Laurentian University part-time prof frustrated by lack of planning and research time

The reliance of Ontario universities on part-time and sessional professors is negatively affecting the quality of education, according to the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations. The non-profit organization released poll results yesterday suggesting the average Ontarian agrees.

OCUFA says universities depend too much on part-time, sessional instructors

The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations held a press conference Wednesday regarding a recent poll it commissioned about public perceptions on precarious academic work. Pictured, from left to right, are part-time Laurentian University instructor Christopher Duncanson-Hales, Laurentian University Faculty Association president Jim Ketchen, OCUFA president Gyllian Phillips, and Mission Research president Heather Scott-Marshall. (Benjamin Aubé/CBC)

Ontarians want more full-time and fewer sessional professors in their universities, according to a poll commissioned by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) and released at a news conference at Laurentian University.

The non-profit organization that represents 17,000 full-time and contracted staff said the quality of teaching in universities is suffering due to an growing reliance on sessional and part-time professors.

Gyllian Phillips, OCUFA's president, said contracted professors don't have the same resources or time to plan ahead as their full-time colleagues — and that people outside the academic realm are becoming aware of that fact.

"Ontarians clearly feel that universities should be model employers and should ensure that all the faculty teaching at universities receive equal pay, equal benefits and some job security," said Phillips.

Gyllian Phillips is the president of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations. (Benjamin Aubé/CBC)

The poll presented on Wednesday was completed by Mission Research. It surveyed 2,001 people of all ages across the province, including 500 in Northern Ontario.

Its results suggested that 64% of Ontarians want securely employed professors teaching university courses, and that 88% believe universities should convert more contract professors to full-time status before hiring more contract professors.

According to Mission Research president Heather Scott-Marshall, the poll's results were tested to be accurate to within 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Part-time professor speaks out

Among those on hand at the news conference to discuss the poll on Wednesday at Laurentian University was Christopher Duncanson-Hales.

He's been a part-time sessional instructor for the past 10 years at Laurentian, where he teaches critical thinking, philosophy and religious studies.

He talked about the challenges of working as a sessional instructor, including the fact he made around $25,000 last year as a part-time professor with an average course load.

Christopher Duncanson-Hales has been a part-time sessional instructor for the past 10 years at Laurentian University, where he teaches critical thinking, philosophy and religious studies. (Benjamin Aubé/CBC)

"Research and service, which are the other parts of an academic's job, are considered luxuries. It's just focus on the teaching, without recognizing that research and service is what makes teaching possible in the first place," said  Duncanson-Hales.

He added his personal and family lives often take the brunt of the consequences.

"It means not being able to budget for anything because you don't know what your income is going to be at that point," notes Duncanson-Hales.

Laurentian University was expected to respond to the poll results on Thursday.