Get ready to be confused. There are a variety of names applied to the Course Instructors who are hired on a per-course basis at Trent-CUPE faculty, Contract faculty, Part-time faculty, Sessionals...And to make things more complicated, there are also full-time faculty within TUFA who are sometimes referred to as Contract faculty (these are more commonly called LTAs, or Limited Term Appointments). The distinction between CUPE and TUFA contracts is that TUFA LTAs are hired into full-time teaching positions, usually for 9 months, while CUPE contracts are for individual courses, and CUPE members may not teach more than 1.5 credit courses.
Being able to hire faculty on a 'single-serving' basis has served a number of purposes. It has allowed the University the flexibility to cope with fluctuating enrolment. It makes it possible to replace full-timers when they are on sabbaticals or leaves. It allows departments to fill gaps in their programs by recruiting specialists. Professionals with careers outside the academy, and perhaps with non-traditional academic qualifications, can be brought in on a part-time basis.
Contract faculty also serve a purely pragmatic function: they keep labour costs down. Maintaining a large pool of low-paid, contingent labour has been widely adopted by Universities in recent decades as a strategy for dealing with Provincial funding shortfalls. The difference in compensation costs between even a TUFA LTA and CUPE Course Instructors is considerable. Besides the salary difference, there are savings on benefits as Contract Faculty are excluded from the University's Pension and Health Benefit plans. The icing on the cake is their minimal use of the University's space-they typically work from home or share office space, and even pay for their own parking.
Students are not generally aware of the employment status of their Professors. In fact, Contract faculty have been described as the 'invisible' academic underclass. Contract faculty often hold the same academic qualifications as their full-time colleagues (although not all do, and Professional accreditation carries more weight in some programs). Contract faculty are recognized for their scholarship, and many have years of teaching experience. While some view their work as a stepping stone to a tenure-track position, others hope it will continue in the long term. Hiring for tenure-track positions has been declining for some years, and even those who hope to find full-time, permanent employment often are not able to do so.
Finding statistics on these 'invisible' academics can be difficult. Statistics Canada stopped collecting data on them in the early 90s. Universities tend not to publish this information, preferring to boast about the number of full-timers or the percentage of their faculty with tenure. Trent, for example, claims this figure at 78%. (Given that last year it employed 314 TUFA faculty, not all of whom have tenure, and 221 CUPE Course Instructors-ineligible for tenure-we might wonder how these figures are derived*.)
According to data collected by CUPE3908**, Contract Faculty taught a total of 371 (full- and half-credit) courses last year (Sept. 2009-Aug. 2010). In addition, there were 45 Clinical Instructors employed in the School of Nursing. A conservative estimate would be that this represents 20% of the teaching at Trent.
CUPE3908 Contract Faculty also make considerable contributions in other areas-we included 5 Course Assistants, 1 Academic Skills Centre Instructor, 2 Clinical Course Instructors, 10 ESL Instructors, 1 Language Assistant, 5 Lab Demonstrators, 46 Marker/Graders, 7 Reading Course Instructors, 13 Tutorial Leaders, and 6 Workshop Leaders.
CUPE3908's labour is a bargain-they do more than 20% of the teaching as well as all of the essential work above for only 8% of the instructional budget (teaching salaries). Trent, like other Universities, has been able to take advantage of relatively weak Unions to resist demands for improved wages and benefits for Contract Faculty. In spite of considerable gains in 2007, the gap between CUPE and TUFA has widened over the past decade. In the year 2000, Course Instructors earned 17.5% of an Assistant Professor's starting salary. By 2009, this had fallen to 14.4%.
*Presumably, there is some conversion of part-time to full-time equivalents, but nowhere is this made clear.
** The Local representing Contract Faculty (and also Student Academic Workers, in a separate Unit).