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Dec 8, 2009

Leaked email: Teach for free? Melbourne uni councillor calls it quits

PhD candidate in cultural studies Tammi Jonas details her decision to resign from the Melbourne University Council because of the "outrageous, unethical decisions being made by Melbourne University".

The following email landed in our inbox this morning, forwarded on by an anonymous source. PhD candidate in cultural studies Tammi Jonas details her decision to resign from the Melbourne University Council because of the “outrageous, unethical decisions being made by Melbourne University”:

Dear Chancellor and fellow Councillors,

It is with disappointment that I submit my immediate resignation as a member of the Melbourne University Council.

Below is an email I received from a staff member at the Melbourne School of Graduate Research inviting me to teach a seminar for which I have been paid these past two years for free, due to lack of funding. (The staff member, by the way, was mortified to be put in this position, and has always been a great proponent for paying the presenters, as well as an excellent coordinator.)

As most of you will know, I have been campaigning against the exploitation of casual labour, especially that of our postgraduate students, at both the campus level as President of UMPA (now the GSA) last year and nationally as VP for the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) this year. I was elected 2010 President of CAPA last week, and intend to continue advocating for casuals in that role.

You may or may not know that the Arts Faculty made a ‘strategic decision’ to stop paying for guest lectures last year, which has put countless postgraduate students in the position of offering or agreeing to teach the lectures for free in the belief that it will be good for their careers — never mind the many unpaid hours it takes them to prepare and teach, which is often in addition to paid work elsewhere. The GSA and CAPA believe this situation is absolutely outrageous and indefensible.

I will not be teaching any of this or other universities’ subjects for free, and nor do I encourage any other students to do so. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have a scholarship are, as CAPA publicised last year, living just below the Henderson Poverty Line. The small increase in APAs won by CAPA for next year will nudge the scholarship just above the poverty line.

And yet a university with a billion dollar budget has the gall to tell us that it does not have the resources to pay for our labour. I for one am responding by withdrawing my labour entirely from this system of exploitation, and strongly encourage others who can to do the same. We can all at least agree not to teach for free, but also where possible, not to teach under the appalling remuneration and conditions facing casual tutors.

As a Councillor, I am clearly not in a position to speak out about the outrageous, unethical management decisions being made by Melbourne University, and so I would like my resignation to be accepted immediately. It is also against my own ethical position to remain on a governance body that will allow the University to continue to move in this direction, where its least powerful members are so desperately undervalued. I would also bring to the Council’s attention that across the sector, sessionals are doing over 50% of the teaching, and postgraduates make up 57% of the sector’s research and development output. What is strategic about disenfranchising this labour force?

I wish you all well as you endeavour to govern an unmanageable state of affairs.

Sincerely,

Tammi

Dear Tammi,

Many thanks for your participation in the eResearch training program for graduate students in 2009. I have really appreciated your enthusiastic participation and feedback from participants for your Web 2.0 & Social Media for Research Students: Wikis, Blogs and Beyond has been very positive. The University of Melbourne seems to be leading the pack with this type of training and Leon Sterling and I presented a paper outlining our experiences at the eResearch Australasia conference earlier in November. Leon Sterling and I believe that the program has been instrumental in raising awareness across the university of the importance of equipping our research students with eResearch skills and tools.

At the e-Volution eResearch Symposium at the University in September, the DVC-R, Professor Peter Rathjen, highlighted the need for a University-wide strategy to educate and train RHD candidates in eResearch. He identified the need for all RHDs to be aware of and to incorporate into their daily practice, elements of University policy on data research management, including data access and integrity, and to develop their eResearch skills. The program also features in the draft eResearch strategy for the University.

Planning is underway for 2010. I am hoping that you will be able to participate in the program next year. However I need to tell you that MSGR are unable to pay presenters next year. So I understand that this and/or study demands may be a barrier … or any other reasons … Please let me know at your earliest convenience if you can participate and if the nominated date suits.

Face-to-face classes will continue — and we are planning to expand, adding some new topics, e.g. Video collaboration: EVO & other collaboration tools; Overview of HPC and Visualisation Services; and Digitization. In addition MSGR and Learning Environments will develop an eResearch ‘toolkit’ in the newly launched Graduate Research Portal on Sakai. All research students will have access to the portal in 2010.

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3 comments

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3 thoughts on “Leaked email: Teach for free? Melbourne uni councillor calls it quits

  1. JamesH

    So, as always, we head down the same route as the USA but 10 years later. With the USA’s failure in full view, we do it anyway.
    See http://www.howtheuniversityworks.com

  2. Greg Angelo

    shown below is the text of an e-mail sent to Melbourne University earlier this afternoon.m I will publish reply if/when I get one.

    “I refer to the item below which appeared in today’s Crikey news magazine.
    As a Melbourne graduate, before reacting to what appears to be an appalling state of affairs, I thought it would be appropriate to obtain confirmation of these allegations from the University.
    Is it true that guest lecturers are required to give their services free of charge?
    Is the university so desperately poor that needs to take advantage of its graduate students in such a manner?
    If so I am happy to ask Julia Gillard to see whether she can find a few spare dollars to help the university pay its guest lecturers.
    Regards
    Greg Angelo”

  3. Frank Campbell

    I warned that corporatisation of the former universities would lead to this 20 years ago. Post-grads and contract staff were always ripped off, but now it’s done professionally.

    It was such pleasure to walk out of my tenured job in 1993.