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Discount University: we pay our staff peanuts and worry about the consequences later

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On Thursday, April 30th, we held an awareness-raising protest at the University of Maynooth. It was to bring some light to the fact that most of the teaching and research carried out in our universities and colleges today is done by people with no job security at all. Worse still, they are paid for only a fraction of the work that they do – they are not paid for preparation, administration and consultation with students. The action on Thursday was to highlight the exploitative rates of pay and deteriorating working conditions of front-line workers in our universities and colleges.

In the spirit of public theatre, we (temporary, part-time and casual-hours staff) set up our own recruitment stall for the fictional – though perhaps more upfront – ‘Discount University’. It is of course hard to compete with other universities in Ireland. Even the more prestigious institutions have precariously employed staff, who they pay almost nothing for correcting students work (as little as 1.05 euro per paper).

Applicants for positions were rigorously tested on their ability to grade student papers in real-life conditions. We offered training in the art of speed-reading and quality grading lest they be fined for failing to provide students with meaningful feedback. We made it clear that not everyone that applied for a position would be guaranteed a zero/low-hours contract – if they were not up to scratch we could just resort to the JobBridge scheme to get workers for nothing at all.

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In holding this recruitment event, we were highlighting the issue of casualization in Irish universities. Irish universities have been raising the cost of education to students while increasing class sizes and cutting the wages paid to those at the frontline of teaching and grading; many research and teaching staff now struggle to make a living.

This was the second manifestation of the Discount University and we will not go away until our teaching conditions (and by extension student learning conditions) are improved. See you at the next Discount University!

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Reflections on organizing adjunct and precarious workers in the neoliberal university

Call for participation in an open discussion, Tuesday 21st April, 2:40–4:20pm, Regency C, Hyatt, West Tower, Gold Level, as part of the Subconference of the Association of American Geography Annual Meeting in Chicago, IL.

The ongoing neoliberalization of the university and other third-level workplaces manifests in the de-valuing of academic labour and in a lack of security for the future of academic workers. Existing political organizations while sympathetic to this problem are often unable or unwilling to engage with these changing labour practices and the forms of exploitation they produce.

Third Level Workplace Watch is a collective of precarious teachers and researchers working in the Irish third-level sector trying to organize for better pay and working conditions. While many people have shared their stories with us and support what we stand for, it has proven difficult to move from identifying the key problems to challenging them in a way that would actually improve people’s everyday pay and working conditions; the fact that many of us work between different third-level institutions or in a part-time capacity makes it difficult to build up relationships or knowledge of particular departments.

The motivation for this session is to stimulate discussion around these difficulties and to identify different tactics and strategies for organising. With this in mind we will focus the discussion around the following two questions:

  • what makes organizing adjuncts/precarious academic workers different to other forms of organizing?
  • what have been some of the successful strategies for organizing adjunct/precarious academic workers and what can we learn from them?

We welcome all temporary, occasional and adjunct lecturers, researchers and tutors.

This discussion is hosted by the 2015 Subconference of the AAG and is being organised alongside Thursday’s main conference panel discussion Academic Worker Inquiry: Notes from the Field, which takes place 8:00–9:40am in Crystal B, Hyatt, West Tower, Green Level.

Enquiries can be directed to Paddy Bresnihan or Jim White.