Editorial: The Curse of the Short-Term Contract

Carl Bindman @Carl Bindman

Here’s a riddle: If a three-year contract has to be renewed every year, can it still be called a three-year contract?

The answer is interesting. See, those are the conditions of the Limited-Term Appointment, a type of contract for full-time faculty at Concordia.

In their collective bargaining agreement with the school, the Concordia University Faculty Association defines LTAs as lasting, at most, three years. After every year, faculty must reapply to keep their position for the rest of their contract. And, when the contract is done, an LTA cannot apply to that same position for another two years.

This type of position exists for three reasons. The first is as a replacement for a faculty member who is on leave. The second is to fill an open tenure track position, temporarily. The third and final reason is to address a temporary need in teaching or service.

The common theme in those three requirements is temporariness, and that explains why the contract is so strictly limited. It’s designed as a stop-gap measure, but it isn’t being used as one.

This week we wrote about Stefan Bronner, the coordinator of the German minor. He is the only full-time faculty in the department. He is an LTA, he replaced an LTA when he was hired, and when he leaves he’ll likely be replaced with another LTA.

Permanent temporariness is not permanence. And right now, 24 LTA positions are available in the Arts and Sciences Faculty. Hiring 24 three-year temporary employees instead of investing in longer-term positions has dire consequences for academics.

LTAs are not tenure track, which means they aren’t contributing to the growth of institutional knowledge in departments. In fact, the opposite happens, since it’s hard to build new projects when the people building those projects have to leave after three years and can’t return for another two years. That is, if they manage to keep their contract for the full three years.

It’s also important to consider how draining it could be for staff to have such little job security. Plus, precarious three-year contracts are fundamentally incompatible with long-term professional and personal planning. Does a faculty member invest in a home if they don’t know whether they’ll have a job a year from now? If they’re from another country, do they apply for Canadian citizenship?

Similar problems exist in a similar type of contract, the Extended-Term Appointment. ETA contracts can last up to five years, but the shortcomings in certainty and institutional knowledge persist in the same ways as LTAs.

So what’s the deal with all the LTAs?

Well, LTAs and ETAs are cheaper for the university than tenure track positions, going by salaries from CUFA’s 2015-2018 collective agreement, using the lowest pay grade for an employee starting in June 2017.

While an LTA, ETA and tenure-track lecturer will all make around the same in their first year of teaching, give or take $4,000, the latter’s salary will eventually double to over $110,000.

LTAs are also very cost-effective for the administration, teaching at least seven courses per academic year. If a part-time faculty member were to teach the same number of classes, it would cost the university at least $3,000 more.

Relying on LTAs is a way of getting more bang for the university’s buck. We understand that motivation. Money is tight. This year, Concordia is projecting a deficit of $6.3 million—last year’s deficit was $9.3 million. But surely the immaterial cost of reliance on LTAs is worth a moment’s consideration?

Especially when the money is there, even with austerity and deficits. Last week, The Link reported on the new Chemical and Materials Engineering Department, which will incur several million dollars in renovation costs. And the 2016-2017 Concordia budget assigns $7.75 million for what it calls “Investing in Our Future,” including more opportunities and money for summer schools, graduate program initiatives, the District 3 Innovation Centre, and more.

Perhaps the school should also consider spending some cash on permanent faculty. Leaning further on LTAs won’t help students, faculty, or the future of the school.