The Contract

I spend every summer on pins and needles, waiting for the Faculty of Science to renew my contract. I’ve been on a two-year rolling contract ever since I became a Faculty Lecturer in 2000. Two-year rolling works like this: the contract is for two years (originally from 2000 to 2002), but after the first year, it rolls over for another year (that is, in 2001 it was extended to 2003). This rollover happens in the summer after I submit my Annual Report, which is a summary of everything I’ve done over the past academic year. This report is reviewed by the Chair of the Department, who sends it to the Vice Dean of Science, who decides whether or not to renew my contract.

So typically by the end of the summer, I get a letter from the Faculty of Science, letting me know that, yes, I will actually be teaching this year, and the year after. When the letter comes in, I take my family out for a nice dinner to celebrate. (There is also a clause in the Contract Academic Staff: Teaching (CAS:T) contract that allows the university to terminate my contract with two weeks’ notice. But I try not to think about that.) This year, though, things were different. A lot different.

Starting July 1, 2017, there is no more “Contract Academic Staff: Teaching.” This contract has been replaced by a completely new one; even the name is different: Academic Teaching Staff. (I kinda liked the old name. We referred to ourselves as “CAS:T members,” which made it sound like we were either part of a theatrical troupe or worked for Disney.) Among the many changes in the contract is the creation of a new kind of appointment: Career. There’s no increase in pay or benefits (the ATS contract is not about that), but instead of having a rolling contract that’s extended every year (as in Science) or that is renewed every five years (as in Arts), the contract assumes that you will be rehired the next year.

The Career appointment in the ATS contract meets Objective 2 in UAlberta’s Institutional Strategic Plan For the Public Good (“Stabilize long-term investments in contract academic staff by offering career paths that include the possibility of continuing appointments based on demonstrated excellence in teaching.”). However, although President Turpin has talked about having tenured teaching positions, the Career appointment is not a tenured teaching position--it’s a continuing position.

What’s the difference? Wikipedia says that a tenured appointment is defined as, “an indefinite appointment that can be terminated only for cause or under extraordinary circumstances such as financial exigency or program discontinuation.” It’s a common misconception that tenure means, “a job for life.” You can have tenure and still be fired. Becoming a Professor and achieving tenure means that you have consistently made substantial contributions to teaching, research (or other creative works), and service (the academic term for volunteer work). In my case, my job will continue from year to year--as long as I do a good enough job. That’s a pretty low bar; all through my career I’ve tried to do way more than “a good enough job.”

The second issue is that, although this new appointment category has been created, no Faculty is obligated to actually put anyone in these categories. They could continue to appoint “sessional” teaching staff as Term, which could mean that they are hired in September and let go at the end of April--a reality for many contract academics on campus. So far, it appears that the Faculties of Arts and Science are moving Faculty Lecturers to the Career appointment. Many other ATS members will see no improvement to their working lives, unfortunately.

Although I am happy with this new appointment, UAlberta still has a ways to go to catch up with other institutions in Canada that actually have a tenured teaching track, like UBC and UToronto. I don’t need to have the title “Professor.” I don’t need a yuge increase in salary (I will never be on the “Sunshine List”, but I do okay). It would be nice, though, to have the kind of job stability my tenured colleagues have.

Anyway, upon getting the news from the Vice Dean of Science that I will no longer have to wait for my contract letter to come every summer, I took my family out for a really nice dinner to celebrate. I guess now I won’t have to take them out every year!

(I would like to acknowledge and thank the incredibly persistent and dedicated members of the CAS:T (now ATS) committee that put literally years of effort into this landmark accomplishment. There was talk about renegotiating our contract way back when I was a member of the CAS:T committee--before my youngest daughter was born. That’s a long time ago. Thanks for all your hard work and time!)

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