No One is Talking Precarious Labour. Why Not?

When it comes to labour on university campuses, a divide has emerged between tenure-track professors, and sessional (temporary) instructors.[1] Sessional workers are precarious workers. And they are far from the only precarious workers. In fact, precarity exists across the labour market, and it’s growing. Despite these facts, few Canadians outside of universities even know what “precarious labour” is, let alone identify themselves as precarious workers. So what’s the deal?

Let’s start with a definition. In essence, a member of the precariat is one is who is involuntarily, insecurely employed and/or underemployed. That definition can include a lot of people, Continue reading

Jesus Was An Entrepreneur

Okay, so that was a cheap attention grab. Jesus was not an entrepreneur. Or perhaps he was some sort of “social entrepreneur.” But he certainly wasn’t running around trying to figure out how to reinvigorate capitalism. If he was here today, that would be what it would take for him to be considered a Saviour.

They said my contract expires sometime in April.

They said my contract expires sometime in April.

I’ve been considering whether “Entrepreneurship Saves,” because of this seems to me an emerging zeitgeist (kind of a social mood) that ought to attract our scrutiny. In my home digs of Alberta, the “entrepreneurial spirit” has been touted as a provincial virtue. In 2011, our public education system, in keeping with this message, launched a curriculum framework that aspires to “Competencies for Engaged Thinkers and Ethical Citizens with an Entrepreneurial Spirit.”

So if our education systems are supposed to produce an “entrepreneurial spirit,” what is it? Continue reading

Who is Teaching Your University Classes?

Cliche image of a professor. Why are they always dudes with beards writing on chalkboards? And why is it always math?

Cliche image of a professor. Why are they always dudes with beards writing on chalkboards? And why is it always math?

I’ve spent much of my summer researching university recruitment literature. I want to see how the rhetoric of university life compares to the reality, particularly for “first generation” students — those whose parents didn’t attend post-secondary education.

Through this exercise, I’ve had to sit down hard on my own cynicism at times, particularly when it comes to the portrayal of teaching, and of university professors. There’s some over-the-top material here. Take this institution, which promises, “Our award-winning professors are brilliant minds who will engage, motivate and inspire you.” Or this one, which echoes, “You will learn from nationally and internationally renowned teachers and researchers.”

This is, frankly, bullshit. And there are a number of reasons why parents and students alike should be sitting up, and taking notice.

Reason Number One: Research is Over-rated. Seriously.

First, we should be cautious about buying in to the “academic rockstar” discourse. Continue reading

The Maclean’s University Rankings: Celebrating 20 Years of Pointless Competition

rat-race-to-usa

The 2015 edition of the Maclean’s University Rankings marks the 20th anniversary of the publication. Although it is subject to derision by the institutions it features, most of these protests have subsided into occasional whimpers. Really, there’s not much the universities can do. As Maclean’s states in the methodology for the study, the data they pull is publicly available, or generated through their own research; they don’t rely on the universities to get it.

The Maclean’s University Rankings drive me crazy — in part because they are so very, very badly done, and more deeply because they play a significant part in generating and legitimizing a toxic culture of pointless competition in our higher education system. Yet the damn things continue to fly off the shelves. Why do we buy in? Continue reading

Career Building and My Big Fat Data Analytics

Legwarmers

“Big data” lets you monitor your social reach, but at what price?

True Story: When I was in junior high, I was very, very concerned with getting my social status right. Who wasn’t? But it was particularly loaded for me because I had proven, to that point in my short life, to be a pretty abysmal failure at all things “social.” In my quest to achieve ever-elusive popularity, I learned to listen to music I didn’t particularly like. I did my level best to appear older than I was, and to at least give the appearance of sexual worldliness. I obsessed about my clothes and my hair. God it was painful.

I don’t think I am unique in this revelation about my adolescence. That’s why adolescence sucks. All the world is a mirror for a frail ego, confronted with a terrifyingly vast array of possible answers to the question “Who am I?”[1] I also don’t think I am unique in reflecting on this stormy period of life and thinking “Oh thank God that’s over with.” Or so we thought. Continue reading

Why Grad School is Kind of Like Lego

Worst Idea LegoOne thing that drives me nuts about higher education is that it provides no assurance that people will learn to think. It is remarkably easy to acquire vocabulary and ideas, and then unwittingly abuse them because you don’t actually understand the key ideas you are trying to work with.

So this got me thinking, that grad school is kind of like building with Lego. I always sucked at Lego. I was playing with my friend’s kid a few weeks ago, and looked at the bazillion different blocks on the floor around me, and thought “I got nuthin.”

“You could follow the instructions,” my young friend suggested helpfully.

And then I thought of The Lego Movie. The neat thing about the movie is its premise on the well understood fact that the real fun and creativity of Lego is going off script and making your own stuff. Unless, like me, you really suck, and then you just make things that aren’t really things: Continue reading

Who Should Discipline Alberta’s Teachers?

sherrif

Alberta’s new teacher disciplinary process? Okay not really. But there’s an edge of vigilantism in some critics comments on teachers’ professional conduct.

The dust-up between Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson and the Alberta Teachers’ Association continues. In the latest chapter of a political fight that shouldn’t be happening in the first place, Minister Johnson made a great show of permanently revoking the licenses of four Alberta teachers who had been suspended through the ATA’s disciplinary hearing process.[1] Publicly, Johnson states that he intends to “work with” the province’s teachers’ union and professional association, but in less public settings, he has expressed the desire to break up the ATA by separating its professional and union functions into separate bodies – a union and a Teachers’ College, the latter of which would be under the direct authority of the province.[2]

First and foremost, then, questions around the discipline of badly behaving teachers should be understood fundamentally as a political battle. Continue reading