Tag Archives: teaching

The Ethics of Casual Teaching Contracts: how we are all implicated in selling out academia and exploiting our students

(this post also appeared on the Duck of Minerva)

For the last few years in particular, there has been a marked increase in the number of sessional, casual, teaching-only, adjunct, fixed term, temporary job ‘opportunities’ listed and circulated in the usual IR job venues. These various titles and categories point to one reality: precarious labor is a permanent reality within academia. The trend has been quantified and well documented: in US in the last 30 years the percentage of positions held by tenured or tenure-track faculty members fell from 56.8% to 35.1%. In an excellent post in the Chronicle, Peter Conn declares “Full-time tenured and tenure-track jobs in the humanities are endangered by half a dozen trends, most of them long-term.” The trend is not new; however, as the race to the bottom with regard to casual labor hits a new low, what is missing from the discussion is (1) the ways that permanent staff reproduce/support casual labor and (2)the myths associated with the ‘opportunity’ of casual labor for PhD students and unemployed academics.

First, let’s talk about the new low. Each casual job posting seems to outline more and more unreasonable and unrealistic requirements: for example, a recent post for a year-long contract asks candidates to teach 8 courses; others ask candidates to teach a range of political science/IR topics that span nearly every sub-field; while others expect individuals to relocate for 4 months, 6 months, or only for the academic year. Universities are capitalizing on the growth of several categories of vulnerable individuals, including poor PhD students who are without scholarship or who have run out of scholarhsip funds, and academics who have been unemployed or underemployed- all desperate for experience and the prospect of a job that might lead to something permanent. Yet this exploitation narrative/depiction of the problem only goes so far. There is a need to reflect on where the accountability lies in relation to precarious labor and what can be done. This requires academics to ponder several questions, including: in what ways are secure tenure and tenure-track positions dependent on precarious/insecure/exploited labor?; what are the ethical obligations of secure staff when it comes to resisting or reacting to the casualization of academic labor?; can/how can those in secure tenure or tenure-track positions work to reverse these trends and/or support those working as precarious labor within the field? Below I list the top 4 myths associated with casual ‘opportunities’ along with the top 4 ways that permanent staff might work to acknowledge and reverse the trend.

4 (of many) Reasons Why the Casual ‘Opportunity’ is a Myth and a Trap Continue reading The Ethics of Casual Teaching Contracts: how we are all implicated in selling out academia and exploiting our students

Best exam question EVER!

(This post originally appeared on DuckOfMinerva where I am a regular contributor)

I know it is hard to believe, but while most of the academic world is enjoying the last few weeks of university break, down under in Kiwi-land we’re in the thick of the academic year. This year I tried out some new essay questions for my Gender and Post-Conflict Development and Feminist International Relations courses and I have to say- I created the best essay question ever. The suspense is killing you right? Here it is:

You’ve been asked to help create a realistic video game that illustrates women’s experiences of war and insecurity. Referring to readings covered in class, what types of activities, challenges, and events would you include in the game? How do you think the public would respond to your game?

The best part about this question has been the incredible debates and discussions it created in class and the amazing answers students came up with. I had to share a couple.

One student designed the game to follow a family forced to flee their village. The family faces numerous challenges at each level of the game, including finding food and daily necessities through the black market, hiding from rebel attacks, and eventually joining and adapting to life in a refugee camp.

Another student created a female soldier character that survives war by joining in atrocities such as amputations. In the last phase of the game the player has to find a way to get included in the disarmament process- at the disarmament camps the female soldier character has to avoid sexual abuse and physical violence. Another student gives the player the option to choose from the following characters: a woman caught in a civil war in East Africa and a Western woman fighting within a peacekeeping unit. Both women face different sets of obstacles- including the threat of sexual violence from their comrades.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. The question was meant to be thought provoking (and quite frankly was a last ditch effort to create an exam that I thought might be more interesting to grade!). There were no limits to the ideas on how to create a game, but when it came to thinking about how audiences would respond to such a ‘realistic’ video games students were less enthusiastic. I guess it is worth asking: Would a truly realistic war video game, one that represented men and women’s experiences of war- complete with sexual violence, food scarcity, amputations, and refugee flows- flop? No answers here, but would love to start a discussion. Or to hear what your video game would look like.