The Faculty Lecturer

In writing about Fair Employment Week, a student asked a good question: "What exactly are sessionals?" From a student's perspective, I can understand the question--you come to class and trust that the person doing the teaching is qualified. The thing is, there are different kinds of university teachers...

I am a "Faculty Lecturer." This is a particular title that described my position. That means I work for the Faculty of Science, teaching a certain number of courses for them (in the Department of Psychology) to fulfill the terms of my contract. (Er, except when I teach Arts courses.) Speaking of contracts...

Faculty Lecturers (and "sessional" instructors) at the UofA are known as "Contract Academic Staff" (CAS). This term means that we work under a contract that may be renewed every so often, say every 5 years, every year, or even every term (or "session," hence the word "sessional"). It's stressful to work in a job that doesn't have any guaranteed security--if student enrollments drop, fewer instructors will be needed, and CAS will not have their contracts renewed.

So what? In these uncertain economic times, doesn't that apply to anybody--that they could be laid off at any time?

Let me contrast CAS with "Faculty members." These are the people who hold the title "Professor." (One can be an Assistant, Associate, or Full Professor, by the way.) This term denotes academic rank, and may be called a tenured or tenure-track position. Tenure is the academic version of ultimate job security: you've reached the highest rank, the highest levels of pay, and--unless you do something criminal or otherwise horribly bad--you've got a secure job. No one can come along and tell you that because you haven't published enough papers this year, for example, you're fired. Their workload consists of teaching and research. I have great respect for my colleagues; they work hard to get tenure, and even when they achieve it, they continue to work hard.

Sessional teaching jobs were originally intended to be temporary--you would hire, say, a recent Ph.D. graduate who gained valuable teaching experience while filling in for a professor on sabbatical. (A sabbatical is an academic sort of partially paid hiatus from work, when profs write books or do research.) That has changed, partly due to greater student enrollments; there's a need for warm bodies to do all that teaching! As a result, many "sessionals" work on contract for years--even decades. (I've been a contract academic since 1995--that's quite a few sessions ago.)

Tying this back to where I started... Fair Employment Week is an attempt to recognize the positive impact that contract academics have on students, and to toot our own horns a little bit. Sadly, the capital-U University barely acknowledges our contributions officially in public. And, um, I better shut up now. I'd like my contract to be renewed...

Why aren't you studying?


Anonymous said...

Ahh that makes alot of sense!! I def. have some pretty great profs who are "sessionals" and I think its great that the ones who stand out get recognized!

Find It