A Reply to “Teaching at Guelph-Humber”

Names withheld by request
May 31, 2018

Professor Morrone’s thoughtful and courageous letter regarding teaching at Guelph-Humber deserves a response, as does his specific question, “Does the administration at the University of Guelph-Humber really care about their students?” Professor Morrone served as a Sessional Instructor during his time at G-H. The following points of reality about the life of a “Sessional” may answer his question.

  • Sessionals at Guelph-Humber do not have protected rights to continued employment. Though technically they hold Rights of First Refusal (RoFR) to their courses, there are three paths that administration utilizes to take their work away. One of them is to change the employer from G-H to Humber. Professor Morrone was ‘fortunate” in that he was still retained to teach that course at almost half of his original payment. Often the course is simply given to another instructor. The other two tactics used by administration to take courses away is to rename courses and make (often superficial) changes to them, or to give them to a full-time faculty member.
  • Sessionals never know if they will be employed the following semester, regardless of how long or how well they have previously taught upcoming courses. They find out if they are by anxiously watching for an email from administration inviting them to exercise their RoFR. They find out they are not employed by not receiving that email.
  • If a Sessional exercises their RoFR they are not guaranteed employment but have to watch for an email congratulating them for being able to continue to teach a course they have developed and taught before. This is a moment for celebration and gratitude on the part of the Sessional who has won the lottery of continued employment (this time).
  • Courses are taken from Sessionals regardless of student feedback, Sessional involvement in unpaid extracurricular work such as serving on committees, or extra time spent supporting students with personal matters and reference letters. Because continued employment is not merit-based there is a general sense of malaise and learned helplessness among Sessionals.
  • There is little sense of community among Sessionals as it is understood by Sessionals that they are transient workers who cannot count on seeing their colleagues beyond the time frame of a single semester. Sessionals are well aware that they are not employees engaged in achieving a shared longer-term mission.
  • Sessionals at G-H work in an atmosphere of fear as their continued employment is at the whim of administration. It is understood by Sessionals that though administrators may initially appear friendly, any challenge or questioning by a Sessional about the nature of their employment is likely to generate a punitive response including loss of employment. The accepted wisdom of G-H Sessionals in a university setting which one would think would welcome questioning, is to ‘not make waves, keep your head down, and hope for the best.’ By identifying himself in his letter, Professor Morrone has pretty much guaranteed he will never again teach at G-H.
  • Sessionals are periodically informed by administration that they are part of a team. They are invited to lunches and informed of the importance of self-care and mental health and offered workshops which would teach them how to be mentally healthy. As their precarious employment status is by far the most significant factor negatively impacting Sessional mental health, the typical response to these invitations is a combination of black humour and cynicism.
  • Sessionals are reminded in several subtle ways of their lower-caste status at G-H. As a reminder of their disposability, Sessionals are not allowed to put up a picture of their loved ones in the room they use to do their work. Not long ago, an email was sent out informing all that a “Sessional Instructor” had passed away (Not a “colleague,” not “one of us,” a “Sessional”).

The mistake Professor Morrone made was to assume that G-H administration cared about him and valued the business ethics he mentioned such as ‘respect for people.’ Sessionals at G-H are not treated as valued people with ends of their own, rather, they are treated as objects to be used and disposed of at whim. Professor Morrone did get his hypocrisy assessment right. At G-H, Sessionals teach subject matter such as positive inclusive leadership, social justice, the impacts of marginalization, and professional ethics in a context apparently oblivious to irony.

Does this answer the question of whether G-H administration cares about their students? The answer to that question may depend on whether administration understands (and cares about) the connection between student well-being and success with variables such as continuity and authenticity of education, relationships with instructors, and health of instructors. If it depends on whether administration cares about Sessionals, the answer must be a resounding ‘No!”