Saturday, 1 June 2013

The (other) problem with casualisation

Of course the REAL problem with casualisation of academic teaching is how it impacts the lives of the dedicated scholars who live it.

The next problem is how it impacts teaching quality. I've wondered before why the community doesn't get angry that more than half our students are taught by casuals and once I quoted the quotable Eric Ashby that "Australian youth is too precious to be given third rate teachers."

But of course my implications were unfair: the reason NOT to be outraged is that casuals in fact ordinarily do a really terrific job of teaching.

I do think there is a threat to teaching quality, but that threat is not due to the casual nature of the teachers, it is because it makes the whole structure of the university precarious.

To those working towards the top of these huge lumbering organisations they seem permanent, stable and unstoppable.

But there is no reason the university should last forever. Were workplaces to slowly stop trusting in the credentials we sign off on and start instead to draw on the many many many other ways of acquiring knowledge and showing evidence for it that are now available, our authority and place in both the world of knowledge and the labour market would be lost.

And this trust is built on the people who produce and teach and examine. Who can be trusted because their work is independent, considered, built on scholarship and research - that all comes from stable employment and an academic freedom that results from at least some financial security.

And the stability of the university itself, as legislators knew for centuries (and why our universities are mostly membership based) is based on those who teach, profess knowledge, learn and engage in debate and discovery. Casualisation removes their allegiance to institutions and their willingness to support its structures, legitimacy and reputation - the things that keep it going.

See this letter, a resignation from casual academia, which rightly argues:

"your house of cards is wobbling and will topple because you have built no foundation for your institution"

PS there are dozens of newspaper reports, academic articles and official reports on casualisation. I acknowledge them but haven't linked to them, mostly to keep things quick.

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