Sessionals Have Always Been the Majority at MacEwan

The new CUPE/CCPA report, Contract U: Contract faculty appointments at Canadian universities, states that 67.40% of MacEwan faculty are precarious, i.e. have contract jobs — a figure much higher than those previously quoted by administrators at GMUFA in the past few years. The data for this new figure was obtained by CUPE using a FOIP request, which we share in the attached chart by faculty and role over a decade.

In the CUPE/CCPA report, the researchers used both full and part-time non-tenure track, non-permanent appointments in their definition of “contract faculty.” Both full and part-time sessionals, then, were used in calculating the number of “contract faculty” shown below.

The number of sessional faculty as a proportion of total appointments at MacEwan is very high. They have always been higher than 60%. These proportions put us among the major university users of precarious contract faculty in Canada. While there have been some fluctuations, there has been no significant change in the proportion of sessional faculty over the ten years shown in the chart.

At universities across Canada, the study’s key findings include the following facts:

  • Part-time work accounted for nearly 80% per cent of all faculty contract appointments in 2016-17;
  • Quebec relies on contract faculty appointments far more than any other province, at 61%. Ontario (54%) and B.C. (55%) also have rates of contract appointments above the national average (53.6%);
  • Overall, there are 13 universities in Canada where contract appointments are more than two-thirds of all faculty appointments;
  • In all subject areas besides agriculture and veterinary medicine, contract jobs represent more than one-third of appointments. 

According to report co-author Erika Shaker, “There are a number of excuses offered for the dependence on contract faculty: as a cost-cutting measure, as a response to job and marketplace demand, or as the personal choice of individual professors. However, the data suggests that this reliance has far more to do with institutional choice than anything else.” 

CUPE’s report is very important for many reasons. For one thing, this is the first national study in Canada using actual reported figures forced from universities by FOIP applications. These figures have been very difficult or impossible to get for decades. Even contract negotiating teams have often not been able to get figures for their own universities or have been given figures of dubious reliability. Now, activists and negotiating teams have reliable third-party data to use in campaigns and contract negotiations. (Reliable data is key to negotiating better working conditions!)

Finally, this report makes three clear and concrete recommendations for action:

  1. Statistics Canada, unions, and faculty associations should compel universities to release good, granular data regularly.
  2. Address inadequate public funding.
  3. Governments must provide stronger labour protections.

This is a very important tool that has been unavailable until now, and it usefully complements the CAUT report released a few months ago.