Academic quality takes precedent over precarious professorship


Job security for professors encourages a culture of personalized knowledge—but across Canada, that isn’t always a reality.

On Nov. 1, The Toronto Star reported on the precarious nature of professorships across Canada. At Emily Carr University of Art and Design, two-thirds of sessional and adjunct professors are denied job security beyond their current contracts. They’re paid per course with no guarantee of continued work, and are often only offered one course per semester.

Meanwhile, a PhD degree requires years of intensive research and application to earn. It’s financially demanding and mentally strenuous. After completing extended work motivated by sheer passion, instructors should be guaranteed reasonable job security.

While specific post-grad studies—such as medical and law schools—often result in secure employment, the same doesn’t apply to the rest of academia. For people hopeful of pursuing professorship, this serves as a serious disincentive, especially when academics are often considered over-qualified for work outside a university.

Universities face constant financial demand for student services, along with growing class sizes and pressure from public rankings like Maclean’s annual “University Rankings.” The schools find themselves with less to spend on consistent professor salaries. As a result, they increasingly rely on contract workers.

The consequential revolving door of academic guidance prevents student-professor mentorship and tarnishes academic quality.

Students need professorial interface to move forward enthusiastically in their academic careers, whether it’s getting feedback on a paper or asking for informed advice about their futures.

Professors are academics with interpersonal ability—interacting with students is an aspect of their jobs. But if they’re not paid to do so, they can’t do their jobs to the best of their ability.

It’s hypocritical of universities to present themselves as places of flourishing knowledge if their employees are incapable of doing their best work for fear they soon won’t be working at all.  

Denying professors stability impacts their research and teaching quality—their jobs have expiry dates they don’t yet know. Contracted professors might avoid inventive teaching to play it safe. Similarly, professors without tenure might feel their research won’t enjoy academic freedom.

As instructors worry about their next paycheque, their academic focus suffers.

Professors need room to experiment with teaching to avoid stagnation and encourage interest—their original ideas are the reason they succeeded in academia to begin with.

Universities must step back and consider how exploiting PhD contract work diminishes their own institutional future. A professor constantly frightened of unemployment can’t fully engage in either the teaching or university community, discouraging student engagement in the long term.

If universities continue to undervalue the people who dictate their academic quality, they fail to do themselves justice—and they dissuade future generations from pursuing further education.  

—Journal Editorial Board

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