Part-time professors often find themselves working longer hours in hopes of a tenured position down the line.

Illustration: Jess Tsang

It’s a hard grind for part-time profs

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Students are taught by part-timers who have heavy workloads and little job security. Fun editor Keith Capstick digs into the story

More than 50 per cent of Canadian university students are taught by part-timers who don’t know if they’ll be employed again next semester, according to a CBC documentary.

“I think part-time work is a bad thing. I think that universities should make more of an effort [to accommodate non-tenured professors] … because the economic model that they’ve built basically depends on [part-time instructors],” said Ira Basen, the documentary’s creator and a part-time instructor at Ryerson. “That’s basically how the university business model works now.”

In recent years, post-secondary institutions have increasingly relied on hiring part-time instructors looking to earn a tenured position.

On average, Canadian tenured professors make somewhere between $80,000 and $150,000 a year, while non-tenured instructors make closer to $30,000, according to Basen. As well, part time professors tend to spend more hours in the classroom teaching than their tenured peers but have little say in the development of the curriculum, book selection or evaluation methods of the courses that they teach.

Part-time instructors are paid on either a yearly or course-by-course basis and are not guaranteed longterm job security. There’s also pressure on them to do research and publish their work in hopes of applying for a tenured position, but without being paid for their research like tenured professors.

When instructors become tenured they’re moved onto a salary pay scale and don’t have to worry about their contract ending and reapplying for a new position.

“A lot of selection around tenured track position is based on research. Most of it is based around research experience,” said Adam Thorn, an assistant political science professor on a one-year contract.

In addition to research, nontenured professors rely heavily on bolstering their applications with student evaluations that are completed at the end of each course.

Tenured professors’ pay is split between their three major responsibilities: 40 per cent for in-class teaching, 40 per cent for research and 20 per cent for committee work developing the curriculum.

This means that less than half of their pay is for in-class interaction with students.

“A large public institution like Ryerson really emphasizes research,” said Dale Smith, an English professor in his fourth year as a tenured-track Ryerson instructor.

However, tenured professors have different responsibilities than their part-time peers, he added.

“Part-time faculty actually do more teaching than I would do, but I also have more of a commitment to shaping the department,” he said.

In his documentary, Basen emphasized the financial difficulties that some part-time professors experience.

“There’s a huge disparity in the salary of the tenured faculty and the contract faculty and they can’t all be explained by the fact that the tenured serve on committees and they also do research,” said Basen.

President Sheldon Levy said that the tenure-track process is important because it gives the school a chance to see if professors are a good fit at Ryerson before being taken on full time.

“You go through the tenure process to ensure that the faculty members you have for the long term are excellent faculty members,” he said.

Non-tenured professors are still a major part of Ryerson’s faculty despite knowing that they might not have a job after each semester ends. Basen said that this uncertainty is unfair.

“They shouldn’t have to not know every three or four months whether they’re going to be able to put food on the table,” said Basen.

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