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We have an idea of contract instructors as alienated and solitary ‘road scholars,’ always in a desperate rush, never completely present wherever they teach – at least compared to tenure-track faculty, who get a good job at a university and stay there until they retire.
It’s true that contract instructors sometimes teach at more than one campus, snatching up whatever teaching contracts they can in order to piece together a reasonable living, but that’s not actually all that exceptional now. The gig economy, with its constant ebb and flow of short-term contracts, is the norm. Permanent faculty are the outliers.
Plus, there are other, more meaningful ways to be rooted in a community than having a permanent job. Solidarity with your fellow workers, with your neighbours, with the exploited and stigmatized in your city, isn’t issued by the employer when they hire you. It’s made, piece by piece, action by action.
Contract instructors have to re-apply for their jobs every four months, but they are highly skilled professionals who are active on campus and in the community, often for years or even decades. In Peterborough in particular, CUPE 3908 members, whether contract instructors or student workers, have played key roles in organizations that form the backbone of our city for a long time. They are embedded in place.
Above and beyond the human capital that contract instructors provide to local organizations, university unions have significant collective financial resources at their disposal to donate to groups and projects that don’t have the same access. Our locals give money, and we let people who might need it know we do.
The reality is that, while contract instructors at Trent are paid less than permanent faculty to do the same work and are actively prevented from working enough to make a living, teaching at a university pays better than most other forms of gig employment. Contract faculty unions know what it’s like to struggle financially, but also know our locals are comparatively well resourced.
In Peterborough, where Trent is one of only a few big employers, this is arguably even more true. Most workers here can’t imagine unionizing their workplace, and aren’t even confident their employer will be around in a year. CUPE 3908 believes that it’s our role to not only support other unions and workers, but also to lend our resources to fighting oppression on multiple fronts.
Our donations are guided in part by requests, but also by our equity policy, which commits us to actively working against discrimination in all its forms, whether in our local, in our workplaces, or in our communities. Our commitment to equity tells us not only what are important considerations to make in offering our support, but also buttresses our commitment to playing that role in the community: using our resources to support groups and initiatives that don’t have the resources to do what they need to do.
And we aren’t going anywhere. Trent will always need contract instructors, and those contract instructors will be in a position to contribute, directly or indirectly, to support community groups for a long time.