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Interview // Kimberly Ellis-Hale

Interview // Kimberly Ellis-Hale

Tanzeel Sayani

Kimberly Ellis-Hale is the contract faculty (CF) liaison officer for the Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty Association and headed up CF strategy and mobilization during negotiations with the administration in the fall of 2016. The Bulletin talked to her about how she rallied support for CF issues and mobilized members.

There are at any given time between 400 and 600 CF at Laurier. What challenges did you face in mobilizing them?

The administration’s shameless divide and defeat approach to negotiations with CUPE 926 sent a clear message that CF were in for a fight. Because of that, we felt it was very important to mobilize members. Yet one of the things I’ve heard over and over again is that CF are difficult to mobilize as they’re often having to teach at multiple universities. Additionally, I felt we needed the support of regular faculty (RF).

How did you go about it?

I started by seeding the ground, writing articles for our faculty association newsletter in which I addressed common myths like “CF are just academic infill,” or “CF receive equal pay for work of equal value,” and “benefits just don’t make sense for Laurier’s ‘temporary’ workers,” etc. Sadly, the myths are prevalent, even among RF. Clearly we needed to be doing a lot more communicating!

What specifically did you do to engage contract faculty?

We started with a very small ask: tell us how many students they’d taught at Laurier. This made them start thinking about it: how many courses have I taught here? What was the size of those courses? Many used their course evaluations to get exact numbers. The response was overwhelming. We needed only one-fourth of our members’ responses to reach a quarter of a million students taught.

How did you use those numbers to your advantage?

We launched a media campaign: “CF have taught over a quarter-million students at Laurier, and yet they don’t have …” And we listed the things we were negotiating for. Ads in six local media outlets let our communities know that CF make a huge contribution but are exploited. Going forward from that, the response we got from our members to further asks was great.

How else did you engage members?

We followed with a number of blast surveys, which helped the negotiating team and kept members informed about issues, such as the fact we aren’t allowed to call ourselves contract faculty at Laurier. We also created the “Century Club,” to counter the CF “infill” myth. So every time a CF hits 100 courses, they become a member, and among other things, receive an engraved travel mug. The 100 course threshold was important because teaching a full load, it takes a CF member about 11 years to hit that number so it’s hard evidence we’re not “temporary.” We also distributed cards with very pointed messaging. For example: “In Canada, people who earn under $24,000 are called the working poor. At Laurier, they’re called Contract Faculty,” and our Doonesbury t-shirts were a big hit as well.

What difficulties are involved in getting more support from regular faculty?

Many RF report feeling overwhelmed. As universities increasingly rely on CF to teach, a shrinking number of RF are expected to shoulder increasingly heavier service and administrative loads while still remaining research productive. CF are not usually allowed to take on any of these responsibilities, but if they do, they are not remunerated or recognized for it. This needs to change. We need RF actively on board, working tables and standing up to administrations on CF issues.

How did you convince regular faculty to become more supportive of CF?

It is in their best interests — and our students — to get involved in the challenges faced by CF because we are very quickly becoming the new majority. The conditions of our employment have implications for RF workloads, collegial governance, pension viability, academic freedom and bargaining strength, not to mention critical mass required for effective research. I’d imagine that if things don’t change soon, we’re going to see regular faculty feeling more and more isolated. The lack of security CF have always experienced is quickly finding its way into RF working conditions — just look south of the border.

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