Teaching gigs

As of last week I am teaching two courses in Modern Philosophy, at the Free University of Amsterdam and at the Radboud University of Nijmegen. Both jobs are part time, fixed term: 0.6fte in Amsterdam for two months and 0.15fte in Nijmegen until the end of summer (all teaching, no research). The courses give a general survey of post-medieval western philosophy, 9 hours a week in Amsterdam spread over three lectures a week and 4 hours a week in Nijmegen in two weekly lectures. So during six weeks there will be 18 and 12 lectures, for 6 EC and 4 EC, respectively. I’ve taught the same course in Amsterdam lat year, but had to re-apply formally as if it was an ordinary job (cover letter, CV, interview, etc.). The same procedure will happen in Groningen, where I just taught two courses in Modern philosophy (in the minor and in the honours college, 0.25 fte until the end of summer). My current contract will end at the end of summer and I will have to reapply formally to teach the same courses, plus perhaps some other courses (the appointment would be for 0.4 fte this time). Both in Amsterdam and in Groningen the courses are part of the yearly core curriculum in their respective programs, but there seems to be no room for a regular, permanent position despite there seeming to be structural teaching need.

Universities actually save a lot of money this way, by just paying temporary lecturers to teach instead of paying regular staff for both teaching and research. This undermines both the position of tenured faculty (the temps can take over half their jobs for much less money, undercutting union wages), and that of the temporary lecturers, which either do no research (and can probably forget an academic career) or do their research for free.

Moreover, with such small temporary contracts, wages are so low and precarious, you’re forced to take on multiple overlapping contracts (I’ve been working two or three jobs at the same time repeatedly to make ends meet). This is far from efficient and needs a lot of coordination to make the schedules fit together. Due to the commute and tight scheduling, participating in all kinds of local seminars, workgroups, etc. or even just socializing becomes cumbersome and impractical. It’s not as if universities and faculties can take into account the schedules of all other departments in the country. Moreover, there is little incentive to invest in a community that you will be forced to leave after a couple of months. My colleagues have generally been wonderful and supportive, but are rarely the ones responsible for hiring and contracts. Those who are, blame the administration higher up, which blames the government.

Sometimes contracts are so short, they don’t even cover the resits or the orientation meeting, and you get an e-mail informing you about the end of the contract more or less at the same time as the welcome e-mail. Most curricula have at least one or two introductory history courses before getting to modern philosophy, so between late fall and early spring, second half of the first, first half of the second semester, I get called on to teach about whatever happened between Bacon and Sartre.

It increasingly feels like seasonal work.

Winter is coming: time for modern philosophy.

I’m sure there are many temporary lecturers that struggle with the same problem: you have a good publication and teaching record, you do nothing wrong, but your contract simply ends and you have to reapply for the same job over and over again. The CAO Nederlandse Universiteiten (“Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities“) states: “The key principle for academic staff positions is that employees will be offered the prospect of a permanent employment contract after a maximum of two years of temporary employment.”, but universities do not have the kind of budget to offer permanent jobs at their discretion, given the fluctuations in student numbers and correlative state subsidies. There are no prospects outside of full official job openings or research grants, both of which require a serious curriculum filled with things that are impossible to attain on temporary part-time “teaching fellowships” with no formal support for research activities like attending and speaking at conferences, organising workshops and conferences, acting as (co-)supervisor for dissertations, etc. All of which are also criteria for research grants as PI and team leader. So even if you do your research and publications for free on a teaching contract, you can’t build up the right kind of track record.

Instead of leading to a permanent positions, the law on “Work and Job Security” (“Werk en Zekerheid”) offers neither: if I want to take on the next temporary part-time teaching gig in Groningen, I’ll have to voluntarily rescind my current contract six months early, otherwise they’d have to offer me a permanent position, which they won’t.

Contracts like these, part-time fixed-term teaching-only, are harmful to all involved and should not be offered.