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Workers' rights

Zooming in on precarity: notes from a meeting between casualised staff and university management

Is it possible for some of the most precariously-employed yet essential university workers to have a conversation with management? Do the two groups have common interests, a shared language? What happens when they meet face-to-face – or, as is necessary during a pandemic, over Zoom?

Last Tuesday, 23 June 2020, members of the University of Sydney Casuals’ Network – along with some four hundred of our colleagues in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences – were given the rare opportunity to answer these questions. After a month’s worth of open letters, replies from management, and debates about the meeting format, Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence and Dean of Arts Prof. Annamarie Jagose eventually agreed to our demand for an unprecedented whole-of-Faculty meeting to address concerns about cuts to units of study and casualised jobs.

In the wake of travel bans that exposed its over-dependence on charging international students exorbitant fees, this year the University of Sydney has taken a $470 million hit to its budget’s bottom line. While the University has now covered this shortfall by cancelling some of its major building projects, liquidating some assets and borrowing money – among other methods – management in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences have moved to, in their words, ‘rest’ up to 30 per cent of the Faculty’s units of study. Management’s aim has been to dramatically cut the amount spent on casualised workers, with the remaining teaching work thrust onto the shoulders of already-overburdened permanent staff. Having spent an exhausting semester transitioning the University’s teaching online, hundreds of casualised staff across the Faculty now face unemployment and a possible end to their academic futures.

Why did we seek a meeting with university management? Aren’t we just a figure on a spreadsheet for them, an expense they can expunge when a crisis comes to town? What do you say to the people for whom you aren’t really people but things with a price tag? By insisting on this meeting, we were above all saying: management might treat us as commodities but we think we should have a say in how our workplace is run and what purpose a university should serve. More broadly, we believe that workers should not bear the costs of capitalism’s recurring crises, even those caused by a pandemic. We wanted to show our permanent colleagues – who too regularly are crushed beneath their own overwhelming workloads or caught up in committee work where a premium is placed on compromise and career-building – that it’s possible to openly and courageously contest management’s damaging decisions. We wanted to say to our colleagues: struggle alongside us, build a new university with us; don’t accommodate yourself to a status quo that everyone can see is intolerable.

Below we reproduce the four speeches given by casualised staff at this meeting. Chaired by Dr Robert Boncardo, a tutor in the School of Languages and Cultures, the casuals’ contribution began with Claire Parfitt, a scholar of critical finance and long-time tutor and lecturer in the Department of Political Economy, who outlined the dire situation of the tertiary education sector, management’s poor response, and casualised workers’ demands. Natasha Heenan, a PhD candidate in Political Economy, then presented an analysis of the University’s finances, demonstrating that the amount projected to be saved on casuals represented only a tiny fraction of the overall savings measures and the University’s remaining borrowing capacity. Dr Toby Fitch, a tutor in Creative Writing, gave a more personal account of the chronic overwork, underpayment and uncertainty of casual work. Finally, Dr Briony Neilson, a scholar of French history and another long-time lecturer and tutor at Sydney, outlined the case for ongoing staff to join the struggle against precarity.

In their responses, the Vice-Chancellor and Dean, as is their wont, refused to address our demands for reversing cuts to units of study and jobs and for reimbursing us for costs incurred in the transition to working from home and online. Not even the evidence we presented of egregious systematic wage theft seemed to prompt any reflection on their role in the crisis. They further displayed a blithe disregard for our modest demand to reestablish stipends for new postgraduate researchers, despite this policy crushing students’ dreams of pursuing a research degree.

Dr Spence’s halting response was a disappointing contrast to the casuals’ well-prepared and impassioned speeches. Deflecting any discussion of our substantive demands, and failing to address casuals’ exploitative working conditions, Spence instead rehearsed some familiar talking points, distinguishing between four categories of casualised workers: those who do a small amount of casual teaching in addition to their main job; those who teach casually but don’t do any research; those who do research alongside their teaching duties; and, finally, higher degree research students who are employed on casual contracts either to gain experience or supplement their stipend. Spence suggested that we were most concerned with the third group of casuals.

This is not true: for us, all staff have a right to secure work. The only line of division that we recognise is between those who are determined to fight for a better, more democratic university, and those whose agenda is focused on accumulating profit and empty prestige. Finally, Spence claimed that cuts to units of study were necessary now so as to prevent further damage to the university in future. However, as readers will see in Heenan’s presentation, we debunk this claim and demonstrate that it’s the current wave of cuts that will do irreparable harm both to the university and to its most vulnerable workers.

Prof. Jagose’s response was equally uninspired. After repeating Spence’s claim that purging casuals was a necessary prophylactic, Jagose baulked at the idea of finding common ground, and instead complained of the lack of trust shown by staff in her judgement as a leader. But what Jagose painted as a trust deficit, for us is rather an appeal to reclaim ownership of our workplace by seeking the information we need and contesting decisions that are harmful. Throughout, neither Spence nor Jagose addressed the issue of the radical disparity between, in Spence’s case, his $1.6 million salary and the poverty-line income of the vast majority of casualised staff, nor the fact that cutting their high salaries and those of other overpaid managers would allow the Faculty to run all of the units of study currently being suppressed.

Where to from here? Our hope is that in reading casuals’ contributions to this meeting, our colleagues – and our permanent colleagues in particular, whose jobs are also, in fact, precarious – will recognise that their interests are the same as ours. Yet our ambitions are broader still: to appeal to all who wish to build a new, democratic university which finally serves society’s true needs.

 

 

Responding to the crisis in higher education: There are alternatives

Claire Parfitt (Political Economy)

Higher education, and the humanities in particular, are in crisis. Our future is very uncertain. The casuals network has called this meeting because we want to build a bold and vibrant future for higher education.

Let us be clear though about the origin of this crisis.

The drop in overseas student funding this year was a shock to an already fragile education sector, which had been undermined by years of funding cuts and managerial decisions that have failed to centre the interests of staff and students. 

In the ten years I have worked here, class sizes have increased, fees have increased, workloads have increased and ongoing jobs have shrunk. Higher education is now a sector that is built on – that depends on – the unpaid labour of casual and ongoing academic and professional staff. We subsidise our institutions with our unpaid labour. 

We are here today to talk about this long-term crisis in our institution and our sector – the crisis of both job quality and of education quality – and what we are doing to respond to it.

So how have our institutions responded to the latest pressures we are facing?

Despite the crucial role that contingent staff play in delivering the core functions of the university, our recent survey of workers in FASS, to be published soon, shows that this institution has used casual staff as a well of cheap and expendable labour. 82 per cent of us did unpaid work in semester one. On average, one third of all the work we performed was unpaid. Almost all of us are worried about losing our jobs in the face of extensive course cuts. And 60 per cent of us are looking for work outside higher education because we are tired of being overworked, underpaid and treated as dispensable.

Senior managers at the university of Sydney have responded to the crisis by doubling down on past cuts, by squeezing already overburdened staff – both casual and ongoing – by reducing our offer to students and undermining the breadth and depth of the education we provide.

We have called this meeting to share our experience of this new wave of unnecessary austerity, and to show that there are alternatives. The decisions to cut courses, to take away people’s livelihoods, to increase the pressure on ongoing staff who are already overwhelmed – these decisions are presented as a necessary evil in the name of economic sustainability. But what exactly do decisions like this ‘sustain’? What kind of institution have we been building with years of cuts and restructures based on advice from exorbitantly paid management consultants?

How many of us see a bright future for ourselves and our students based on sustaining the university in this way?

An alternative vision of sustainability is offered by Professor Emerita Raewyn Connell of this University in her recent book The Good University:

Sustainability concerns both the university’s organisational life and its relation with the knowledge economy. A good university’s employment conditions support its workers, both operations and academic staff, over the long run. As a healthy workplace, a good university limits stress on staff … it creates conditions for the renewal of the workforce from one generation to another.

For those of us who are interested in a better future for this university – one which is not plagued by overwork, wage theft, stress, heavily indebted students – there is a need to rethink and start doing things differently.

As a starting point, the casuals network proposes doing the following things differently:

  1. Reinstating course offerings for Semester 2.
  2. Lifting the recruitment freeze.
  3. Restoring RTP stipends for HDRs.
  4. Back-pay and compensation for the costs staff have incurred to work online during Semester 1.

 

The False Economy of the COVID-19 Cuts

Tash Heenan (Political Economy)

[The figures in this presentation (and its slides) are taken from The University of Sydney’s own financial reports.]

I’m going to explain why, even using the university’s own reasoning, these job and course cuts are unnecessary.

 

Job cuts are unnecessary

You might have seen a SMH article a few months ago – from academics Gareth Bryant at Sydney and Ben Spies-Butcher at Macquarie – arguing that universities have a positive role to play in the COVID-19 crisis to help stimulate the broader economy due to their unique role as public institutions with substantial borrowing power. In that piece they note that, ‘Like governments, universities can spend money to keep people in jobs and our economy going in tough times, financed by long-term borrowing that can smooth the short-term impact of the crisis.’ We’re arguing that:

  • Responding to a revenue shortfall by cutting precarious staff is inequitable and unnecessary. Staff shouldn’t pay for the crisis, but they also don’t need to.
  • The shortfall in revenue can easily be made up through borrowing and cost-saving measures other than course cuts and job losses.
  • There is little economic justification for job losses, and there is a strong economic case for universities to provide stimulus for the rest of the economy by keeping people employed.

 

The short-term loss of revenue is manageable

  • There has been a $470 million revenue shortfall, and the University is trying to cover this in the following ways:
    • $130 million saved on capital or building expenditure;
    • $50 million on operational expenditure;
    • the liquidation of $100 million worth of assets;
    • and finally borrowing via a pre-established line of credit of $100 million.

The University has admitted to having an extra $200 million worth of credit they can draw on, without tapping into their Future Fund or other lines of credit. They have shifted in a relatively short period of time from a narrative of ‘borrowing is not possible’ to ‘more borrowing will create intergenerational inequity’. Of course, we know that these numbers can change, and that the rhetoric used to justify them can and has changed.

 

The university’s financial assets are substantial

  • Management need not take on debt to cover all of the revenue shortfall, if they are willing to liquidate a small portion of their financial investments – something they have already demonstrated is possible. Economist Richard Denniss (The Australia Institute) has estimated USyd’s financial portfolio at $2.1 billion.
  • This portfolio has been built over decades of charging more for degrees than they cost to deliver – i.e. from profit, despite being a non-profit organisation. While this is often justified by reference to an increased capacity to deliver quality education in the future, surely one justification is to put the university in a position to weather unexpected shocks. Drawing down on these reserves during this crisis is the obvious response.
  • Universities can use some of these assets as collateral to cover the shortfall without resorting to job cuts.

University management’s financial update to staff on the 1st of June provided an overview of their mitigation measures. Of note here is the $47 million buffer they have built into these measures (termed ‘Non-delivery risk’). The projected amount being saved on casuals is $10 million, which is less than a quarter of the buffer amount.

 

Cutting casuals is not inevitable, it’s a choice

  • According to the Provost, Stephen Garton, the projected amount being saved on casuals is $10 million across the entire university, and $3.1 million in FASS. This is a fraction of the revenue shortfall, but a lot of casual jobs!
  • We argue this is a false economy because the University is not taking into account the cost of cutting casual staff in the medium to long term. These costs include:
    • Potential reduction in enrolments due to a decline in the quantity and quality of course offerings.
    • The costs of burnout for permanent staff forced to take on higher workloads to make up for the work previously done by casual staff.
    • The inevitable need to hire fixed-term staff when the volume of work (paid and unpaid) done by casuals is eventually recognised and must be accounted for.
    • The longer term and broader economic impacts of a decline in spending by a large public institution, which may in turn negatively impact enrolments.

The University has a demonstrable capacity to cover its fall in revenue through savings measures that don’t cost jobs or require course cuts.

 

The University has a responsibility to the people who have kept it running during COVID-19

  • We are in the middle of a recession, and unemployment is skyrocketing.
  • The official unemployment rate doesn’t reflect what Economist Jim Stanford has referred to as ‘Depression-level unemployment’ of over 20 per cent.
  • Casualised staff who took on unpaid work – despite already living on low incomes – to support students through the transition to online learning will now be left without an income during this unprecedented crisis.

The university will say that people are not technically losing their jobs, since many of us are simply not going to be rehired next semester. But this justification is actually an indictment of the unique precarity of casualised university staff, who in some ways have even less job security than casual workers in other sectors of the economy. Casualisation in higher education was never about flexibility for staff as this crisis shows, the point of casualisation is that some staff are expendable, merely numbers on a budget to be balanced, and can be easily let go during a crisis and rehired when it suits the University.

 

We need economic stimulus, not austerity

  • The university has a strong role to play in providing economic stimulus for the broader economy by leveraging its borrowing power to provide jobs during the economic crisis.
  • The university is also missing an historic opportunity to improve the quality of the education it delivers, its position in international rankings and its public image by acting progressively and creatively during this crisis.
  • The university must recognise and support the casual staff who have contributed to its enormous wealth, instead of taking away their livelihoods during an economic crisis.

A report commissioned by the University and released in May this year found that the University of Sydney plays a significant role in the New South Wales economy, supporting over 35,000 jobs. The report explicitly states that these jobs are indirectly created through the spending of staff employed by the university.

There is no sound economic case for cutting casual staff members.

In fact there is a strong case for continuing to offer existing units next semester and retaining casual staff as a way to maintain the quality of teaching that is the key to the University’s revenue, international reputation and future growth.

The University should recognise and support the people who have contributed to its success and wealth, instead of taking away their livelihoods during an economic crisis.

 

The double labours of casualdom

Dr Toby Fitch (Creative Writing)

I was going to begin with a poem I’d written about the psychological effects of precarious work under neoliberal capitalism but then remembered what American poet and feminist Adrienne Rich once wrote: ‘The moment of change is the only poem.’

My time at USYD can be split in two: five years as a Creative Writing PhD candidate not offered teaching work despite multiple EOIs; and then five years hence teaching into almost all the Creative Writing units. Since 2016, I’ve helped develop the new curricula, coordinated multiple units, including a near 400-student first-year unit and a 12-credit point Master’s unit for which I had to create the curriculum in one week’s time. Would you call that ‘Education Innovation’? I’ve supervised and marked multiple Master’s dissertations and become an integral part of the department. I only recently found out I’ve been working full-time equivalent teaching loads since the beginning of 2018. In 2019, I worked 108.75 per cent of a full-time staff member’s teaching load. This year, I have filled in for sick colleagues at the drop of a hat and meanwhile transitioned two entire units online before all other staff managed to, while supervising five other excellent casuals teaching into my undergraduate unit. Is that ‘Education Innovation’?

By the way, I am also a professional staff member – editorial assistant for the Power Institute, and that casual contract will not be renewed later in the year. I have done the double labour of these casual roles while being a carer for my two daughters, now aged three and five (my partner works full-time) and while working 3-4 other casual jobs at a time for the last decade – arts administrator, festival organiser, literary editor, freelancer, and oh yeah, my primary occupation as a poet. All of this double, triple, quadruple labour earns me about half of what continuing academics are paid. Is this ‘Education Innovation’?

I know casual teaching is now my main source of income, and that that’s because the sector has relied on the wage exploitation of expert casual teachers so much, and for so long, causing many of us to become de facto permanent staff. I know I’m entitled to a fixed-term conversion and eligible for a continuing position if I apply. But I also know the University isn’t obliged to convert me – not just because of the hiring freeze but because they need to continue to exploit our labour for their bottom line. I know I’m actually one of the ‘lucky’ casuals who gets regular work. I know the majority of the casual workforce are women and people of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and that unhiring them will lead the University closer to the rich white patriarchal institution so much of the world right now is revolting against. I know most of us casual humans will be left scrapping for maybe one tutorial next semester, maybe none in 2021. I know we now have to wait with no teaching money for two whole months till late August to find out if we get the privilege of doing this all over again next semester. I know there’s a deep irony in the fact most of us casuals are still marking, that that marking is due around about today, and that at the same time we’ve had to do the double labour of fighting for our jobs and better working conditions for permanent staff, too. I know that we casuals now have thousands of marks on Canvas that we could withhold or delete. I know I don’t have any paid leave but that I’m one of a bunch of cases the NTEU is looking into for a potential class action in the wake of the recent CFMMEU win in the Federal Court. I know so many casuals who fit into the various categories and situations I’ve just outlined, and that the results of our forthcoming Casuals Network survey of casual conditions under COVID-19 show statistics that amount to systematic wage theft. These statistics are the stories – to quote my five-year-old – ‘for real life’, and you, Professor Jagose, Dr Spence, will keep hearing these stories unless you change the story. I know that I’ve been sucked into the black hole of this system for a while now – ‘hired’, ‘used’, ‘employed’, ‘contracted’. Just think about that verb for a minute: ‘to contract’; you are literally making us smaller – as individuals, as a collective, contracting us into one black hole and now crushing that black hole into another: unemployment till 2024. I know that, like ‘a fossilized piece of moon’ (Ernst Bloch, in The Heritage of our Times, 1935), fascism has been unearthed again around the world, and that the Humanities can help safeguard against such a stench by instilling in students the intellectual and ideological frameworks necessary to verbalise dissent and to survive. What kind of University are we when our bottom line is more important than subjects like ‘Slavery in America’ and ‘Fascism and Antifascism’?

The etymology of ‘university’ is ‘a community of teachers and scholars’. As an institution that first and foremost represents a collegiate community of students and academics, and which promotes free thinking, fraternity and equality – not capitalist accumulation for a corporate ladder with a broken bottom rung – we should do better by students, early career researchers, and teachers on the frontline by maintaining a diversity of courses and providing better stipends and proper jobs.

And so, short of the economic stimulus my casual comrade Tash has just suggested, let’s think about a hypothetical situation in which the austerity measures are applied to the stacked upper rungs of our University’s corporate ladder: If we were to shave $10,000 off each of the salaries of the 300+ people in management who don’t teach but earn over a quarter of a million dollars each, we could make up the shortfall of the $3 million cuts to casuals in FASS. If we were to shave off $100,000 from those same 300+ managers’ salaries, the resulting $30+ million would cover all the impending job cuts of fixed-terms and casuals across the University. Under that kind of cut, all those managerial staff would still have jobs and still be earning over $150,000 each. It is egregious that management can’t stomach a pay cut to their inflated six- and seven-figure salaries. And yet they currently have the gall to instead impose cuts that will wipe out potentially half their own indi(spence)able workforce – teachers and professionals who create and foster the social fabric of the University. It is a two-tiered regime we’re working under: management above; teachers and professional workers below. You know, when most casuals are cast out after this week, all my permanent colleagues, many of whom are here today, who already shoulder ridiculous workloads, will have to take on even more, and the research our University is renowned for internationally will pale, and the tenuous structures of our teaching force will collapse inside our beautiful new buildings.

I want to finish by talking about loyalty. We love our jobs. And have continued to work in good faith under trying labour conditions for the social fabric we knit with our students; for the time our labour frees up for the University’s great researchers; and, for our own potential futures contributing to the academy’s bodies of knowledge. But, after a long, exhausting, and frankly awful semester of having our labour ever more exploited, and then being threatened with our jobs – how can we maintain good faith? Permanent staff – now is the time to show loyalty to a better idea of the university. We have the opportunity to collaborate. Please don’t remain silent and complicit – it will only end in worse conditions for you and our students. Professor Jagose, Dr Spence, where is your loyalty to us? If you don’t take action to mend the fabric of what the University should stand for and protect the workers who have been loyal to you for years, then you will be tearing up the very community you lead. The moment of change is now. The moment of change is the only poem.

 

Our Collective Interests: An appeal to permanent staff

Dr Briony Neilson (History)

Dr Spence and Professor Jagose, I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to meet with you today. Thank you. It’s the first time I’ve had the chance to meet you and to speak to you.

I can see there are many colleagues here today from the History Department, where I’ve been working as a casualised staff member since the first semester of the first year of my PhD. Since finishing my PhD I’ve had the good fortune to continue to work with many of you here as a tutor, lecturer, research assistant and research collaborator (I’ve co-authored and co-edited publications with a number of you).

I’d like to take this moment to thank you, my permanent colleagues, for the collegiality you’ve consistently shown me. I know that you recognise and value my dedication and commitment. And in this respect I’m sure I speak for all my casualised colleagues present in the meeting today.

Even though we’re meeting with the Vice-Chancellor and the Dean, really what I have to say is most addressed to our ongoing colleagues who are not in managerial roles and with whom we share day-to-day experiences and a vision of what the university should and could be like.

So let me direct the following remarks to you, our permanent academic and professional staff colleagues.

We work alongside you: we’re your colleagues, your collaborators, so we know only too well how hard you work; how dedicated you are as teachers, as supervisors, as researchers, as support staff, as colleagues.

Universities are only as good as the people who work in them. But, as you know, so many of those people now, the ones that do so much of the on-the-ground work that keeps the university functioning, are casualised out of the security of ongoing work.

This past semester has been a strange one. It’s thrown up particular challenges which have been shared by precarious and permanent staff alike. The costs of those challenges, however, have been especially difficult for us casuals.

Looking into the future now in the face of reduced employment opportunities for casualised and fixed-term staff arouses great apprehension. And apprehension not just for ourselves but for higher education as a whole in this country.

My main message is this: despite appearances – and despite the fact that we as casuals are often made invisible – we’re all in this together. Our conditions as precarious staff and your conditions as permanent staff are symbiotic; we’re part of the same ecosystem. Changes to our working conditions necessarily have an impact on yours.

We think that we, your casualised colleagues, are important allies for you in the fight for a better university: A university where you will have workload provisions that support you, that nurture your research, that allow you to engage in an enriching collegial life; workload provisions that allow you to support your students and also to live a healthy and fulfilling life outside of work.

We know that many of you have been squeezed into roles with onerous teaching demands, making it very difficult for you to undertake research. If casual teaching disappears next semester and in the following ones, this will only get worse.

We know how hard it is for you to continue your research and offer adequate support to your students.

We know that many of you feel despondent about the state of our university and of higher education generally. 

Perhaps it’s not fully appreciated just how invested we, your precarious colleagues, are in the future of this University. It’s true that I, like most of us, don’t just work here, I work at numerous universities simultaneously. We dedicate ourselves to working at as high a level as we can (despite the instability of our work arrangements) to ensure that our students get the best quality teaching we can offer.

We teach alongside you. We know you and you know us and we know you trust us.

All we’re asking is for you not to be bystanders here and to be the good colleagues to us that we have been to you. And that means not accepting us being treated as disposable – for our sakes, but also for yours.

You know how hard it is for us to live within a ‘just-in-time’ distribution framework for casual work which makes long-term planning and goal-setting next-to impossible.

None of us wants precarity as our only option. Precarious work is not desirable. But if it’s the best on offer we simply can’t afford to lose it. And getting rid of precarious staff doesn’t get rid of the work, it just shifts it on to already overburdened permanent staff.

So now let me turn back to you, Dr Spence and Professor Jagose, as representatives of this dedicated and vibrant body of workers. We call on you to reverse the changes to course offerings in Semester 2, to reinstate casualised teaching positions, to lift the hiring freeze, and to grant universal extensions for Higher Degree Research students – for our sakes, but also for the sake of both the ongoing staff whose work, without us, will only intensify, and of the students to whose education we are all so committed.

Thank you.

 

Afterword

Robert Boncardo (School of Languages and Cultures)

Just before we pass over to Professor Jagose and Dr Spence, once again reiterating Briony’s message of supporting us as casuals, I’d like to very briefly share with you a couple of lines from Rimbaud’s poem ‘A Season in Hell’ – a title that we can all, perhaps, relate to. Rimbaud says:

Yes, the new hour is, at the very least, harsh. Yet this is the eve. Let us all receive influxes of vigour and of real tenderness. And at dawn, armed with an ardent patience, we shall enter the splendid cities.

Now when Rimbaud says ‘eve,’ the French word is ‘la veille’, which can also mean a wake after a funeral. The truth is that it’s up to us – as casual staff, as fixed-term staff and as permanent staff – to decide whether for the University of Sydney, and for the sector at large, this is the ‘wake,’ or this is the ‘eve.’

 

Claire Parfitt has worked and studied at the University of Sydney for the last decade, teaching in Political Economy as well as in Sociology and Communications at Macquarie University and UTS respectively. She is a scholar of critical finance, and is currently completing a PhD in this area.

Natasha Heenan is a PhD candidate in the department of political economy, and casual tutor and lecturer. 

Dr Toby Fitch is a casual academic in creative writing at the University of Sydney, and editorial assistant at the Power Institute. His doctorate won the University’s Dame Leonie Kramer Prize for Australian Poetry. He is poetry editor of Overland, organiser of AVANT GAGA and the poetry night at Sappho Books in Glebe, and an award-winning poet of six collections of poetry. His seventh is forthcoming with Giramondo Publishing.

Dr Briony Neilson is a specialist in the history of French criminal justice. She has a PhD in History from the University of Sydney and her work has appeared in various international scholarly journals. She has been employed as a fixed-term researcher and sessional lecturer in both History and Criminology at several Australian universities, including the University of Sydney, UNSW and Monash. She is an affiliate researcher at the French CNRS research lab ‘Centre pour les humanités numériques et l’histoire de la justice’ in Paris, and is Editor of the peer-reviewed journal of the George Rudé Society. Currently she’s collaborating with colleagues in Nouméa on a museum exhibition tracing the history of the French penal colony in New Caledonia.

Dr Robert Boncardo is a sessional tutor in the European Studies and International and Global Studies programs at the University of Sydney. His published works include Mallarmé and the Politics of Literature: Sartre, Kristeva, Badiou, Rancière (Edinburgh University Press, 2018), Mallarmé: Rancière, Milner Badiou (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2017) with Christian R. Gelder, and he is the translator of Pierre-François Moreau’s Experience and Eternity in Spinoza (Edinburgh University Press, 2021).

Image: Jason Tong

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

The University of Sydney Casuals Network is a group of precariously-employed academic and general staff committed to organising casual and fixed-term staff to fight against the corporate university.

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Comments

  1. Think this is a fair and thorough recap of what was a very important first (?) meeting. One thing that did not come out is a more detailed look at the university’s assets. Dr Spence said conversationally that “This was no time to be selling the farm”. But, as it happens the university has MANY farms. Given the small amount of saving these life-wrecking cuts will achieve, it is precisely worth re-raising the idea of selling some assets.
    Julian Wood
    long term casual. SSESW

  2. After 20 years of loyal precariat service to three institutions – dumped like a bad habit!

  3. Wonderful read.

    University management is so toxic and yet many staff (even alleged activists) will cosy
    up to them for ‘diversity and inclusion” initiatives and “ally networks”.

    That nexus needs to be broken and staff need to realise that the common enemy is the managerial set.

    • Yesterday, Michael Spence was asked by the host of ‘Big Ideas’ about which workers will suffer in the COVID-era, such as casuals.

      Spence’s response was to mention nothing at all about casuals, instead replying “it will be difficult for people graduating from university right now”.

      Clearly University management (who are almost always in secure work) have never cared about the casuals and contract staff they employ.

      Academic and general staff should make a pact not to work with them as I mentioned above. it’s just a kick in the guts for colleagues who are in insecure work for years, who are being let go in their thousands right now.

      Here’s the Big Ideas episode: https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bigideas/covid,-universities-and-the-economy/12401272

  4. Impassioned and on point.

    Management don’t teach.

    Solidarity from a University of Melbourne Casual.

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