Temporary academic work in UK philosophy departments

It’s far from easy if you’re employed as an academic on a temporary basis. Apart from the obvious one – lack of job security – temporary staff face a number of difficulties. Unlike permanent staff, universities offer little if any financial help with relocation, it costs money (lots of it in some cases) to move, moving is stressful and has a negative impact on one’s relationships with family and friends, it’s nigh on impossible to secure a mortgage, there is reduced entitlement to maternity leave, temporary jobs lack possibilities for promotion so one’s salary is either stagnant, or decreases as one has to accept new jobs on a lower wage, pension arrangements are patchy at best, or non-existent.

Moreover, the way in which departments operate makes it almost inevitable that some unlucky folk will be stuck in a cycle of temporary work with all the disadvantages this brings. Hiring committees place a great amount of importance on a person’s research. They want to see a strong publication record, and evidence of the ability to attract grant money. Temporary staff are typically employed primarily to cover teaching, and have much higher teaching loads than permanent staff, often with no research time at all built into their contracts. Universities are increasingly employing temporary staff on short contracts of less than a year, which means that over the summer – when permanent staff are focusing on their research – temporary staff often have to take other jobs to make ends meet. Add to this the fact that temporary staff must continually be applying for the next job – and we all know how long it takes to write a job application. It makes it very difficult to do any research which will enable one to secure a permanent post.

The British Philosophical Association has taken this up, and produced a new policy document outlining the problem, and suggesting ways in which departments can improve the lives of young philosophers.

The document draws on an excellent report written by Dawn Phillips, which sets out the issues in detail, with suggestions for change. You can access it here.

UPDATE: Doh – I’ve just noticed Jender already reported this a few days ago. I’ll leave this post up too, though, as it has more detail than Jender’s.

4 thoughts on “Temporary academic work in UK philosophy departments

  1. I think the efforts to help those stuck in the temporary employment rut are admirable, to be sure. However, I do want to point out that not all of those who are in this situation are “young philosophers”. In fact, I would reckon that those most impacted by the growing reliance on temporary faculty would not count as “young” — i.e. are more than 5 years from Ph.D. completion. I would also wager (tho can’t give evidence for this claim) that many are (a) women; (b) trailing spouses; and/or (c) parents. In fact, my impression is that, while women with children are under-represented in philosophy at large, they are over-represented in the temporary labor sector of philosophy. These philosophers may be even more exploitable than young philosophers without children, since they plausibly have more constraints on their options.

  2. A good point to raise. I blogged about the problems associated with temp work here: http://www.newappsblog.com/2011/05/academic-freedom-and-tenure.html
    I think more needs to be done to protect temporary employees, who are becoming an increasingly large part of the work force. Some of my commentators have argued that the large divide in freedom/workload/security between tenured and temp folk is justified, because you have to prove yourself for an initial period of say, 6 years, and then it is justified to get all the privileges associated with tenure. Yet, my personal experience shows me that academics who are at least 5 years PhD go from one temp contract to another, so the period in which they have to prove themselves becomes increasingly long. The high workload in terms of teaching, and the fact that temporary folk often do not get to choose what they work on makes it very difficult for them to eek out a tenure track position.

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