The Sunday Magazine

Academia's dirty little secret

Canadian universities are being quietly kept afloat by low-paid, contract teachers with no job security or benefits. Ira Basen's documentary is called "Class Struggle."
University of Toronto campus (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

It is a black mark on the ivory tower, a story of insecurity, fear, jealousy, thwarted ambition, poverty and inequality. And it's a reality that university presidents, and many professors, don't like to talk about.

Universities in Canada - which threw open their doors this week to almost a million undergraduates - are propped up by a huge army of part-time teachers, who are highly qualified and poorly paid. They have no job security or pension, and little hope of ever getting a full-time position. They go by many titles: sessional lecturers, contract academic staff, adjunct faculty.

 Today more than half of Canadian undergraduates are taught by these very precarious workers, not by the big-name  - and well-paid - academics that universities like to feature in their recruiting ads. The institutions simply couldn't function without them. Higher education has a new business model. And it affects everyone on campus - the administration, the high-end "professoriate", the lowly sessionals and the students.

Ira Basen's documentary "Class Struggle", was first broadcast on the Sunday Edition last September. Kimberley Ellis Hale is still teaching at Laurier on a contract basis, and has 3 courses lined up for the fall. She's been promised 3 more for the winter but the University won't commit to that yet. Helen Ramirez is also still hanging in as a contract instructor. The collective agreement for sessional faculty at Laurier expires next year and the union plans to fight for more job security.


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