Sunday, 23 October 2005


Insincere apologies for the bluntness of the post title, but read on and you'll see why I'm angry. This is f*cked.

The University of Melbourne is advertising for a short-term (one semester) contract Lecturer in Internet Communications. They want someone to design and deliver (lectures, tutorials, admin) a subject on, well, internet communications, in first semester next year, as a once-off.

The person who gets the job will give all twelve lectures and teach five weekly tutorials (so, about a hundred students), do the marking, supervise casual tutors, be available for student consultations, "contribute to teaching in the department", etc. The position description says twelve contact hours per week. In my experience this is a sixty-hour-a-week-or-more job, particularly if the incumbent hasn't got all twelve lectures written and ready to go.
The amount of labour involved in designing a subject the first time is, in theory, offset in subsequent years, when the lectures will generally only need minor tweaking. (For a two hour lecture I write a seven thousand word script and scrounge up about 45 minutes worth of supporting material - video etc - it takes me at least four days to put a decent lecture together.)

But UniMelb Inc. is advertising a one semester only position. It's not as if this is the first time they've done this either. An acquaintance is teaching a subject dealing with the literary gothic there this semester, I understand under the same arrangement. It looks like this is how the university is choosing to deal with the dwindling of full time long term positions - when a senior academic gets a research grant and "buys out" his or her teaching responsibilities, the university replaces them with intinerant labour.

Government-supported students enrolling in this subject will pay between five and seven thousand dollars HECS for a full-time semester, normally this is three subjects. I have no idea how many full-fee payers would take a subject like this. As it's Melbourne Uni, I suspect not a negligible number. So each student contributes, at a conservative estimate, $2000 toward the cost of providing the subject.

With one hundred students enrolled that adds up to $200,000.00

UniMelb will pay their Lecturer $13,000 for the semester.



R H said...

Barkis is willin'. And for thirteen thousand smackers, we'll toss in a strip show as well!

R H said...

A hermaphodite; something for everyone.

fluffy said...

I supposed Melbourne Uni would get to keep all the course material for the next 'once off' semester too. GRRR!!!

katy said...

this is why even those of us who have lecturing and coordinating experience have shit-all chance of getting a full time job locally when we have the PhD in the bag.

i wonder if i could work as a data entry operator?


Lucy Tartan said...

RH is on a Dickens binge this week. $26,000 p.a., now that's Dickensian. What jobs pay that little?

The higher education bean-counters grasp that the academic job market is swarming with desperate candidates, and serial exploitation is probably just too tempting. There will always be an oversupply of recent PhDs who will take this kind of offer and be grateful for it.
I don't doubt that the institution does keep the course material. Lots of lectures now are videotaped for online or distance delivery. The university owns these lectures and in theory can do whatever they want with them. Dorian did a distance / online subject a year or so ago where the lectures came on CD-ROM, prefaced with a note explaining that the lecturer in the videos had since died.

The destructiveness of this kind of thing on the careers of new academics is one issue, but the effect on the quality of teaching the students will get is another. A lecturer who is taking home $350 a week is probably not that inclined to dot the i's and cross the t's, intellectually speaking.

Glen Fuller said...

would there be some way to put a veto out on this job? arrange it so no one applies for the sake of everyone? wishful thinking?

Scrivener said...

It's going round everywhere. I've been a serial lecturer/adjunct/instructor/slave for ... um ... seven? years now, sometimes earning as little as $8000 / year. I wish I had something like a solution to propose.

So, are you gonna apply for that position and teach blogging?

The Student said...

Will a university ever hold a place as an institution of higher learning ever again?

There is no respect these days.

(Lucy, can you spot me up an email at I'd like to get in touch, pahhhhrivatly.)

Lucy Tartan said...

I forwarded the original listing (which I got off the CSAA mailing list) to the NTEU branch president at my uni. It's the union's responsibility to protest this kind of thing. It was never a job I would have applied for Scriv - it's waaaay out of my area. This is happening all over that's right. I currently earn less than this job pays, and I have eighty-five students this semester (four tutorials in two subjects), but it's fine, because my position is designed for people like me in the late stages of their PhDs - it's not replacing a real job.

R H said...

I'd have thought you'd be interested in this work for the experience. After all, I don't think you're exactly a soup kitchen contender.
When you're on $80,000 a year will you be complaining about these early stages? You can't expect to start at the top. Medical interns do seventy hours per week for a pittance. Unskilled workers without brains or without opportunities are on dismal wages for life. Childcare workers get little more than $26,000 a year.

You're lucky to be getting paid for something that interests you. Lavatory attendants don't love lavatories, but I'd expect academics to love knowledge.

Susoz said...

I don't know much about universities but this is the way of much of the world now. John Howard is right in a way when he says his IR laws won't change much - they'll just entrench what already exists. Short or fixed terms contracts are a wonderful way for employers not to have to pay benefits or be responsible. It's called the flexible workforce.

Another Outspoken Female said...

Melb uni have the attitude that they look so good on your CV that really, you should pay them to work there. Also they have the power to write you off as a trouble maker and never be employed by them. Bastards.

What does the union say about this? Perhaps they have a tiny bit of muscle left in which to flex?

Though sadly i must say from the 7 years I spent in a private tertiary institution the union were crap (maybe because we had a small staff and only a few were prepared to join).

Lucy Tartan said...

RH, it's not my specialisation - I wouldn't get the job. It's not something I'd be very interested in teaching, even if I was deemed capable of teaching it, which wouldn't be likely. So please don't make this about "me" personally - as I said already, I'm quite happy with my current position, I enjoy teaching, and I'm dead grateful to have the opportunity to do it.

It seems to me that I can be OK with my own personal circumstances, and at the same time be deeply concerned about the broader situation, without that creating a conflict or an insurmountable contradiction.

I could write some more about the points you've made, but again I'm not interested in using my personal history as an argufying example in this instance. I'll just say this: it is appalling that child care workers earn so little, but that doesn't imply that everyone else should earn peanuts as well. It implies that child care workers should be paid more.

Maybe someone else would like to contribute to the question of early career academics and the amassing of teaching experience?

dogpossum said...

I saw this position advertised on the CSAA list and thought 'ok, I could do that'. Then I saw the wage and thought 'yeah, right'. These sorts of jobs scare me, but then, really, what else can we do but take them, if we want to work in the area for which we've spent at least 7 years training?
And when I finish up next year, what else will I be doing with all that spare time? There are only so many blog entries a girl can write... and only so many noodles she can live on...
Yes, it's nice to be working in an area you love, but really: it's not actually paying the rent when you're earning so little (though I do live on $18000 a year on the thesis - without tax, mind you).

I'm just finishing up my phd now - I've completed a first draft in record time (I'm expecting to finish within 3 years since finishing). So I'm a kickarse Phd person. Thing is, I only have limited teaching experience because I've been so diligent with the thesis.

How are you supposed to win in a situation like this? I guess, really, we're supposed to take some time off the PhD, teach like crazy teaching demons, then get back on the wagon ( there's a mixed metaphor), if we're intending to finish up with the degree, the teaching skills and to have published...


So far as earning $80 000 a year goes (as rh suggests) - that sort of income is kind of a long ways off for most newb akas...

Galaxy said...

The 'work experience' factor is probably why someone will go for this job. And if they haven't convened before then adding to the resume will be a powerful motive. Universities do rely on this. I think it's only when you've done the enormous amount of work required in this situation that you become jaded and feel exploited. And RH it is exploitation, no matter how much you love the work. I don't think anyone is in academia for big bucks, but you do have the right to earn something proportionate to the task at hand--and, might I add, to earn the same amount with the same conditions of employment that academics DOING THE SAME WORK have. The reality is that the person who gets this job will be fairly inexperienced, because no-one else will apply for it. And while you do expect to put in more work at the beginning, the fact is that you just aren't as efficient or as confident at writing and delivering lectures, so you take way more time that you should because you want to do a good job. Personally having done this kind of thing before, my advice would be to do the work, but then take it with you when you leave. The sessional academic's best friend is the delete key *tired evil laugh*

R H said...

I'm talking in principle; I don't know your specialisation. Fledgling academics are pretty funny to be wailing about their start up salaries, particularly when they've so much to look forward to, and are generally from comfy backgrounds anyway, with plenty of support.

If the Socialist Revolution that so many academics claim to hope for does arrive their jobs will be deemed no more important - and probably much less important - than the jobs of childcare workers. And they'll be adjusted accordingly. Then watch then scream! Oh golly.

liz said...

I'm not an academic, but I think it's disgusting that the University wouldn't share more of the $200,000 that the course will make with the lecturer who, after all, is doing ALL the work. What, they can't even come up with 10%?

Scrivener said...

"argufying." I like that.

Ben.H said...

Dimly recalling my previous employment, I can think of two motivations behind the Department advertising this crummy job, besides intrinsic evil.

First is that Department which is paying the salary will only get a tiny fraction of the University fees the job will generate.

Second, and more importantly, the job market for academics is so dismal that there are plenty of overqualified lecturers (not just in Australia) who would happily fill all these stopgap positions. Senior teaching staff are so worried that new academics will never get that 'starter' job for their career, that they set the pay and conditions way low to keep the more experienced academics away.


Laura said...

Cheers, Ben. It's a relief to be able to look at it as exemplifying some motive other than, as you say, intrinsic evil. I'd still question the logic of this being thought of as a starter job, though.
A friend is doing this type of deal at a different university in Melbourne, not mine, and he's currently on his third semester of short term contracts - teaching different courses every time - he's got a brilliant PhD, a bunch of articles, ten years teaching experience, and a book coming out next year from UQP. A person like that can't be honestly considered an apprentice, it's nonsensical. The point is that short term contract positions are no longer entry points to a university career - they are replacing permanent or long term positions.
The universities are hurting themselves with this sort of practice. Academics who have no time to do their own research can't teach properly, nor can they get research money / brownie points for their university.

R H said...

Well I should have said complaining -not wailing.
I apologise for that.

Ampersand Duck said...

I didn't think there was such a thing as a long-term teaching career anymore -- at least, not one you can plan. At my art school there are only three full-time teachers (one of whom has just been offered a package). The rest are all part-time and sessional. Actual teaching time has been reduced to four hours a day, three days a week, and semester lengths have dwindled from 17 weeks to 13 in the past 6 or so years. I calculated the other day that the general public doing evening art classes at the school get more hands-on tutelage than the enrolled undergraduate students, and pay much less for the privilege.

But who cares? Each intake of students don't know any better, and are happy to take what they are given. As staff leave, new staff are grateful for anything that allows them the semblence of an arts-related job. Anyone who has been around long enough to have some corporate memory are thought of as whingers, and are manipulated out of the system.

I think it's shameful, and I'm really glad you posted about the issue. I wouldn't be surprised if the next step for universities was an archive of standard lectures and they just hired someone different every year to present the stuff on file, for far less than $13,000.

Rant and uhravcfe!

Brownie said...

No brownie points from me. there are no 'universities' any more. Isn't Melbourne the Uni where they offer a 'Property Development' Unit? crap. just the fact that a Place Of Higher Learning is offering tuition in Internet is a joke.
'Learning' is now 'Business'.
and think about this - they are offering the same low money and high hours to teachers in their School of Medicine. think about that the next time you are anaesthetised by a graduate product of such exacting standards.

yeah Scriv, I liked 'argufying' too. Language has the ebb and flow of the tides.