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Being precarious : an autoethnographic account of one precarious faculty member's lived experience working in four British Columbia higher education institutions Allen, Lisa Marie


Precarious faculty, once used by higher education institutions as auxiliary labour, now dominate post-secondary campuses. With as much as half of post-secondary institutions’ courses now taught by contract academic faculty, post-secondary institutions have systematically come to rely on hiring precarious contract faculty for their respective departmental teaching capacity. As an emerging and significant trend in higher education, this study aims to examine the precarious faculty experience through autoethnographic methods that reflects on my personal experience as a precarious faculty member working at four different higher education institutions in British Columbia from 2016-2018: the Private Online University, City College, the Teaching University, and the Institute. Using Tierney’s (1997) Organizational Culture Theory, coupled with theories of organizational socialization and the role of models and mentorship, I compare my personal experiences of being hired and onboarded at the four different institutions in which I worked as a precarious faculty member. I focus on three themes: the faculty interview process, being evaluated as a precarious faculty member, and resources that I was given (or not). A literature review precedes each personal autoethnographic account; I then proceed to compare and contrast my personal experiences with that of the literature as a way to examine the ways in which my experiences working as a precarious faculty member are consistent with, and divergent from the literature. To conclude, I suggest that there is a lack of standard processes and practices when it comes to hiring precarious faculty. Additionally, I suggest that one’s career stage plays a significant role during hiring. I also suggest that good student evaluations of teaching lead to reappointment for precarious faculty. In terms of performance evaluations, I stress the importance of communication and suggest that precarious faculty are evaluated (sometimes) both formally, and informally. Finally, in terms of resources, I echo the literature that office space is a place of power, and that professional development is a two-way street. I conclude that more personal stories—like mine—are required to better understand what it’s like to be a precarious faculty member in higher education.

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