Sessional Concerns

In the fall of 2007 the Caucus sponsored two lunches for sessional members of the Caucus, and we heard a number of concerns from these women.

Below is a slightly edited report of the Chair in Purple Prose regarding these lunches:


At both lunches with sessional instructors I received the very clear message that they feel marginalized and often invisible within the university and within the Caucus. This marginalization unfortunately reflects the treatment of sessional faculty across Canada.(Smallman) Sessional instructors at UVic feel that they have low status, and are not treated well within the university. They have concerns about low salaries, and lack of job security. They note that their courses can be cancelled or taught by others, even after they have taught them for several years. A small minority of sessional instructors have acquired continuing status, which gives them some guarantee of continued employment, but the majority do not have any guarantees. In order to obtain this continuing status, sessional instructors must have taught a minimum of 7.5 units a year in three out of five consecutive years. If they take time off to have children (with only the minimum government EI maternity pay, if th ey qualify) they risk losing the chance of gaining entitlement to continuing status. Most of the sessional instructors that came to the lunches also feel that they often literally don’t have a “place” on campus — often their mailboxes are smaller than those of tenured faculty, they may not have an office, or if they do, they have to share it with several others, and they can’t get a carrel in the library. If they are not teaching at UVic for a term, I was told that when they return to teaching that they have to re-apply each time for a library card and email account.

Are the issues facing sessional instructors “women’s issues”? Certainly some of them, such as the lack of topped-up maternity leave (available to tenured women) and the problems they face in gaining continuing status if they have babies, are clearly gender related. More generally, the literature has argued that contract or part-time teaching tends to be a female-dominated profession, as is often the case with lower paid, lower status jobs. Sessional teaching at UVic seems to follow these broader patterns. While women make up 39 per cent of the tenured or tenure track faculty, they make up 54 per cent of sessional instructors. Women make up 60 per cent of the smaller group of continuing (generally long service) sessionals.

The literature on this topic has noted that sessionals are a particularly heterogeneous group, with some being graduate students teaching their first courses, and others being professionals teaching an occasional course in a professional faculty. However, the literature argues that these people are not the majority of part-time instructors, many of whom are longer term instructors for whom sessional teaching makes up most or all of their income.(Rajagopal and Lin, Smallman) A significant number are women with children, who have either decided that the demands of a tenure track career are not compatible with a reasonable family life, or those whose family responsibilities have made it impossible for them to achieve a tenured position.(Mason and Goulden, Perna)

So I hope I’ve made my case that sessional issues are women’s issues, even if many of these issues also affect male sessionals. What can the Faculty Women’s Caucus do about these issues? The Caucus has often made proposals to the Faculty Association for improvements to the Framework Agreement on issues of concern to female faculty. We are planning to present proposals to the FA Framework Agreement negotiating team regarding improvements to adoption and parental leave for regular faculty, as well as other gender-related issues related to the Framework Agreement. We will also be meeting with representatives of CUPE 4163 to discuss what proposals the Caucus could present to CUPE regarding issues of concern to female sessionals.

There are other things that the Caucus can do. Many of the sessionals who came to the lunches stated that while they are officially part of the Caucus, (and in fact make up 40 per cent of the membership) that they feel marginalized or invisible within it. They believe that the Caucus deals almost exclusively with the concerns of tenured and tenure track women faculty, and that they do not feel as though they had a real voice or place within it.

Various useful suggestions were made to try and address this concern. One was to feature sessional issues more clearly within Purple Prose. A suggestion was made to profile individual sessional women, particularly long service sessional women, in Purple Prose. If anyone is interested in being profiled in future issues, please contact the AWC (see contact us option). It was also suggested that in addition to recognizing and celebrating the successes of tenured faculty, that the Caucus also celebrate sessional successes.

It was suggested that data on the proportion of sessionals who are women would be useful to have, and so this was provided above. It was also suggested that the Caucus provide a forum for sessionals to discuss issues of particular concern to themselves. As a result in addition to the existing Caucus listserv, we will be launching a separate sessional instructor listserv. It was also suggested that providing workshops that deal with sessional concerns would be useful.


What’s in a Name?

In discussing how they feel marginalized within the Caucus sessional women also pointed to the name of the caucus. While the Faculty Women’s Caucus includes sessionals, they stated clearly that they do not feel as though they are seen or treated as faculty, and they feel that the name does not include them. There were some discussions, both at the lunches and at the steering committee, about possible names that would be more inclusive.



Mason, Mary Ann and Marc Goulden, 2004. “Marriage and Baby Blues: Re-defining Gender Equity in the Academy”, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 596.

Perna, Laura W., 2001.”The Relationship between Family Responsibilities and Employment Status among College and University Faculty.” Journal of Higher Education, vol 72, no. 5.

Rajagopal, Indu and Zen Lin, 1996. “Hidden Careerists in Canadian Universities”, Higher Education, 32.

Vicky Smallman, 2004. “Contingent Academic Work in the Canadian Context”, COCAL report .


Some of the suggestions noted above have been implemented. We have changed the name of the Caucus to the Academic Women”s Caucus, to better reflect our membership. Our buddy system for new faculty now includes sessional instructors. We now have a separate listserv for discussions of interest to sessional instructors. We have discussed sessional concerns with CUPE 4163. In my meetings with Jamie Cassels, the VP Academic, I have raised some of the concerns of sessional instructors on campus. Our International Women’s Day conference last year featured a session on sessional issues. The two informative presentations at that event, by Melissa Moroz of CUPE 4163 and Sheila Burgar, a long-serving sessional in the English Department, can be found on our website in Purple Prose volume 6, no. 4.

There is of course much more to be done, both in terms of the Caucus and the university as a whole. If anyone has any suggestions, please let us know.


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