academic reorganization · new year new plan

Labour and Change

Four years ago Hook & Eye launched its first post. You fit into me / like a hook into an eye, says the poet Atwood. And our first blogger and co-founder, Heather Zwicker, rejoined, “like oxfords under brown corduroy cuffs, like a Bic pen in the coil of an unsullied scribbler, like Labour Day and despair.” 

There is so much pressure put upon the new year in academia. Some of that pressure is welcome (new stationary! new pens! new classes!) Some of it is not (one million meetings! fighting the scanner!) But unless we take the time to look at the macro and micro shifts in culture we might mistakenly think that the start of each school year is the same. It isn’t

In the four years since Hook & Eye began the shape of labour in the academy has continued to change dramatically. In the last four years we have seen memes circulate as harbingers of the pop-culture denigration of Humanities labour. We have seen a rise in rape culture on campuses. We have seen reason after reason why feminism matters in academia and in the world. Each time I start thinking about another year of writing blog posts I am reminded of the necessity of trying to put words out into the world that do something. I am reminded of the reasons we started Hook & Eye in the first place: to create an accessible feminist community of people working in academia in Canada. To articulate challenges and to call out injustices. To talk about the minutia and the mess of working and living as feminist scholars. To take responsibility. To create a community of care. To listen. 

The reasons for this blog haven’t changed. The climate in which the bloggers work has, however. When we started back in 2010 there were three of us. Here is how Heather described she, Aimée, and I then:

Conveniently, writing collaboratively builds in a range of perspectives. The three of us bloggers share a worrying commitment to punctuality and a reassuring addiction to wit, but that’s about it. We do not agree on everything; we do not write with a single institutional affiliation; and we sign our stuff. (We want you to, too.) One of us is an assistant professor on the brink of tenure, one of usis an assistant professor on a limited-term appointment, one of us is an associate dean. We live in Halifax, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Edmonton; we come from francophone Ontario, renegade Alberta and central Canada. We range in age from 31 to 44 and earned our PhDs in 1993, 2004 and 2008. One of us is a mom; one of us is a lesbian; at least two of us have tattoos.

Whelp, guess what? The rise of precarious labour, the increasing pressures on tenured and tenure-track faculty, and the ongoing neoliberalization of universities is having a fundamental effect on education and labour in Canada. It is changing the shape of Hook & Eye as well. 

Last year our most-read post was Melissa’s “I Quit” letter detailing her shift into the alt-ac sphere. Runners-up included Margrit’s lament for Alberta’s universities after governmental cuts, Aimée’s tips for giving a keynote to a packed audience. Jana’s repost on mental health and the PhD, and my series of posts on the empathy trap. There’s a trend here. Do you see it? First, the only member of our weekly blogging team to have a tenured (never mind tenure-track!) position is Aimée. Our demographic of writers has shifted dramatically. Second, the work of the work is building. It is no secret that the work you do is building, whether as a contract academic faculty or a tenured or tenure-track faculty member. The work is building for everyone, but it isn’t building in the same ways. We seem to discuss less the fact that if you are in the academy and a woman, a person of colour, or early-to-mid-way through your career those pressures and labour inequities are massive and unequal as well. Unless universities start playing the long-game for sustainability of education, culture, and their own reputations, those disproportionate and unfair workloads are only going to increase.

Labour Day indeed. 

In order to address the changing structure of both academia and our blogging make-up we are changing the structure of Hook & Eye slightly. I’ll be posting on Mondays, as per, and readers can contact me if you’d like to pitch a guest post. Ah, the time afforded by under-employment. Jana and Boyda will continue to split Tuesdays, Aimée will post Wednesdays, Melissa is taking the Thursday slot, and Margrit will write on Fridays. We are thrilled to welcome Lily Cho who will be writing for us bi-monthly. Welcome, Lily! For each guest post we have, several of the regular writers will craft response posts in hopes of both creating dialogue for the guests and a sense of conversation for the readers. 

We’re looking forward to another year of writing, thinking, and discussion. And I, for one, am going to continue to be thinking about the changing nature of labour for people trained as scholars who are working in- and outside the academy. 

4 thoughts on “Labour and Change

  1. I am sorry to start the year with a quibble, but I think it's wrong to draw a line between tenured/tenure track and contract labour in terms of the *amount* of work, and so the line about “double, triple, quadruple the amount of labour” misfires even as hyperbole. The research literature is pretty consistent in showing an average work week for tenure stream faculty members of abiyt 52 hours a week, averaged over the year .., a bit higher at research intensive universities, for chairs and deans and such, and for full professors. I doubt that contract and sessional instructors are spending 100 or 150 hours a week on their work.

    The downsides of contract or sesional labour are many: lack of status; lack of security; low income; lack of input into collegial decision making; restricted opportunity to do the things that will get you off the contract treadmill, etc. But to suggest that contract faculty are working *harder* than tenure stream faculty risks drawing an unnecessary and divisive line. There are important feminist issues confronting tenure stream faculty as well—such as the challenges of trying to combine putting in the hours it takes to clear the tenure bar with having a life outside work, who gets what sorts of service jobs, moving goalposts in performance review processes, recurring problems with pay equity, etc. These may look like less serious issues from the perspective of a contract academic, but the fact that some schools have difficulty retaining promising tenure stream faculty suggests that they're real enough to the people living through them.


  2. It's a momentous back-to-school experience in British Columbia as all public school teachers are currently on strike. Faculty of school-aged children are struggling to secure care for their children while also trying to get ready for their own classes. I'm not alone in feeling a strong sense of solidarity in this: across different types of schooling, different levels of job security, different kinds of workload.


  3. @ddvd: Thanks for taking the time–you're right. My aim was to underscore the ways in which contract academic faculty often teach a different course load than tenured or tenure-track faculty (3/3 to a 2/3 load or 4/4 to a 3/3 load). I misfired in my phrasing. I've edited it to try and readdress what I was getting at, namely that the labour is increasing for almost everyone, though it is not increasing in the same ways. Again, many thanks for your critique.

    @Katja: Indeed. Thinking of you all in BC and keeping a close eye on how things unfold.


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