Thursday, May 29, 2008

Appropriate responses: a survey

So the university, in its wisdom, seems to have decided not to extend my contract to actually cover the period during which my students prepare for and sit the final exam, nor for the following period, during which I supposedly mark 140 exams and submit the grades. This despite the fact that I have in writing, in an email from our department administrator, the following sentence: "I have spoken with [Head of Department] about your contract, and if your exam does end up being scheduled after the 20th, we can extend the contract with ease".

So I'm pretty much certain I'm going to refuse to mark the damn things. Unfortunately (for me), some of the permanent staff have volunteered to do so instead. Other responses I am considering.

(1) Setting up an auto-response to student emails that arrive between when my contract ends and the exam, saying, "I am unable to respond to your email, as I am no longer an employee of the university. If you have any questions about your exam, please contact [Head of Department]."

(2) Putting a notice on my office door saying the same thing.

(3) Having a serious chat with my union.

(4) Demanding that the department honour what is essentially an informal contract to pay me for the exam period (see email above).

(5) Refusing to submit final grades, as I am no longer a university employee at that point.

(6) Sucking it up, being a good girl, and not jeopardising my chances of future employment by being difficult about things like actually getting paid for work I do.

In related news, remember that I didn't get paid at all until 8 weeks after I started this job, due to contract fuck-ups. And although I am being paid for 17.5 hours a week, I worked 40+ each of the past two, which are the only weeks I have actually counted the hours I've put into this course.

So, which of 1-6 do you consider to be justified? And (an entirely different question), which should I actually do?


Tom said...

Don't do 6. Because if you let yourself be walked over early in your career then it will happen forever.

If I was in that position, I would definitely have a chat with my union rep. It can remain confidential and informal, but it is the job of the union to provide you with advice and support in this sort of situation. This is one of the reasons why you pay them your membership dues.

I would also seriously consider not submitting final grades until my employment situation was clarified (although this is one of the things I would discuss with my union adviser).

Another possibility, but one to be careful about, is doing an end run and taking the issue directly to the head of department or to a more university manager if need be. More senior managers are unlikely to be impressed with your department's sloppy employment practices, since it potentially opens the university to risks of various kinds. However, doing an end run can antagonise the lower level of manager (because you make them look stupid in front of their boss), and has to be considered carefully.

You do seem to have had a lot of crap with this course. If you make your case clearly and calmly, setting out the confusion and failure of the department to honour agreements and act in a timely fashion, then a competent manager (if you can find one in the university) will be reasonable and address the situation.

It sounds to me as if this is a case of typical university department incompetence and confusion. It won't have occurred to the person that you're dealing with that they are not doing things correctly or reasonably. As soon as the possibility of involving the union or not submitting grades is raised, they will hopefully realise that they have to take things more seriously and put your relationship with the department on a proper footing. If, on the other hand, this is a more malicious situation, then you don't want to work with them anyway so don't worry about antagonising them.

Incidentally, did you apply for the fellowship in the US?

Jokerine said...

Tom has it right. I would withhold grading until I was paid for the work.

I think talking to the Union person is a really good Idea.

Under no circumstances would I just suck it up!!!

Hope this works out.

Anonymous said...

wow. good advice. I agree with Tom.

Julep said...

Talk to your union rep as soon as possible. (I would have done it sooner.) This is what they're there for! Doing this is the best way to navigate this problem without making any major gaffes in terms of etiquette, legalities, your responsibilities as an instructor, and your future career prospects--it also will help protect you if there is any retaliation.

Do NOT just suck it up. If the union rep agrees, have a chat with any instructors who have offered to do the grading for you. This is ridiculous.

Jana said...

I agree with Tom, too. Make sure you get proper information about your legal situation (from the union) before you talk to anyone.

Is there a more senior member of staff who could act as a mentor to you, advising you on the politics side of things?

I will copy your post to the lecturer in the family, if you like, to get politics input.

USJogger said...

I absolutely agree with
Tom....but I would probably cave in and do (6), because I'm such a wimp.


Weekend_Viking said...

I agree with Tom. Don't do 6 under any circumstance, have a very serious chat with your union rep, consider doing an end run around to senior management, but having worked three years on your campus, I don't think you'll find much competence anywhere there anyway. Only do the end run to senior management if you're pretty sure you don't want to work there any more - it'll be a deal breaker if you have vindictive lower managment, who will then take it out on you every time they get a chance.

Tom said...

Jana has a very good point about finding a senior colleague who can advise you (she must be over her jetlag...). If you can find someone with a bit of clout who can have a quiet word in the right place, that may be enough to sort things out.

If your former supervisor isn't suitable, what about the person who suggested you apply for the fellowship (or are they one and the same)? They obviously respect your abilities, and presumably would like to see you dealt with fairly by the department.

StyleyGeek said...

Thanks for the advice, people.

Tom, the head of dept IS the person I am dealing with here. So if I wanted to take it higher, it would have to be the Dean or something, and that prospect scares me. Plus, I think WV is right. Just in general since I don't currently have any more work lined up, I am really scared of being seen as a trouble-maker, since once those rumours start flying, no one will consider me for any more work that arises in future.

But I think the union is the first step.

Jana, I spoke to my supervisor about this already, since she was one of the people who offered to do the marking, and I wanted to point out to her that that offer was not actually "helping me out", as she seemed to think, but rather supporting the people who want to stop paying me early. She was pretty horrified by the situation, so would definitely support me if I took it further. As would several other people in the dept who have expressed outrage in the past few weeks about what long hours I'm working, when they know how little I'm paid.

The person who suggested I apply for the fellowship (which I'm still planning to do - the deadline isn't until September), is the former head of dept, so not a good person to bring into anything political. Also, he runs far far away at the sound of anything that sounds like management or administration nowadays.

StyleyGeek said...

Oh and Jana, do feel free to mention this to your family lecturer - I would be interested to know what he thinks.

Arbitrista said...

I'm late to the party, but I too would suggest talking to the union. Brazen Hussy had a problem like this once and they were very helpful. Just the act of bringing them in helped force a solution. Most people are conflict avoiders, and the folks in charge on probably counting on you being one of them. Don't.

k said...

My friends had similar trouble with getting paid. In the end they send a courteous, but firm email to all parties involved and have since been verbally re-assured that they would be paid...I will keep my fingers crossed until the money's in the bank.

You already have plenty of good advice, I'd just add that Australian academia is indeed a very small world and the less trouble is probably the better (although that would not be my preferred option). Your supervisor or other senior mentors are in a much better position to kick up a fuss on your behalf, so maybe they could help?

good luck!! I hope it works itself out!

Sarah said...

Tom's advice is good. 1, 3 and 5- I think you should do all three, but only do 1 and 5 after you do 3, just to make sure your arse is covered. There doesn't seem to be much common sense at play at the university end...

liz said...

Do 1 through 5 and DO NOT do 6.

Holy guacamole. That situation completely bites the big pickle.

Badaunt said...

Have the informal chat with your union, and see what advice they give.

But also, I think, go to your department administrator or head and ASK who you should refer students to during the period when you are not employed by the university to answer their questions. (Don't confront them, in other words - just ask politely.) You can even apologize, sort of. Say that you are sorry you can't do it, but apparently your contract doesn't cover that period. Have your notes about the course handy to give him/her, and be very, very cooperative EXCEPT about answering student queries yourself when you are not being paid. Talk as if you assume they understand already that if they are not paying you, you cannot be expected to work, so that if they DO expect you to do it they have to spell it out.

And if they do spell it out, make sure you repeat it back to them in clear language: "You want me to work for nothing?" And if THAT happens, that's when the advice from the union comes in handy. (i.e. "Isn't that illegal? Should I take this to the union?" or whatever.)

That's what I would do.