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Sarah Clift speaks about sessional rumours

A long time King’s professor said she doesn’t know if she’ll have a job next summer, due to the university’s financial situation.
Normally, Sarah Clift said, she would know by now if her year-to-year contract would be renewed. This year, a special committee has been formed to try to find ways to solve King’s problems, and it will also review her job, said Clift.
That means, Clift said, she won’t know for at least another two months if she’ll be teaching at King’s in the future.
“This precariousness of this year-to-year contract work certainly puts all kinds of pressures on one’s life,” said Clift, who teaches in contemporary studies and the Foundation Year Program.
A rumor circulated at King’s last week that three sessional professors wouldn’t have their contracts renewed – specifically Jannette Vusich, Sarah Clift and Laura Penny. Organized by the King’s Student Union, students flooded the administration with letters pleading their professors’ cases.
“That letter writing campaign last week was certainly among the most moving experiences I’ve had,” Clift said.
King’s hasn’t hired a tenured professor since 2007, according to a report on the school finances. The school is in financial trouble, having started off the fiscal year with a $1.1 million deficit. Vice-president Kim Kierans said the school projects a shortfall of the same or more for the coming year.
Enrolment is also dropping, said the report. This has put King’s in a position where it is looking at possible ways to cut costs.
Universities across Canada increasingly rely on contract workers to save on money, according to a report by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario. As Clift said, sessionals are “flexible labour.”
The Canadian Association of University Teachers defines tenure as essential to ensure academic freedom. A tenured professor has teaching duties, research, benefits, and a salary and should be active in professional societies.
Statistics Canada found universities hired tenured professors less often, awarding tenure positions less and less. Between 1981 and 2007, the number of tenure track positions dropped 10 per cent.
“This is a practice that goes on at universities, and the students are well aware,” said Clift. “The KSU is mobilizing – I think smartly – in advance of those things.”
Kierans sent a list of “sessional” professors to the Watch in an email. According to the list, King’s has four short-term contract professors in both journalism and combined honours, including Vusich, Clift and Penny. The list does not include professors who are paid for a single course at a time.
“There’s been an ongoing sense that you don’t know from year to year what your employment situation is going to be,” said Clift.
Clift has taught at King’s since 2006. She started as a yearly contract lecturer for three years before she became a senior fellow and then a sessional professor.
Kierans said nobody has received notice, and that the university hasn’t made any decisions yet.
Hard working faculty
Clift’s workload is more than a full-time professor at King’s, she said, because she teaches in two programs. “So I teach three half-courses in contemporary studies, and then I do five tutorials in foundation year.”
She also finds the time to volunteer and coordinate with Halifax Humanities. “It’s a busy life.”
Sessional versus full-time
Clift said her job is similar to that of a regular, tenure-track professor. Even as a sessional, she attends faculty meetings, supervises and advises students, and sits on committees. The faculty at King’s is not unionized.
“In terms of the teaching and the student contact and the supervision, there’s no difference,” said Clift. “I have a yearly salary, just like the permanent faculty members. The issue is that it ends every year.”
The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario reports that the average salaries of sessional professors are not tracked nationally. The number of courses sessional professors teach is also unknown. The King’s administration has refused to disclose salaries of faculty under $100 thousand.
As a sessional, Clift still has some benefits like regular faculty have, such as medical, but “there are no sabbaticals or things like that,” she said.
The lack of paid leave also negatively affects contract professors, said Clift.
Clift said that she’s published a book and works as a translator. “I think that sabbaticals are important parts of an academic, the chance to do research and writing, which is an opportunity certainly I miss,” she said. “I would like to have that time to kind of step back from my teaching, and engage in the research and publication aspect of being an academic.”
Clift’s contract ends, she said, on June 30, 2015. Normally, Clift would find out the status of her contract sooner, but it’s been pushed back to February.
“I love working at King’s,” said Clift, but she’ll need to wait two months to see if she’ll still be here.
The KSU is still accepting letters. There’s also an event Thursday about precarious employment at King’s. It will be hosted from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the KTS Red Room.
Let us know what you think in the comments. If you’re a sessional or part-time professor at King’s and want to share your story, please contact watcheditors@gmail.com to discuss details.
[box type=”info”] A previous version of the article said that Clift’s contract ended on July 30, 2015. The correct date is June 30, 2015.[/box]

By David J. Shuman

David is a second-year journalism student at King's, is engagement/news editor of The Watch, and a copy editor of The Pigeon. He writes on student politics, campus happenings, and school news. 

One reply on “Sarah Clift speaks about sessional rumours”

the two month timeline for decisions on sessional employment puts it conveniently beyond deadlines for tuition, deep into the new term. if the ksu were to get ahead of this by issuing an ultimatum to the finance offices and admin at Dal and King’s, demanding the rehire of current sessional staff, prioritizing cutbacks in administration spending, and threatening a mass (i.e., 50 students or more, wouldn’t take much) walkout on tuition payments, it would send a stronger message than letter-writing and vague displeasure. some faculty support, and a renewed push for unionization or solidarity among the faculty (as suggested by Dr. Furlong) would also benefit the cause.

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