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Contract faculty: So much more to know

August 15, 2019

4-minute read

In November 2018, CCPA released a report, Contract U: Contract Faculty Appointments at Canadian Universities, which looked at the trends in contract faculty appointments using Freedom of Information data from 67 universities.

Since November, we have received additional information from Concordia University, McMaster University, Ryerson University, and the University of Toronto. Three universities, Capilano University, Simon Fraser University, and the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, have provided us with revised data. So our database, available at, now includes information from 71 universities or 91% of publicly-funded universities in Canada.

The new data confirms the trends highlighted in our report: more than half of faculty appointments in Canada are now contract appointments, rather than permanent.

But even with this additional information, we still fall far short of what is needed to fully understand the reality of contract faculty across the country. The content gaps underscore the need to have Statistics Canada collect robust data on faculty, workloads, demographics, and compensation.

Contract appointments versus contract faculty members

Our report highlighted the significant regional difference in rates of contract appointments. Quebec has a much higher rate of contract appointments than other provinces at 60%. Next door, Ontario also has a higher than average rate of contract appointments at 53%. Alberta and British Columbia have much lower rates of contract appointments at 39% and 43% respectively.

Proportion of Contract and Tenured Faculty by Province, 2016-17

In the latest round of disclosures, three universitiesConcordia University, Ryerson University, and Simon Fraser Universityall provided information on both the number of appointments and the number of individual contract faculty members. (An appointment is generally synonymous with a contract. An individual faculty member can have one appointment for a single course, one appointment for multiple courses, or multiple appointments covering multiple courses.) Mount Royal University had already provided information on both in response to our request last year.

This gives us the opportunity to create a little snapshot of the rate of appointments versus the number of individual contract faculty members at four universities in four different provinces.

Appointments vs. Individuals, Contract Faculty, 2016-17

What immediately stands out is the very big difference between the number of appointments compared to the number of individual contract faculty members at Concordia University in Quebec. In fact, Concordia confirmed that they do not have multiple course contracts for contract faculty; every course taught by a contract faculty member has a separate contract. If the same hiring practice is used by every Quebec university (note that we can’t be sure this is the case), it would help explain the higher rate of contract appointments in Quebec.

While we see a similar pattern with Ryerson University in Ontario, the gap between appointments and individuals is much smaller at Simon Fraser University in BC (where there are about 150 contract faculty who hold multiple appointments) and Mount Royal University in Alberta.

The difference in hiring practices across the country highlights the need for data on both the rate of contract appointments and the number of contract faculty members. Both numbers together tell us something important; with only one, the picture of contract hiring is incomplete. Similarly, the number of courses, and distinguishing whether they are for undergraduate or graduate students, taught by permanent and contract faculty would provide another important snapshot to help us understand the reality of contract faculty. The Council of Ontario Universities was able to report on this data for Ontario universities, so we know the information exists; someone just needs to collect it.

The Demographics of Contract Faculty

Surveys of contract faculty in Canada seem to suggest that women, racialized people, Indigenous People, and persons living with disabilities are over-represented among contract faculty. Because our FOI data only gives appointment statistics, we have no way of understanding the demographic breakdown of contract faculty appointments. But looking at the data by subject area does provide an interesting glimpse at whether this might be the case.

Two subject areas that are more likely to hire Indigenous faculty than white faculty – Indigenous studies and Indigenous education programshave very high rates of contract faculty appointments, at 86% and 65% respectively. Similarly, Disability Studies has a very high rate of contract appointments at 79%. In Women, Gender, and Sexuality studies, nearly two-thirds of appointments are contract, at 62%.

This highlights the need for a better understanding of the demographics of faculty. We have no way of knowing if universities that are doing good work at closing the equity gap for tenured faculty are simultaneously undermining that work by also hiring women, Indigenous people, racialized people, and persons living with disabilities in significant numbers as poorly compensated contract faculty.

The Importance of Accurate Information

Currently, Statistics Canada collects information only on full-time faculty and their academic rank. But while this is useful information, it falls far short of what is really needed to truly understand the nature of academic employment and its impact on student learning and employment equity.

With modern HR systems, there is no reason why universities can’t provide information about the number of contract faculty, the number of contracts held by each, the number of courses taught by contract and permanent faculty, compensation rates, and demographic information (including degrees held by faculty members). In fact, we know from the Council of Ontario Universities report on contract faculty that many universities are already capable of reporting on this.

Public reporting on employment data would also shed light on the claim many university administrators use to dismiss contract appointments as primarily an issue of personal choice. Statistics Canada can play an indispensable public policy role by ensuring that all universities provide the same level of public transparency. Further, such data collected by Statistics Canada would greatly enrich our understanding of how universities operate and the impact that has on students, faculty, and their communities. It would also allow for the development of statistically representative surveys which could also be used to deepen our knowledge of the prevalence of precarity in Canadian universities and its impact on contract faculty.

Chandra Pasma is a senior research officer with the Canadian Union of Public Employees. She can be found on Twitter at @chandrapasma.

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