Andrew Robinson, Carleton University instructor, rips wages, job security

A contract instructor at Carleton University in Ottawa has written on open letter online criticizing wages, hours and job security for contract instructors across North America.

Physics instructor earns $34K to work 225 hours per course, but claims to work more

Andrew Robinson teaches first-year physics at Carleton University on contract, and he's frustrated with his wage and lack of job security. (Jeanne Armstrong/CBC)

A contract instructor at Carleton University has boldly expressed his frustrations about what he calls low wages by writing an open letter online.

Andrew Robinson says he teaches first-year physics at the Ottawa school, earning about $34,000 per year without benefits or a pension. He explained that the figure is based on teaching five courses — he is paid $6,700 per course and puts in 280 hours for each, which comes out to $24 per hour, he said. 

At the end of January, Robinson posted a letter online titled "Enough's Enough," in which he claimed contract instructors across North America were "being shamelessly exploited" by their employers.

He said without permanent status, those who teach university students often work extra hours for free, are paid low wages and face a constant lack of job security.

It's not a new issue, but it's a growing one as universities hire more contract instructors, according to the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT).

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Fight for permanent status

The issue also led contract instructors across the United States to walk out of classrooms en masse last week.

"We have a very large number of people in the university who are very badly paid despite actually doing one of the most important jobs in the university, which is actually teaching," Robinson told CBC News.

Robinson said he's spent a decade studying physics, has his PhD in physics and he's earned teaching awards. However, his employer has refused to give him permanent status explaining they don't have room in the budget.

Robinson, meanwhile, said he's lucky to have an office, which he shares with two lab supervisors.

"Many contract instructors, not just here but at many universities, actually don't physically have any office space. You hear stories of them having to talk to students in the coffee shop," Robinson said.

Job security and a decent wage are paramount for Robinson because he is the main breadwinner in his family. His wife spends most of her time watching the couple's son, who has a developmental disability.

Contract instructors paid 'very poorly,' CAUT says

A full-time, permanent position would double the pay for identical hours of work, he added.

Carleton University refused to comment about Robinson's case and would not reveal how many contract instructors teach on campus.

According to CAUT, most universities use contract instructors for more than half the courses.

"(They) are paid very, very poorly … are not offered adequate resources to support their teaching," said David Robinson, the group's executive director.

"They're not recognized for the research and scholarship that they have to do and I think it creates a real tenuous situation within the university when you don't have people with some job security."

The instructors also bring flexibility for universities, which is an attractive asset, according to the Council of Ontario Universities.

Some contract instructors do have other part- or full-time jobs, or go to school, according to Robinson's colleagues. Andrew Robinson, though, relies completely on contract work and must stay in Ottawa due to his son's medical treatment.

His case might be the exception instead of the rule, but the issue of wages and job security are still issues that need raising, Andrew Robinson said.


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