight years. “I go up and down the 401 every day … This summer I’m spending nearly $800 a month on gas because I’m on the highway so much.”

He spends hundreds on fuel every month, and has taught at 14 universities in as many years as a contract faculty member after he obtained his PhD in 1999. The dizzying numbers highlight an inconvenient truth: some of the most highly educated scholars are searching for work every four to eight months. Yaniszewski regularly patrols online job boards at several universities, hoping to land the six or seven courses a year he needs to get by.

Rob Jonasson, a former “Roads Scholar” who now teaches exclusively at Western, calls the part-time label a misnomer. For Jonasson, also a contract faculty member, part-time means teaching as many as eight courses a year – double the typical teaching load for full-time tenured professors.

“It’s not really part-time teaching at all,” he said, noting he has taught over 70 courses since he started in 1997. “It’s really full-time teaching in the broadest sense of the term.”

"I always tell people I teach at the University of the 401." - Mark Yaniszewski

Contract academic staff find themselves in labour Catch-22: they have to take short-term teaching contracts to make ends meet, but the permanent, tenure-track positions they hope for simply never materialize.

As student enrolments continue to increase at Western, the number of tenure-stream appointments is actually going in the opposite direction. Not surprisingly, contract academic staff positions continue to grow.

“From our perspective, the solution is to make more tenure-track jobs,” said UWOFA president Alison Hearn, “and hire talented and committed contract faculty to fill them.”

While Jonasson and Yaniszewski are passionate about teaching and thoroughly enjoy their time in the classroom, Jonasson wonders how long he can keep up the pace.

“One of the concerns is that when you teach a lot like that, then you become less effective, or you’re teaching so much that you’re more likely to be tired,” he explained.

Our part-time colleagues are overworked and dealing with subpar working conditions. According to the U.S.-based study “Predictors of depression, stress, and anxiety among non-tenure track faculty,” published in Frontiers in Psychology, contract faculty are confronted by a host of concerns that could increase their stress levels and put them at risk for depression and anxiety. The lack of job security is chief among those concerns, which also include being shut out of university governance structures, the absence of benefits, the pay inequity and workload.

Thus, “feeling commitment to an organization that fails to reciprocate the commitment may lead to negative reactions such as depression, anxiety, or stress,” the study suggests.

Moreover, how can part-time instructors who divide their time between two or more schools in the same term, spending the equivalent of two work days a week on the road, even feel committed to one school? How does this lead to a better student experience?

During an interview in his temporary office space, where the beige walls are bare and all that sits on the desk is a telephone and a clock, Yaniszewski paints a lonely picture of contract academic life. Much of his teaching is done either in the afternoons or evenings during the summer months, when the majority of faculty are not on campus. What’s more, he is forced to spend more time in his car every day than interacting with students. But he is a good instructor who says he will not give up his passion for teaching a new crop of students each year.

He is but one example of the hidden work of contract faculty at Western.