Being an un-person

I really hate being a sessional lecturer. Most of the time, I feel like I’m an un-person as far as this university is concerned. I do not have a proper office; I have to squat in the office of whichever person happens to be on leave at the time. I do not have a proper phone number; I have the phone of the person in whose office I am presently “squatting”, so there’s no point writing it down as a contact number, because it will change in a few months. I am not on the official website as a staff member. I’m not on the staff e-mail list. I do not get a business card. I do not get a parking space. I have to pay an exorbitant yearly fee in order to be able to park in the staff parking lot. Ironically, if I had a proper ongoing position, I would not have to pay this fee, even though my income would be higher. I don’t get sick days, I don’t get holiday pay and I don’t get maternity leave.

Worst of all, I have no job security or certainty. At meetings, people often factor me into next year’s plans and ask me what I think about the syllabus or a particular point of law. I have to quietly remind them that I don’t know what I’ll be doing next year. I don’t even know if I’ll still be teaching at the university, although I hope and presume that I will be. And I certainly don’t know what subjects I will be teaching. I won’t find out for a while yet.

It’s been going on this way for a year and a half so far. It looks like it’s going to keep on going for at least another year. Sometimes I find it soul destroying. Other days, I try to look on the bright side, and consider myself lucky to have a job at all.

The issue reared its ugly head again because I found out today that I was left off an e-mail list, as I am not on the list of “staff members”. I almost missed out on an important piece of information as a result. It’s times like this when I feel deeply resentful and angry. Other staff say, “Don’t worry, they’ll employ you as ongoing eventually, you just have to wait and be patient.” That’s bloody hard to do when you have a family and a mortgage to pay.

I’m sure it will all work out in the end, and this will be a faint memory. But I just need to get this out of my system now, so that I can go home and be happy for my darling little girl. After all, I work to live, not live to work.

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12 Comments

Filed under academia, jobs, morale, Personal, universities

12 responses to “Being an un-person

  1. Vent away, LE. I’m sorry for the situation, it doesn’t sound like a fun one. But for funding…

  2. LDU

    That sucks so bad, i totally know how you feel.

    I was an assistant to a manager who was a workaholic at a supermarket. The job was very sporadic and I’d only be called up to work when the real manager wanted a day off or was sick or something else, other than that he’d be doing 13 hour shifts, 7 days a week. It was a big heartache for me because I couldn’t commit to other things in case I was called up for work. It was a hanging feeling really. It’s always good to know your direction.

    Hopefully your situation will improve. Fingers crossed.

  3. JM

    > I have to quietly remind them that I don’t know what I’ll be doing next year.

    Can I offer some advice? Act and participate as if you will be there.

    I’ve worked for over 20 years on short term contracts (well paid, so I have no complaints and it has been my choice).

    However, I’m frequently asked for my opinion on matters of long term (sometimes very long term) importance to my employers.

    Even though I know I’m not going to be there, I just assume that I will be, and contribute. It’s always appreciated, and since I’ve now been doing this for so long and have worked for so many people in so many different circumstances my contribution is treated as having value. Not to say it’s always acted upon but I think it’s always considered and valued.

  4. I spent two hours in tears last night yet again about my work situation and how much we’re struggling. So I hear you. Many young families – particularly mums who have so much to offer the world – are doing it really tough. And it’s really hard to push for your entitlements when you’re so vulnerable.

    Have faith my girl, you are very very talented (and popular with your students from what I hear), and have so much to offer the world in your lifetime.

  5. Wen

    What is the career path for law academics, LE?

    Must all usually start off as sessional lecturers, before progressing to the next stage?

    At UNSW, where I’m studying, there is a large pool of sessional lecturers (or adjunct lecturers). In fact, all but one of the contracts teachers are sessional.

  6. Sounds the same as the predicament of Student Advisory Officers after the UniSA Student’s Association was gutted by the VSU. No office, no permanent phone. All of which severely (and unnecessarily) impaired their ability to do their job and rendered them almost as sort of “ghost people”.

  7. pete m

    Seems a strange way to treat your workers. What would the Uni do if all the sessional poeple refused to return next year unless given, say, a 3 year contract? Sounds like some collective bargaining is needed.

    Good luck LE.

  8. Thanks all for your encouragement.

    I think many lecturers start off as sessional, at least until they have gotten out some publications. I’m hoping to get out a publication in a top English journal so that they can’t refuse me next year.

    Pete, I’ve never been able to understand why employers treat employees badly. It just seems to guarantee that the employees will look for other options. It reduces productivity and morale.

  9. Pete, I’ve never been able to understand why employers treat employees badly.

    Sound like a good in-road to the topic of the industrial/workplace psychopath.

  10. Definitely. There’s a lot in the legal industry.

    In fact, I had a discussion with a friend on the weekend who works in a law firm and is being victimised by a psychopath boss. The friend has lodged complaints. Everyone agrees, “Yes, he’s a bully, yes, all his previous ex-employees said this too,” but they haven’t done anything about him. The bottom line is that he brings in money and clients to the firm and that speaks louder than anything else. But it seems incredibly short-sighted. Surely the constant stream of employees leaving the firm because of this man’s behaviour must take a toll on the firm’s profits (not to mention morale)? Even on a hard-headed, logical and purely profit-based analysis it doesn’t seem smart to ignore such behaviour.

  11. Maybe a “knowingly employing and empowering an abusive toad” clause needs to be implemented into workplace safety laws. The moment said psychopath boss causes a nervous breakdown in an employee is the day the boss’s bosses need to face criminal charges me thinks.

    I have no sympathy for anyone who knowingly enables victimisation, be it for self interest or for the sake of said victimisation.

  12. Make Tea Not War

    I guess you probably have but have you looked into positions at other institutions? I’m not exactly sure of your situation but it might be easier to get a permanent lectureship in a business school for example. It’s not as prestigious as teaching law students in a law school but there’s no reason you can’t do that in the future and in the meantime while you are doing a PhD and caring for a young ‘un a regular secure income and position will make life easier.

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