Sociology courses jeopardized

For the past week, I have been crossing my fingers in the hopes of getting off a forty-person waitlist and into a forty-person upper-year sociology class. While this problem is not unusual in sociology, it is nevertheless frustrating to deal with. In a department consisting of four professors, and where non-sociology students often take sociology classes out of interest, sociology majors scramble to get into enough classes which are bursting at the seams. I am now accustomed to begging professors to raise class caps and alter waitlists, and am used to having a correspondence course at the ready if I cannot get into my preferred classes on time.

Next year, one of our faculty members will be going on sabbatical. There is talk of not replacing her at all, or of only offering one or two of her courses instead of hiring a full-time sessional professor to teach her whole course load. Neither option is desirable for students or professors.

If the professor is not replaced, our department will dwindle down to three non-tenured professors stretched thin taking on her five extra courses – that is, if the courses are not eliminated altogether for the following school year. The sociology department’s  yearly special topic course and a popular second-year course on sex and sexuality taught by part-time faculty may also be cut. These measures would only further jam waitlists and force  an increase in “small” class caps, putting professors under a heavier workload and under significantly more stress.

When professors on sabbatical are not replaced, their colleagues are asked to teach courses outside of their expertise, which requires intense preparation, even though they will likely never teach these courses again. Consequently, students won’t be taught by professors with the same comfort with course material and time available for students outside of class would almost certainly be reduced. All these spell less attention, less feedback, and likely fewer assignments and a heavier reliance on tests.

Hiring part-time professors on stipends, however, is no more promising. The frequently-cited phrase “professors’ working conditions are students learning conditions” resonates here. Contract academic staff operate in precarious conditions. They are often hired with little time to spare before the semester begins and are usually required to pack up families and move jobs between cities with each new year. They frequently balance multiple jobs, sometimes at multiple universities. Typically hired without compensation for personal research and advancement, they are left with the expectations of a full-time faculty member without the corresponding pay.

Investment in university activities and collegial governance is taken on from their own accord, especially if they are still in the job market and competing for tenure-track jobs. If we were to hire a part-time contract professor to replace our faculty member going on sabbatical, students would be unable to carry on professional relationships with them the following year and the replacement professor would likely only come into the university on the days on which they teach. Lacking fair wages and job security, part-time academic staff would be hindered by unfamiliarity with our institution and time constraints, and students would again find themselves short-changed.

Failing to replace professors both during sabbaticals or following leave is a disturbing trend emerging at Mount Allison, and also at other universities across the country. This casualization of labour goes hand-in-hand with declining numbers of faculty being granted tenure-track and tenured positions. According to  MAFA,  Mount Allison presently employs fifteen full-time contract staff, or sessionals, and forty-six part-time contract academic staff, and these numbers continue to rise each year. The principles behind these decisions are not ones that I would expect Mount Allison to endorse.

Students and professors at Mount Allison deserve better. If, as our university claims, students and staff are not “just numbers,” then they should not be treated as such: either as numbers on a waitlist or on course codes. On behalf of the Mount Allison Sociology Society, I ask that the administration take our students’ strong stance on hiring a full-time sessional professor to replace our faculty member going on sabbatical next year, before it is too late.

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