The Tweet that started it all

Real Academic Bios is a twitter hashtag started by Eve Mroczek. As you can see, she is concerned about the current narrative about life in academia. I’m not sure what spurred her to make this posting, although I feel exactly the same way. The problem is that academic life now has an amazing caste system in most of the English speaking world. There are those with the permanent jobs. And there are those of us, shockingly now the majority in many places who are permanently employed on temporary contracts. We earn far less, have no job security, and are often viewed with disdain by those with the permanent jobs. This is extremely vexing, especially when articles like this appear from permanently employed academics, scolding is because “We’ve never had it so good”, and “Academic Life is wonderful, stop complaining”. Sorry, but this may be true for the lucky ones with proper jobs, but not for the rest of us. After I opined this on Twitter, I was accused of having a negative attitude which wouldn’t get me anywhere. I’ve got news for you. I haven’t got anywhere, and that’s why I’m voicing my opinion.

So here is my #realacademicbios contribution. It’s now my most popular Tweet ever.

There has recently been a debate about “The Middle Class” in Canada, with the new government making the promise that

Canadians with taxable income between $44,700 and $89,401 per year will see their income tax rate fall.

Now most contract teachers at Canadian Universities, if they are teaching a full course load, equivalent to a full time job, earn less than the lower figure of $44,700. On the other hand the permanent Professorial ranks in Canada earn at the top of that bracket or even more. At my University, most tenured Professors are on the Ontario “Sunshine List” of public employees who earn more than $100,000 per year. And that’s what this is about really. We have a very badly paid, very highly educated underclass (often with large student debt loads to pay off) who don’t even get into the middle class bracket, and a very well paid, very highly educated upper class. The upper classes tolerate us to do a lot of the teaching work at the University; they are also quite willing to sustain a manifestly unfair system, because it is in their own interests to do so. The Ontario provincial government is turning a blind eye to this, because they are gradually reducing the provincial support for Higher Education, burdening students with more tuition. I did raise this issue with my MPP. The pious reply was “We do not interfere in employment decisions at the University”. This is an attempt to frame this as an academic freedom issue. Nobody wants the government to have a say in individual appointments at Universities, but we are public employees at publicly-funded institutions. Surely we merit some sort of interest from the provincial government? After all, we are teaching the next generation. Does this not count as an important enough contribution to the province to merit a bit more than 4 month contacts with a constant fear of losing the position, if someone somewhere in the bowels of University administration makes a decision. We are powerless. So my academic freedom is actually zero.

This powerlessness and vulnerability leads me to my final point about #Realacademicbios. Some of the contributors are anonymous, because there is a real possibility that they could lose their jobs, if they reveal their true identities. I have chosen to post under my real name. I have no protection from retribution from my employer, Carleton University. A simple administrative decision can wipe my job from the books, and I have no appeal. I urge you to go to Twitter and take a look at the #Realacademicbios hashtag. If you can contribute more examples, please do so, but do so safely.