À mon avis
In my opinion
Hiring from within
Let’s reconsider our hiring practices
for contract academic staff
by Kane X. Faucher
Dr. Faucher is an adjunct whose
title is assistant professor of media,
information and technoculture
in the faculty of information and
media studies at Western
University. He writes the column
Contractually Bound for the
University Affairs website.
ith an ever increasing faculty complement of contract academic staff, should
hiring committees consider the ethical
aspects of internal hiring?
In many universities, hiring practices are long established and complex. Built-in
safeguards are introduced to ensure that principles of fairness, equity and diversity are met.
Ensuring that the hiring process is transparent
and accountable is of vital importance to its
legitimacy. But, is there also an ethical obligation
to place long-serving contract academics under
It is a common story told by many contract
academics: they have more than a decade of
teaching essential service courses and possibly
additional courses that they designed. They all
receive consistently high course evaluations. And
yet, when a permanent position is created, either
a full-time teaching position or a tenure-track
line, these dedicated academics are often passed
over in favour of an external candidate.
This is especially problematic when the person hired is from the United States rather than
Canada. During the 1960s and ’70s, there was
a dearth of Canadian-trained academics, and that
required casting the net widely in search for
scholarly talent. Today, with a much larger number of Canadian-trained PhDs, there is a surfeit
of highly qualified applicants.
Although it would be wrong to task hiring
committees to dedicate themselves to absorbing
the growing number of Canadian-trained PhDs,
or to hire from a qualified pool of long-serving
instructors in their own departments, there are
nonetheless ethical issues around overlooking
those who remain hidden in plain sight.
There is little financial incentive to consider
contract academic staff, since one can assume
that they will continue to provide their services
at a lower cost. However, by not considering
them, we risk undermining the foundations of
an institution’s mission to promote the highest
ethical values. In several other industries, loyalty
and merit are rewarded in very tangible ways.
There are also benefits in enfranchising the
contract academic labour pool with full-time
positions. Long-serving contract academic staff
members possess departmental and institutional
wisdom, and they have demonstrated their teaching abilities and dedication to both the departmental and university mission.
Of course, the demands and expectations of
a tenure-track position vary in key respects from
a part-time teaching position, particularly in the
need for recent research that fits the requirements of the department. To be sure, the contract
labour pool cannot always satisfy the department’s need for faculty renewal and strong
But this isn’t always the case. Some contract
staff are doing high-quality research without
access to adequate resources, and without any
means of having the work recognized in their
department. In these instances, viable internal
candidates need to be considered for tenure-track
positions in ways that are not merely pro forma.
When full-time tenure track jobs are adver-
tised by an academic department, systemic biases
sometimes diminish the opportunities for con-
tract staff to apply. For example, consider the
wording of the job ad. Is it tailored to an internal
candidate the department already has in mind?
Or is it entirely aspirational in attempting to
attract a superstar candidate from afar?
Meanwhile, to be fair to their long-serving
contract staff, universities need to seriously consider ways to help them access secure long-term
employment in their field. If these contract faculty were good enough to teach core courses for
10 years, why are they not good enough to be
hired for full-time positions?
Partial solutions do exist. Some collective
agreements specify that part-time faculty with a
certain level of seniority will be granted interviews when more secure positions are created.
Such interviews should be offered seriously and
not be an exercise of providing false hope. At the
same time, the department’s autonomy in making hiring decisions must be respected.
One possible answer to this dilemma is the
formal creation of tenure-track teaching-stream
positions. These already exist at several Canadian
universities. While this isn’t a perfect solution, it
may be a start. And it also may be a way for universities to honour their ethical commitment to
those who merit opportunity and security. Ultimately, a balanced approach to providing opportunities and support to long-serving contract
staff may improve departmental morale and
ensure the kind of educational quality that
departments wish to sustain or improve.
“ There are ethical issues
around overlooking those
who remain hidden in
plain sight. ”
Cet article est également
disponible en français
sur notre site web,