Laureen Harper, Cats, and Native Women

The other day, the Prime Minister’s wife, Laureen Harper, was at some event in Toronto to raise money for homeless cats. She has been active in the Ottawa Humane Society for years and, apparently, she also makes appearances for other Humane Societies. Due to her participation in these events, she has wrongly and incorrectly been labelled an “animal advocate.” She is no such thing. She likes cats and she likes parties. The event was disrupted by an activist who noted that supporting cats is a good campaign strategy for her husband, but isn’t supporting Native women a better campaign strategy? To her credit, the Prime Minister’s wife didn’t say anything especially stupid in response to the question, but she didn’t address it either. Predictably, online activists took this as yet another sign that Native women are not and will not get the support they need from the government, including an inquiry into the hundreds of missing and murdered Native women in Canada.

The problem with the response on the part of the activists is that they—both strangely and wrongly—believe that social justice activism is a zero-sum game. Either you can support cats or you can support Native women, but you can’t support both. By showing up at one event, but not the other, means that you condemn the latter. Perhaps this is true in the case of the Harpers (specifically) and the Conservatives (generally), but this isn’t a necessary conclusion. (If an activist attends an Idle No More event, but is unable to attend and Occupy Bay Street event, are they, therefore, saying that OBS is an unimportant movement? What if they attend the INM, stop by the OBS, but can’t make it to a pro-choice rally? Are they effectively anti-choice?) It is also odd because the Conservative government, under Harper’s direction, has made northern development a priority. While this development hasn’t, as such, emphasized improving the lives of Native peoples in the north, it has, as a side effect, led to heavy-handed and strange defense of the Native “seal hunt” and, by extension, of the Newfoundland “seal hunt.”

In attacking the Prime Minister’s wife, the “hashtag activists” find themselves in a rather incoherent position. One popular Tweet proposed the “white settler” Great Chain of Being: white men, white women, seals, native men, cats, native women. But, as has already been noted, the federal Conservative government is a staunch supporter of the “seal hunt” for both fur and meat. Perhaps their support is merely pragmatic: it throws a bone to angry Natives and former fisherman, but it doesn’t negate the fact that the Conservative government is fighting seal trade bans in the EU while promising lucrative Chinese markets for seal meat when it could be directing those resources to more important and productive ends, ranging from an inquiry into the hundreds of missing and murdered Native women to properly funding Library and Archives Canada.

No doubt, it is true that the seal hunt is unpopular among urban, white progressives and its unpopularity is global. It is so unpopular that even China, one of the most notorious animal abusing countries in the world, will not take seal meat. This is aside from the fact that literally no one considers seal meat to be edible. That is, beyond those ideologically committed to killing three week old seals, such as unemployed fisherman and “gourmet chefs” looking to cash in on a niche “adventure cuisine” market. None the less, it is true that white, urban progressives are largely opposed to the seal hunt. But it doesn’t follow from this that because one is opposed to seal hunting that one is also opposed to an inquiry into the missing women, proper shelter and clean water in Native communities, or addressing significant overrepresentation of Natives in the “justice” system.

Just because seal hunting is (said to be) a “traditional” Native cultural activity and because one opposes a particular “traditional” cultural activity does not mean that one is opposed to the betterment of the lives of those people who identify with that culture. The reasons for this are plentiful: culture is not monolithic and a single practice is not equivalent to an entire culture (if it is even possible to talk about an entire culture). The problem isn’t culture (although culture is little more than a frayed bandage pull over the gaping wound that is the nihilism the haunts the core of all social relations), but the defense of something like the “seal hunt” on the grounds that it is a traditional cultural activity. The reason for this is obvious: if a “traditional” cultural activity is defended on the basis of tradition alone—as is the case with the “seal hunt”—then all ostensibly “traditional” cultural activities must be defended on that basis because it is being maintained that tradition as such is an inherent good that overrides all other concerns. This leads to the absurd consequence that in slave-holding societies, slave-holding is morally justified because it is traditional; this leads to the absurd consequence that in “settler” societies oppressing Native peoples is justified because Native peoples have been traditionally oppressed. That is, given that historically speaking, the vast majority of cultures have been characterized by racism, sexism, and other odious beliefs that we must defend these for the simple reason that they are traditional. In other words, while culture might be comforting, it is not liberation.

Jean

The question then arises as to why these cultural activities such as “sealing” are so eagerly defended when a “culture” feels itself to be under siege. After all, we are in a new period of Native activism that was largely crushed following the disastrous Kanesatake stand-off and it is little surprise, therefore, that a people seeking to defend their culture would also defend the most odious aspects of that culture. When a culture feels itself to be under siege, it turns to its most stigmatized cultural activities in an effort to revaluate them in a positive light. Thus, “sealing”—and encouraging “settlers” to participate in the rituals of “sealing” by eating the raw still-warm heart of a seal like a pregnant Dothraki khaleesi eating the equally still-warm raw heart of a horse—is defended. We accordingly see the rise in “traditional” garments made of a variety of dead animals. Made, of course, using “traditional” things like factory-spun threads, synthetic materials, sewing machines, razor-sharp scissors, tape measures, and the like. It might feel like liberation to those participating in these activities, but we shouldn’t confuse this feeling with being progressive. It is regressive and nothing more.

daenerys-heart

To get back to my main point, which is twofold. First, animal rights and Native rights are not incompatible with one another. Second, it follows that animal rights activists and Native rights activists should work together (as we should work with other progressive, rights-based movements). How, then, are these two issues connected with one another? In response to the mostly asinine Tweeting on cats vs. Native women, I pointed out that cultures that rape cows (to get milk) also rape women; cultures that easily dispose of vulnerable animals (such as Laureen Harper’s cats) also dispose of vulnerable women; cultures that murder animals also murder women. There is a structural homology between the place of the animal and the place of the Native woman in Canadian society. Both are disposable. Both are worthless. However, morally speaking, neither are disposable and neither are worthless. In an important book, The Sexual Politics of Meat, Carol Adams pointed out this connection: in effect, “meat” is what connects women to animals and men to the domination of both.

When activists juxtapose seals to Native men and cats to Native women they are are giving in to the same logic that juxtaposes white men to Native men and white women to Native women. The domination of chickens, cows, and pigs is no better than the domination of seals. It is only the weak, reactive, and violent who seek to impose themselves on the world through violence. Killing and abusing makes one feel powerful. After all, a life is in your hands. You get to play master; you get to play God.

A Native man slaughtering a seal is no better than a white man slaughtering a Native woman. Both are born out of the same desire to oppress, to humiliate, and to delight in sheer unmediated violence. The answer, then, is that, yes, not only should there be an inquiry into the missing women (and, yes, something needs to be done about the general treatment of Natives in Canada, whether they are the urban poor, the incarcerated, or on reserves), but something also needs to be done about the treatment of animals and the nearly one billion animals slaughtered for food in Canada each year. It isn’t that seals are worth more than Native men nor is it that cats are worth more than Native women; but cats and seals are worth no more and no less than Native men and women—and the same goes for black men, white women, and donkeys. The animal rights activist—of which Laureen Harper is no such thing—does not value the life of a seal more than the life of a Native man nor do they value the life of a cat more than the life of a Native woman. The animal rights activist sees all lives as equally valuable or, at least, equally possessing the right to persist in existence and not to suffer capricious abuse and violence at the hands of an oppressor.

Comments on CUPE 4600 Tentative Agreement

I attended the presentation of the tentative agreement last night and participated in the ratification vote. At no point were we instructed not to talk about the details of the agreement in public, but, at the same time, the union has not yet sent out copies of the presentation documents to all the members by e-mail. As a result, I will keep my comments general and vague.

First, regardless of how the ratification process turns out, I would like to thank not only the bargaining team—whose position is not the least bit enviable having to deal with, among other things, petty “human resources” representatives (whatever those are)—but also the staff in the office, and the volunteers on the mobilization team. That an agreement was reached without a strike owes much to them.

Nonetheless, while the agreement is likely the best “in the sector” during the round of negotiations, it is not the least bit satisfactory. The blame for this lies entirely with Carleton University who will, no doubt, trumpet an absolutely unfair and unreasonable agreement as a great achievement. Perhaps, insofar as it is an achievement, it will even rival a couple dozen students from Sprott participating in some charity event which, for some reason, demanded yet another spam-level email from the President the day after the agreement was reached.

Most people focus on salary issues. Going into negotiations, contract instructors at Carleton University (in a major city with a high cost of living at a university that wants to improve its academic profile) were being paid roughly 8% less than the provincial average and, more to the point, we were being paid $1000 less (roughly 14%) than our colleagues at the University of Ottawa are being paid. Keep in mind that this means you can offer the same course at Carleton as at Ottawa (e.g., Introduction to Political Science) and be paid significantly more at one than the other. Given that many people do, in fact, teach more or less identical courses at Ottawa as at Carleton, it cannot be maintained that the mere fact of being on one campus rather than another makes one a better or worse teacher. But, note, I would also maintain that our colleagues at the University of Ottawa, while their compensation is better, are still treated unfairly and are exploited—the difference in treatment is one of minor degree and not in kind.

The short of it is that the tentative agreement changes pay as follows: 0%/2%/2% during the life of the agreement. To make up for the lack of an increase in the first year, there is a $200 lump sum payment for “compliance training” (all of the more or less silly online modules relating to workplace harassment and the Ontarians With Disabilities Act) that was imposed upon us without warning. In other words, pay for a full course (i.e., weighed at 1.0) will increase from $12,966 to $13,225 effective September 2014 ($259) and from $13,225 to $13,490 effective September 2015 ($265).

In any given semester, there are roughly 250 individual contract instructors. If each contract instructor were to teach a full load (1.0 credits per semester)—which many don’t—we can roughly calculate how much this “raise” will cost the university: in Fall and Winter 2014 it will cost the university $129,500 and in Fall/Winter 2015 it will cost the university $132,500 more than what we are being paid in 2013. This cost is completely and absolutely negligible to the university. For them to claim that there is no money is completely and absolutely false. Had the university agreed to our opening salary demand, we will still be talking less than $1 million per year in increased costs.

To put this in perspective, the “garage mahal” is now costing $34 million and it will hold about 650 cars. In other words, each parking space will cost roughly $55,284 to build. To put this in comparison, the entire body of contract instructors at Carleton are worth slightly more than two parking spaces. Similarly, the costs of “bringing football back” far exceed the net total of the pay increase to contract instructors: the university was easily able to find money to renovate (again!) athletics, recruit undergraduates to play sports, and engage in extensive marketing, but they can’t find a couple hundred thousand for contract instructors? Unlike the football team, who only delivered losses, contract instructors actually deliver results. After all, roughly 50% of the undergraduate population at any given time is taught by contract instructors. This is respect?

The bottom line is that the “pay increase” is an insult when put into the perspective of campus priorities and, worse, the “pay increase” is a net pay cut relative to inflation. I am still making less now (and at the end of the new agreement) than I was when I started in 2007.

The next part of the agreement that will draw attention are the medical benefits. Personally, I do not think that this constitutes “new money” because the benefits were to be implemented prior to the expiration of the current agreement. Needless to say, benefits were not implemented and the university tried to pull back on this commitment. Given the university’s refusal to meet its requirements under the previous agreement, it is impressive that the bargaining team was able to get a solid commitment from the university: an annual lump sum payment of $200,000 to cover insurance premiums for CUPE 4600 members. I understand that the union is talking to a broker and they are confident they can reach an agreement that will provide comprehensive health insurance at an affordable rate. But, again, given the numbers we are talking about, the university could easily have swallowed the entire cost of premiums (what? another $50,000? please). Sadly, insurance coverage is not retroactive to September 2013, but won’t begin until September 2014. I hope my cavities haven’t progressed to root canals by then.

The other major issues in the agreement are somewhat softer. The bargaining team believes that they are a good first step towards greater respect on campus. Personally, having been around since 2007 as a contract instructor and having been a student between 1998 and 2004, I am not so confident. If there is one thing administration (regardless of who Duncan Watt reports to) does consistently it is the wrong thing.

The major movement was around (1) teaching evaluations, (2) job security, and (3) governance.

The teaching evaluations issue is important. As everyone surely knows (even the hapless Bruce Winer in OIRP, at least I hope he knows—but then, I’m not sure he’s even familiar with t-tests despite being in charge of institutional statistics), teaching evaluations as such are crude and the form of teaching evaluations used by Carleton are a waste of time, paper, electricity, ink, hard drives, and resources. The win here is that CUPE 4600 has been granted the authority to form a committee to develop a new teaching evaluation “instrument.” From what I can tell, the committee has been given absolutely free reign to do this. This is a real opportunity to improve both working and learning conditions on campus. (Recall: under the current regime, contract instructors are required to get 4/5 on their teaching evaluations or they suffer sanctions, including the possibility of dismissal.)

There are a couple of aspects to the job security issues. Some of it is rather arcane and relates to hiring procedures. I’m told that certain units on campus (e.g., Gender and Women’s Studies) makes strange demands on applicants and this problem has been resolved. I also understand that certain units on campus (e.g., Economics) abuses the “visiting scholar” designation to “bump” contract instructors who have fallen into the disfavour of the Chair from their courses. This problem has also been resolved. Sadly, the university refused to even consider reminding Chairs that contract instructors can be appointed as Adjunct Research Professors (which means, among other things, that we could apply for SSHRC/NSERC/CIHR funding as principal investigators or serve on graduate supervisory committees).

There was also some minor progress made in the area of conversion. Previously, the threshold for conversion (i.e., from a “temporary” and “part-time” CUPE 4600 position to a permeant and full-time CUASA position) was teaching 3.0 credits (the maximum possible load which is easy for departments to prevent from occurring) to 2.0 credits a year over three years. Needless to say, I’ve qualified for this designation since Fall 2007. The problem, however, is with the wording: the contract instructor in question can request their Dean to “review” and “consider” creating an Instructor (and only an instructor position?) if a contract instructor meets these requirements. “Review” and “consider,” interpreted loosely, could merely mean “read an email and reply with no.” But, assuming the Dean agrees that a CUASA position should be created, there is no guarantee that the contract instructor will be appointed. In other words, it is conceivable that someone in my position could apply for conversion, the Dean agree to create a CUASA position, and then hire someone else—that is, through my exploitation over a long period of time I could create the conditions under which I am fired and replaced by someone else. I hope if the agreement is ratified that CUASA works closely with CUPE 4600 and agrees that in such cases the contract instructor should have the right of first refusal prior to advertising the position publicly.

A final improvement under the agreement is a Memorandum of Agreement to establish a committee to investigate the adoption of multi-year contracts for contract instructors. Given that most of us teach the same course for multiple years, this is a good idea as it will guarantee job security and prevent us from being capriciously and maliciously “bumped” by spiteful Chairs. Nonetheless, whatever the committee concludes, there is no requirement on the part of the university to adopt any of the recommendations.

There was also some movement around governance. Strangely, the university has held the view that contract instructors are only teachers and, therefore, do not merit inclusion in the government of the university. This is odd because administrative support staff are included in the government of the university. Professors are included in the government of the university. That one is hired to answer phones or conduct research doesn’t preclude one from having an interest in the governance of the institution. (The real reason, of course, is that if contract instructors do more than teach—which we already do anyway—then the gap between contract faculty and permanent faculty narrows.) There has been some movement to look into contract instructor representation at the departmental and faculty levels. Likewise, John Osborn has made a personal commitment to advocate for the inclusion of contract instructors in Senate. What this advocacy entails has not been clarified. I hope someone takes the Dean’s lead and advocates for contract instructors at the Board of Governors—perhaps Root Gorelick? Finally, the university has agreed to extend 0.5 seniority points to any contract instructor who has been elected to a university committee, board, etc. This is important because, first, it is the closest thing we have to official acknowledgement that we are not merely teachers and, second, these seniority points contribute to the case for conversion (in effect, teaching two full courses and serving on one committee results in a 2.5 full credit equivalent, which puts the contract instructor well above the threshold for conversion).

Finally, there was a “major” improvement in working conditions: departments are now required to provide access to a printer. Sadly, I still do not have an office, I do not have a phone, I do not have a computer, and I do not have a printer. Sorry students: we’ll still have to meet in public.

In conclusion: there were minor, but important developments in the “soft” areas of the contract—professional development, teaching evaluations, and governance—but there was no improvement in the “hard” areas of compensation. Given how little this money means to the university and how much it means to contract instructors, this is absolutely insulting, repulsive, reprehensible, and disgusting. While I am grateful to the bargaining team for the efforts and I certainly do not wish to put myself in their position and while I agree with the bargaining team no better deal was possible, I nonetheless voted against ratification. This agreement is not fair, it is not reasonable, and makes virtually no progress in improving my working conditions. It is an insult to me and it is an insult to my students.

Although I voted against ratification, I hope the agreement is ratified. It’d be nice if it were ratified at just 51%. It is important that contract instructors speak up and say how unsatisfied we are not only with this agreement, but also with our treatment on campus. It is important that we don’t let administration forget how exploited we are. We need to be better at communicating this to prospective students (and their parents) and our current students.

Sadly, we have squandered our opportunity to strike. We have lost momentum and, if we return to the table, students will turn against us. Most of the good parts of the agreement, I am told, came at the last minute—literally just before it was announced that a tentative agreement was reached. The university was already caving and panicking—after all, they already announced we were on strike on their website! We could have gotten more and we should have gotten more.

Animal Law Panel

Yesterday I participated in a panel on animal law in Ontario hosted by the Student Animal Legal Defence Fund at the University of Ottawa. In addition to me, Joan Reddy, an activist, and Kurtis Andrews, an attorney, participated. The organizers sent us set questions, my answers to which I’ve posted below.

I’ve never spoken at a law school, so I wasn’t too sure what to expect. I worried, as many speakers do, that no one would show. Ultimately, there were about a dozen people in the audience—all female. (The panel, by comparison, was two men and a woman.) Most of the audience was in law school, but there were also a couple of other interested students, including one who doesn’t even attend the University of Ottawa, but heard about the event and wanted to check it out. Turns out that this student was in a  high school enrichment course I taught a few years ago on animal ethics. She’s been a vegan since taking the course. It turns out that good, interesting teaching really can change the lives of our students.

In terms of the discussion, we had one academic (me), one attorney (Kurtis), and one activist (Joan). We weren’t always talking on the same level and we didn’t use the same vocabulary. I don’t know if this was confusing for the audience or not. Sadly, Kurtis seemed to attempt to “hog” the conversation. His answers went on at length and he attempted to co-opt what others said as his own. He repeatedly referred to me as “my friend.” We aren’t friends.

I don’t know if the organizers knew this at the time, but Kurtis Andrews, while practicing animal law, does not practice animal law on behalf of animals. His practice largely consists of defending animal abusers, mostly hoarders and other people who find themselves in circumstances where they cannot properly care for their animals. Properly in this context referring to the absolutely minimal standards of care that are required of animal owners in Ontario. He tried to present this as work on behalf of the animals, but it isn’t.

One question asked about the recent changes under the regulations of the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act that would, among other things, introduce standards of care for marine animals (i.e., Marineland), some small money for the OSPCA, and facilitate shutting down puppy mills. I answered that this amounted to nothing and showed no real concern for animals at all. I then discussed the livestock exemption under the OSPCA Act in conjunction with the new standards of care for “pork” recently released. These new standards of care do not and will not improve the lives of pigs, especially sows. I said that if the Minister was truly concerned with animals and wanted to strengthen protections for animals within an animal welfare ideology, she would ban gestation crates, battery cages, and so on.

Kurtis replied to this that I was misinformed on “conventional farming.” And then went on to say that farmers using “conventional methods” are only trying to feed the poor. You see, people need protein and the only place to get protein is from animal carcasses, so, when you think about it, farmers using gestation stalls (which don’t exist) are actually doing God’s work. A member of the audience—a female—called Kurtis on this. She pointed out that economies of scale only reduce costs to an extent; further cost reductions are introduced through externalities—for instance, the health care costs associated with a diet heavy in the consumption of animal protein, the release of methane gases through manure, poising rivers and aquifers, and billions of dollars in government subsidies. Another audience member—another female—tried to speak in support of this. Kurtis immediately interrupted her and would not let her speak. Even when I tried to intervene, begging him to let the audience speak because this event is for them and that he had ample opportunities to express his views, he still insisted on speaking over the women in the audience. I guess Kurtis Andrews thinks that women in his audience should be treated like the animals on his plate. I think there is a term for that: the sexual politics of meat.

It was a sad end to what was otherwise a good event.

***

The organizer’s questions are in bold; my answers are not.

What has made you dedicate a significant portion of your career to working in the animal welfare and animal law realm?

Strictly speaking, I do not work in animal welfare. I think animal welfare is a bad idea because it functions to legitimate the horrible exploitation of animals. Animal welfare is bad for animals, has always been bad for animals, and will always be bad for animals.

Having said that, I didn’t have any particular interest in animals and law until a seven years ago when we took our dog for a surgery to be performed by, what we were repeatedly told, was one of the best soft-tissue animal surgeons in the world. Needless to say, this world renowned expert bungled the surgery, which resulted in our dog dying in much pain and suffering. Upon looking into the issue, we discovered that the surgeon was not professionally liable for any errors he made and that, at best, we could sue in small claims for the replacement value of our dog.

I then became curious to know why this was the case. It was an issue I had never thought about. Ultimately, I ended up reading widely in animal ethics, cognitive ethology, and animal law. Now I do research in the area and I also, occasionally, teach a course on animal law and animal ethics.

In the event there was a commission undertaking the mass revision of law treating animals (OSPCA, Criminal code etc.) what would, in your opinion be the most important area of reform?

So long as animals are legally treated as property, there will be no significant improvement for animals in Ontario, Canada, or the world. Animals—and by this I mean fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals—ought to be recategorized as persons and have rights appropriate to such a status. There can be no improvement for animals insofar as animal welfare remains the dominant ideology.

Along the same vein of thought, what do you view as the main obstacles in the way of making the alterations just mentioned?

The primary obstacles are twofold. First, despite their pretentions of being “animal lovers,” the overwhelmingly vast majority of people are in actual fact “animal haters.” Loving animals or, more modestly, liking animals, is not compatible with consuming their corpses and bodily excretions. It is not compatible with subjecting them to torture in the name of so-called scientific and medical progress. It is not compatible with bringing them into existence in order to be sold. It is not compatible with putting them in cages and charging an admission fee. Second, there is a lot of money in animal exploitation. And, for better or for worse, our legal and political systems are rigged in the favour of those who have money. Animals have no money and, if they did, they couldn’t even legally have their interests represented in court or in politics.

Last October, MPP Madeleine Meilleur announced that the Ontario government was drafting significant changes to existing animal laws in Ontario, including increased funding for the OSPCA for more investigative powers, mandatory inspections for zoos and aquarium, as well as statutorily enforced standards of care for aquarium-held mammals. Are these revisions a step in the right direction? How do these changes reflect the relationship of Ontario citizens to animals, please comment.

No. These changes are window decorations at best. The popularity of places like Marineland have been declining for some time and people tend to like the idea of whales and dolphins. They don’t like the idea of whales and dolphins being held in small swimming pools. People also like the idea of puppies, which is why the changes speak directly to puppy mills. If serious changes were being proposed, the Minister would be banning veal crates, gestation crates, and battery cages among countless other horrors. However, this will not happen and the OSPCA is fully on-board with these changes having largely given up its authority over animal agriculture through signing inspection agreements with animal exploiting industries to allow “producers” such as Ontario Pork to provide “technical advice and expertise” to OSPCA investigators. This only underwrites the general exclusion of animal agriculture from the OSPCA Act in, for instance, section 11.1(2)(a). The OSPCA remains today what its parent organizations were in the 1890s: a Victorian society of the well-to-do policing dogs and cats.

Given the discussion here today, what would your advice be to students who wish to pursue a careers, or continue working in areas of animal welfare, law and the public interest?

I’d advise any student who takes the interests of animals seriously to completely and absolutely abandon the idea of animal welfare. Animal welfare has not improved the life of a single animal. In fact, animal welfare has allowed more animals to be harmed in worse ways than ever before. The most practical thing anyone can do who wants to help animals—and this applies whether they want to be lawyers, politicians, academics, or stock shelves at Wal-Mart overnight—is to stop consuming animals entirely: adopt a vegan lifestyle and divorce yourself from animal exploitation.

For those looking to pursue legal and political careers, the only hope for animals is to reclassify animals as persons. This will be hard work and it will involve political activism, writing in public forums such as op-ed pages, pushing for political parties to adopt pro-animal policies, carefully selecting cases to set up a body of precedent, refusing to accept clients who have financial interests in exploiting animals, and so on. More locally, groups like the SALDF can hold more events like this, they can press their law schools to hire faculty with expertise in animal law, and demand that regular courses be offered on animal law.

CUPE

Both CUPE units, representing contract instructors and teaching assistants, have reached tentative agreements. Both agreements still need to be ratified.

The CI agreement better address salary, benefit, and working condition concerns. I’ll post my comments once I’ve seen the agreement and if we are allowed to publicly discuss it.

Representation

I have noticed that a number of undergraduate students at Carleton have complained on Twitter that they are an unrepresented group and that their interests are being ignored. This may be true as a matter of course. However, undergraduate students, unlike contract instructors, have ample formal representation at Carleton.

There are a number of representative bodies at Carleton University and contract instructors are not allowed to serve in any of these bodies. Undergraduate students, however, are allowed to serve in these bodies. Most notably, of course, is that undergraduate students have the Carleton Undergraduate Student Association (CUSA), which serves to aggregate the interests of undergraduate students and collectively represent those interests to various administrative and governing bodies on campus.

In addition to this, undergraduate students can elect representatives to the Board of Governors, which handles financial planning and long-term direction of the university, and the Senate, which handles academic matters. In effect, the university’s bargaining team reports to the Vice-President (Finance) who, in turn, reports to the Board of Directors. Undergraduate students therefore have direct oversight of negotiations between not only CUPE 4600, but all other unions on campus, including CUASA. Likewise, students are represented in Senate and thereby have influence in course offerings, curriculum, program development, academic standards, and other important matters. Again, contract instructors do not have representation in Senate.

Finally, while some individual Departments allow for some contract instructors to participate on the Faculty Board, most Departments allow representation of not only graduate students, but also undergraduate students. Thus, once again, undergraduate students have the opportunity to influence hiring decisions—for instance, whether to only offer courses taught by regular faculty or to convert contract instructors to regular faculty—while contract instructors have no such involvement.

Additionally, departmental, faculty, and university level committees routinely involve undergraduate and graduate student members. I am not aware of a single faculty or university level committee that has contract instructors (qua contract instructors) as members.

On top of all this formal representation, undergraduate students also have a champion in the form of the Office of the Ombudsperson who serves as a liaison between students who feel they are being mistreated by the formal administrative and governance institutions on campus and the university’s administrators. Contract instructors, however, have no such ombudsperson to assist us with our complaints.

The reality is that two groups on campus have absolutely no representation on campus: contract instructors and contract cleaners. The only representation that contract instructors have on campus is through CUPE 4600. Perhaps if Carleton University included contract instructors in its governance, relations between contract instructors and the administration would not be so acrimonious.

If undergraduate students feel that their interests are not being adequately represented, I encourage them to contact the literally dozens of elected representatives they have on campus.

Back Up!

This sent went down some time Saturday night around 11:40PM. I have reason to believe that it was a misguided student and I have reason to believe that I know their identity. They aren’t as stealthy as they believe. In short, they were trying to overwhelm the MySQL database that WordPress depends upon to deliver content. The result is that the server was unable to process legitimate requests. I hope that the student in question believes that they have “made their point” or have learnt their lesson.

In the event that this is just a lapse in the attack (e.g., their ISP shut down their connection due to the odd traffic patterns his IP was sending out), I will continue to cross-post to contract-instructor.tumblr.com.

As I understand it, negotiations went late last night and are ongoing today. Both sides have agreed to a media blackout and will not make an announcement until either a deal is reached or a strike (or lockout) is initiated. I hope that Carleton is committed to reaching a fair settlement because I want to teach tomorrow. However, I am also prepared to strike tomorrow because more is at stake than just my oral health and my near poverty wages. Universities would like to increasingly use adjunct instructors because we are cheap, we are disposable, and we are competent. Such policies do not help students. Such policies do not contribute to education. Such polices are, in short, evil.

Some Myths

It is routinely maintained by administration that contract instructors at Carleton University are fairly compensated, temporary, part-time employees. All three of these claims are absolutely and completely false.

Compensation: the now expired contract stipulates that the compensation for each half course is $6,483. This, however, is 8% less than the provincial average and a full $1,000 less than what we can be paid to teach an identical course at the University of Ottawa, just ten minutes down the road from us. Some enterprising students have calculated, on the basis of the Memorandum of Understanding concerning employment insurance benefits, that we are paid $28.81/hour for our work, which, in their mind, is a lot of money. Perhaps it is a lot of money to a teenager who has only worked minimum wage and whose responsibilities in the world are yet to come, but when you are trying to pay for a car, a mortgage, student loans, utilities, food, medicine, children, and, once in a rare while, a small piece of entertainment, this is not very much money. Furthermore, given that all contract instructors either have (1) graduate degrees, (2) professional degrees, and/or (3) professional experience, we are significantly underpaid relative to our skill, expertise, and knowledge. Nonetheless, this figure of $28.81 is significantly misleading because it assumes that a single half course is merely 225 hours of work.

Having been a contract instructor for seven years, I have become good at developing and preparing courses. Going into a course, I always have a rough idea of how much work it will take at a minimum to offer the course competently. Here are my calculations:

workIt should be obvious that designing, preparing, and delivering courses depends upon the course being designed, prepared, and delivered. A course you have taught a number of times is easier to deliver than a brand new course; a seminar course is easier to deliver than a lecture course. For purposes of illustration, I have distinguished between a small course I have taught a number of times and a new course or large course being taught for the first time. Even when we look at a small course (which, I would mention in passing, has greater pedagogical benefit for the student than a larger course), I am working 268 hours at a minimum. This is 43 hours more than stipulated in the EI MOU. Or, in the terms of the enterprising student, $24.19/hour and roughly 20.6 hours of work per week. In the case of a large course (roughly 60 students; just under the threshold that allows you to have a marking assistant) or a course being offered for the first time, we are talking about a commitment of roughly 410 hours—nearly twice the amount stipulated in the EI MOU—and, in the terms of the enterprising student, a whopping rate of pay of $15.91/hour. Regardless of how you look at it, we are not adequately compensated in terms of either our expertise or in terms of how much work we actually do.

Part-time: the university routinely refers to us as part-time employees. In the case of the contract instructor who teaches a single course each semester and who teaches the same course every year, we might legitimately be speaking of a part-time employee who is doing about 20.1 hours of work per week. However, many contract instructors, myself included, teach two courses each semester. This means that my “part-time” job is actually a commitment of roughly 40.2 hours per week. That is, my part-time job has me working more per week than a full-time employee who, in most workplaces, only works a mere 37.5 hours per week.

Temporary: I have been teaching as a contract instructor at Carleton University since 2007 and I have been teaching on a full-time basis. This is not “temporary.” This is a permanent situation. While, technically, I am precariously employed—my courses can be taken over by regular faculty at any moment and my courses can be cancelled without a reason at any moment—it is clear that because this has not happened (although, to be honest, I do fear reprisals for my blogging this week) the university is more than satisfied with my job performance and, thus, is more than happy to keep me on as an instructor. This is my career.

When students, parents, media, and citizens read in the newspapers that Carleton University is negotiating with its part-time instructors or that part-time instructors at Carleton University are on strike, please keep the above in mind. We are not part-time employees. We are not temporary employees. We are not adequately compensated.

I have been a full-time, qualified, professional, post-secondary instructor for seven years. I am presently being paid $32,415 before taxes to teach two first year seminars during the fall/winter semesters and one second year lecture course during the summer. This is not adequate compensation. This is not fair. This is not reasonable. I chose to teach university students because I believe in the importance of post-secondary education. I am a good instructor. I deserve better than this and my students deserve better than this.

 

A Fair Contract

Although Carleton University maintains in its official news releases, updates, and FAQs that it is committed to a negotiated settlement with my union, CUPE 4600, and wants to avoid a strike, the facts are somewhat different than this. Yesterday was supposed to be the first day in a weekend long session of bargaining. Sadly, the university’s negotiating team arrived at the bargaining table with no proposals and then abruptly left. I understand that they intend to have proposals for today’s meeting, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t.

Perhaps the university bargaining team had no new proposals because it realized that its position was morally bankrupt and that any negotiated outcome would, at best, be an extremely minor improvement on a labour situation that is characterized by extreme exploitation and profound disrespect. Perhaps they realized that reneging on the health coverage that was negotiated in the previous contract and demanding that we take yet another pay cut relative to cost of living was egregiously insulting. Perhaps they merely need some suggestions on how to get out of this unjust impasse.

Fortunately, having been a contract instructor at Carleton since 2007, I have had ample time to observe the various ways in which we are actively discriminated against and, without exaggeration, treated like shit. Here are some proposals the university’s bargaining team may want to bring to the table today or tomorrow—that is, if they are committed to a negotiated settlement and a fair contract.

  1. Salary compensation at parity with assistant professors or instructors. If our teaching substantially does the work that these employees do, then it is outright discrimination to pay one group less than another for identical work. I will happily compare the quality of my work as an post-secondary educator to that of any instructor or assistant professor on campus.
  2. Benefits at parity with CUASA’s benefit package. Again, any difference in compensation is tantamount to discrimination. Why does an assistant professor deserve to see a psychologist, but not a contract instructor? Why does an instructor deserve antibiotics, but not a contract instructor?
  3. Conversion of long-standing contract instructors to either Instructor II or tenure-track Assistant Professor positions depending upon the preference of the contract instructor and their ability. I would suggest that substantially performing the duties of these positions for a period of three years merits conversion from a precariously employed “temporary” and “part-time” employee to what they actually are: a permanent employee of the university working as an academic. Contract instructors who teach 2.0 or greater credits for three years would qualify. If conversion is “too radical,” then contract instructors should be eligible for paid sabbatical (we get burnt out just like other faculty members).
  4. Professional respect and acknowledgement of the work that contract instructors do, including the fact that we have a stake in the future of Carleton University. This means that contract instructors should have representation on the Board of Governors and Senate proportional to their numbers on campus. The Carleton website says there are 2000 professors at Carleton; this does not include the 700 contract instructors. Fair representation on Senate and the Board of Governors would be one third of the representation granted to CUASA members. Likewise, contract instructors should be made members of the Departments in which they teach and have a stake in the governance of the Departments in which they teach; that is, they should be entitled to attend and vote at Board meetings and participate on Departmental committees. Similarly, contract instructors should be included as a matter of course on all Faculty and University level committees. All university, faculty and departmental communications sent to regular staff and faculty should also be sent to contract instructors.
  5. The basic decency of having somewhere to do our work on campus. This would mean that every contract instructor would be assigned a private or semi-private office. Too many of us either do not have an office (me) or have to make use of a decrepit office shared by all contract instructors in the department (such as with Law & Legal Studies where dozens of CIs share a single office the size of my living room). Each office would be equipped in a manner comparable to faculty offices: that is, with a functional computer (not a leftover from 1998), with the standard software image, and access to either a printer in that office or the departmental printer (whichever standard prevails in the department in question). Additionally, contract instructors should have keyed access to other shared departmental resources, such as scanners and photocopiers. Finally, contract instructors should not have their mail ghettoized: they should share the same mail room with regular staff and faculty.
  6. Transparent disclosure on university, faculty, and departmental websites on the number of individual contract instructors, the number of courses they teach, the ratio of courses taught by contract instructors to regular faculty, and a justification of why these contract instructors are being used. Current and future students deserve to know if they are being taught by pariahs or if they are being taught by people deemed by administration to qualify as something more than “less well-paid individuals.”

Of course, I am speaking from the position of someone who teaches social sciences. I have no doubt that my colleagues in Science, Engineering, and Sprott have other concerns and these concerns should be aired. I fully encourage those colleagues, should they read this, to contribute their own suggestions.

This is what the union and the university should be discussing. That is, if the university is actually committed to a fair contract and to its educational mission. I know, I am assuming a lot: I don’t actually believe that Carleton is committed to a fair contract nor am I convinced that Carleton is committed to its educational mission. But, you never know.

Contract Instructor

Most students, their parents, and the media do not understand academic labour issues very well. This is largely because there is a perception that university professors are professionals who are paid a salary commensurate with their experience, education, and skills. In provinces like Ontario, which publish an annual list of all public employees making over $100,000, the media likes to report on how many professors at each university made the list. This, in turn, reinforces the view that professors, as a whole, are well-paid professionals. This, however, is not the case.

These discussions leave out a significant percentage of university faculty, variously called contract instructors, sessionals, or adjuncts. The original purpose of contract instructors was to replace regular faculty who were on leave or sabbatical, to address unexpected enrolment blips, or short-term gaps in expertise. Thus, traditionally, regular faculty who held permanent full-time positions would teach the vast majority of courses and, occasionally, someone would be hired to teach the odd course. This has changed rapidly during the present generation. It is estimated now that in North America the majority of undergraduate courses are taught by contract instructors. The situation is not as dire in Canada (yet), but we are slowly creeping up towards the standard being set in the United States.

At Carleton University, where I have taught since 2007, it is estimated that at least 25% of courses taught at Carleton are taught by contract instructors. When I looked at course offerings and teaching assignments in one department at Carleton last summer, I discovered that it routinely had over 60% of its courses taught by contract instructors. My point here is that what was originally conceived as a temporary, short-term solution to a temporary, short-term problem has become the norm.

The reason why administrators love using contract instructors is that we are cheap. In 2012-2013, contract instructors at Carleton were paid $6,483 per semester long course. This rate is 8% below the provincial average and $1,000 less than what is paid just down the road at the University of Ottawa. No wonder administrators love to use us and no wonder our President referred to us as “less well-paid individuals” in an editorial in the Globe & Mail. The collective agreement also stipulates that we cannot teach more than 2.0 credits (i.e., four semester long courses) during the fall/winter session and no more than 1.0 credits (i.e., two semester long courses) during the summer session. This means that the maximum salary of a contract instructor at Carleton—assuming they are lucky enough to get that many courses assigned to them—is a whopping $38,898. To put this in perspective, it would take nearly eleven years for the highest paid contract instructor to make what the highest paid administrator makes in a single year.

But, note, contract instructors are deemed to be temporary, part-time employees by the university. This, however, is not the case. I have been teaching at Carleton since 2007. I have taught in the Department of Law & Legal Studies and I have taught in the Department of Sociology & Anthropology. I have taught at all levels of undergraduate instruction, ranging from first year seminars to fourth year honours papers (the supervision of which, by the way, is uncompensated). My regular teaching load is 2/2/1. That is, I teach two courses in the fall, two courses in the winter, and one course in the summer. (Alas, for the second half of the summer, where I never get a course, I have to apply for EI until my next contract starts in September—assuming, of course, that I have a contract.) The standard teaching load for regular faculty (that is, permanent, full-time professors with the title of assistant professor, associate professor, or full professor) is 2/3 or 2/2, depending upon the faculty they teach in. (However, regular faculty can receive teaching load reductions due to graduate supervision, research, and service commitments.) In other words, as a temporary, part-time employee I teach somewhere between the same and more than permanent, full-time employees—who are paid somewhere between two and a half and three times as much as I am.

It is true: professors have additional responsibilities. For instance, they are required to conduct research and they are required to participate in service. While I do not have any institutional support for doing research, I nonetheless do, in fact, do research as best I can. One paper was published this past December and I have another due to an editor at the end of April. I plan on doing more writing in the summer. The difference between me and a regular professor in this regard is that a regular professor has institutional support (an office, a computer, a research budget, a stable income) while I do not.

The other part of a permanent, full-time professor’s responsibilities is service. This is where I cannot participate, but I would like to participate. Contract instructors are not allowed to sit as contract instructors in Senate nor are they allowed to sit on the Board of Governors, the two highest governing bodies on campus. We are not considered to be members of the departments we teach in nor are we considered to be members of the faculties we teach in, thus we cannot sit on departmental or faculty “boards” (which oversee the administration of faculties and departments). Similarly, we are not allowed to sit on any committee as contract instructors at the departmental, faculty, or university level. In other words, although the university could not run without us, we are not allowed to take part in running the university. I’d do service work if I could, but I’m not allowed to.

The short of it is that contract instructors are a lot like regular faculty in the roles we perform, but our treatment by administration is significantly different. Most of the ways in which our treatment is different is invisible to students and, indeed, most students don’t know if their instructors are on contract or permanent employees (which is revealing in itself). I won’t speak to the experiences of the “average” contract instructor, but I can speak to my own experiences:

  • I do not have an office on campus. This means that I cannot meet in a private location with students. If students want to meet with me, we have to do it either immediately before or immediately after class while another class is pushing its way into the room. Alternatively, we can try to fight for a rare seat at one of the coffee spots on campus. In either case, this is not the best place for students—who are often nervous talking to their instructors—to discuss potentially personal issues that might be affecting their work.
  • I do not have a phone, computer, printer, or photocopier. This would follow from not having an office: if you don’t have an office, then, obviously, you don’t have anywhere to put a computer, printer and phone. This means that I have to either pay to use the printers on campus or I have to do all of my teaching preparation at home. Either way, these costs come out of my pocket.
  • I have to carry everything I bring to campus with me everywhere I go. This might seem like a strange complaint, but, because I don’t have an office, I don’t have anywhere to put winter boots, a winter jacket, to leave my bag, to put student assignments, and so on. In the winter I have to decide between wearing appropriate outdoor footwear and indoor footwear. Either I wear boots and don’t break my neck outside, but thud around the classroom or I wear shoes and risk breaking my neck, but comfortable in the classroom.
  • I have to apply to keep my job every semester. In order to facilitate the myth that I am a temporary, part-time employee, I am required to constantly re-apply to teach the courses I have been teaching for years. This is a pain in the ass because the forms are constantly changing and the rules are constantly changing. It is also insulting. I’ve been doing the same job for seven years now. Yet, I am constantly reminded that I do not count, that I am not a real employee because I have to, essentially, beg to keep the job I have.
  • I earn less now than I did when I started. According to the Minister of Finance, the average Canadian family has seen a 20% annual increase in salary over the past few years. I’m clearly not average because relative to increases in the cost of living, my take-home pay has steadily decreased. In effect, the university asks me to take an annual pay-cut so as to facilitate the construction of unneeded buildings on campus, such as the monstrous “garage mahal.”
  • I am invisible. I have not spoken face-to-face to a chair of either of the departments I teach in for at least four years. They do not make contract instructors feel welcome—because we aren’t. At best we are an uncomfortable reminder that despite their Marxist pretensions, they are as petty as the petty bourgeoisie they decry and as neo-liberal as the neo-liberals they critique in their radical journals.
  • I receive no benefits. Although the last round of negotiations agreed to implement extended health benefits for contract instructors (this was a major win for us), the university has pulled back from this commitment during the current round of negotiation (this is a major reason why we are prepared to strike). I have not been to a dentist since starting at Carleton: my teeth hurt. A lot. If I get sick (as I did two winters ago with pneumonia), I have to pay for my medicine out of pocket and it was around $200. That is, I had to decide between potentially having the power to my home being cut-off or dying of pneumonia in my thirties in a wealthy first world country. It isn’t easy to do the already demanding work of an instructor when you are worried about getting sick (and campuses are dens of flu viruses), missing classes, getting fired for not showing up, and having to buy medicine you can’t afford.

I have taught at Carleton for a long time now. I have worked under five different chairs and I don’t know how many deans. My impression is that working conditions have steadily worsened during this time. I used to have an office; I don’t anymore. I used to have access to a computer; I don’t anymore. If the Chair decides to communicate with a lowly specimen such as myself, it is done through multiple intermediaries: the assistant to his secretary or some-such. (I don’t know who these people are because no one bothers to tell me.) They issue decrees that make no sense. Their e-mails begin, “As you know…” As I know? That implies I was told something prior to receiving this strange edict. Whereas I feel we used to be treated with benign neglect, now I feel we are treated with aggressive contempt.

It is for these reasons that I voted to give my union a strike mandate and it is for these reasons that I am prepared to walk in a circle four hours a day, five days a week until we have a fair contract. A fair contract is one that adequately compensates us for the work we do; a fair contract is one that recognizes that we are human beings and an essential part of the university; a fair contract recognizes us as post-secondary education professionals and not as “less well-paid individuals.”

The sad thing is that I wouldn’t teach if I didn’t like it. None of us would willingly choose these working conditions if we did not like to teach. Our desire and eagerness to teach subjects that we love is consciously exploited by over-paid administrators who seem to delight in treating us like pariahs. I really do like teaching. Sure, I complain about my students when I’m disappointed that they didn’t do their readings. We all do that. The problem is that my working conditions are absolutely intolerable. I cannot tolerate working under these conditions for much longer. My students say that like me as a person and that they like me as a teacher. (Some say neither, but you can’t win all the time.) They say they derive value from my courses and thinking about things they’ve never thought about before. That is, in my courses, my students receive an education. Nonetheless, the outcome of my working conditions is that my life is fraught with anxiety and depression—and not having health benefits, I cannot afford to see a psychologist nor can I afford drugs. A teaching job in a university shouldn’t take a physical and mental toll on people, but it does.

It sounds like a truism—because it is, I suppose—but my working conditions are my students’ learning conditions. My working conditions are terrible. I do my best to shield my students from this, but they aren’t getting the full education they are going into debt to receive and, largely, the cause of this is that senior administrators are more interested in pet projects like lavish parking garages, unnecessary new faculties, shiny new buildings while the old ones decay, and football.