From Smike, Dotheboys Hall, Yorkshire

I have been a casual tutor at the Looneyversity for a number of years now and am more than used to the various stresses that come with the job. We are the lowest on the academic totem pole and boy do we know it. Up until this year though I’d never really felt unfairly treated by the powers that be at our zany little institution. Stressed? Yes, absolutely. Unappreciated? For sure.  Under-paid and over worked? Hell to the yeah. But never have I felt that the system was designed to trip me up. Never before this year, that is. (N.B. I was not involved in the scandal that was the issuing of TFRs last year).
Before I get into the ridiculousness that was the eligibility list application this year, let me first give you some insight into what the life of a casual tutor is like. In our chosen profession we are only able to earn money eight months a year. This means that unless we wish to try and find a job that has little to do with our qualifications (and where would you find a job with a contract of three months outside of retail) we are forced to diligently save to survive the summer period. The time we do not spend working is most often spent worrying about whether we’ll get work in the next semester which is by no means assured. Our hourly rates are high, yes, but for most of us each paid hour spent in the classroom is the result of many hours of work outside of it. On top of this though, in order to be able to work at all we have to undergo the process of applying for inclusion on the eligibility list. Most years this simply means lodging an application (which is in itself an 8 step process with many questions involved in each step). Not this year though. This year the Looneyversity had some extra surprises for us.
The application I’ve referred to above is ridiculous on its own. It asks not simply for our personal details, our qualifications, and our resume, which to my mind is perfectly reasonable, but also for a long list of selection criteria. It is, in short, the same as every other job application using the UWS online system. There is one difference though. Everyone else using this system is applying for a job. We are applying to be eligible to get a job. Most years, as I’ve said, this is all we have to do. We apply, we are shortlisted, we are put on the Casual Eligibility List. This year it was different. In their infinite wisdom the higher ups decided an interview was necessary. So, the process now looks like this: application, shortlist, interview, Eligibility List. Again though we are not applying for a job, we are applying to be eligible for a job. All of this, mind you, is on top of the frantic emails we send to full time academics begging for tutorials. The addition of the interview was not enough though. There was absolutely no transparency about this.
My own experience is as follows. It was getting towards mid-February and I’d done all I could to ensure I had work this coming semester. I’d applied for the Eligibility List for my school (the applications closed in early December) and I was in contact with a few academics who might employ me in the coming semester. Given it had been a few months though I grew concerned about the silence in regard to my inclusion on the list. As a diligent employee I sent an email to an admin- sorry, a member of the professional staff to ask if they knew anything. I was then contacted by a different member of the admi- sorry, professional (I just can’t catch up with the lingo) staff who told me that I would soon be contacted to set an interview time. The next day, as promised, a different staff member contacted me to arrange the interview time which, because it involved the convening of the panel, could not occur until the following week. I was told that phone interviews were preferred, that the interview would last approximately 10 minutes, and that I would be asked 3 of a possible 4 questions, which would be sent to me in a confirmation email. This too soon happened. I have listed the questions below:
1. Can you tell us why you are interested in casual teaching in the program areas you have nominated?
2. What do you consider your greatest asset or skill as a teacher?
3. In what areas would you like to improve or develop your teaching?
4. Can you tell us your strategies for creating an engaged learning experience in the classroom?
The first required me to go back to my online application to check just which ‘program areas’ I’d nominated, and seemed a bit of a throw away. The second and third were the usual inane strengths and weaknesses questions that occur in almost every job interview. The fourth though actually seemed like a decent question to be asking prospective educators and I was actually looking forward to answering it. Guess which three I was asked….You got it. The panel asked me the first three questions only. Moreover these questions were sent to me in advance. Helpful to me, certainly, but I did feel that it kinda negated the whole idea of an interview. Why not simply have me write responses to these and send them back? It was a phone interview so I was going to be reading prepared answers anyway. My interview occurred 40 minutes after the agreed upon and confirmed time, and indeed (to their credit) only took the 10 minutes I’d been promised. I was not told when I could expect a result but a quick email to one of the three adm- professional staff (I will get this right if it kills me) who I had already dealt with soon cleared that up.
The interview itself happened at the end of the week. Interestingly, I’d been offered tutorials by a unit coordinator a full 2 days BEFORE my interview. You read that right, folks. I interviewed for the chance to be eligible for a job that I HAD ALREADY BEEN GIVEN. Moreover I received my email telling me that I had – Hallelujah! – made it onto the list a full week after having been offered the tutorials I will now teach this semester (that is if the CEA comes on time, but that’s a story for another day, kiddies).
I don’t know whose brain child these interviews were but whoever it was ought to congratulate themselves. It’s not often that you get to make life just a little bit worse for hundreds of people you don’t know. And the thing that gets me is that I would have been perfectly happy to interview if it meant I was guaranteed a job if the interview went well. But there are no guarantees. Not at the Looneyversity. I interviewed for a chance to be eligible to get a job. And not a high tier job. The lowest academic job. I interviewed to be eligible to get a CASUAL job. A job that I have been doing well for years. In fact, if we’re going to be technical here, I applied to be shortlisted to be interviewed to get a casual job.
I said at the beginning of this (very long, sorry!) essay that never before had I felt that the system was designed to trip me up. Well, folks, that’s all changed. This whole process, with its many steps, lack of transparency, and rushed nature, has made me feel more undervalued in my profession than anything else I have had to deal with as a part of my job. It is, to date, the most ludicrous thing I have seen the powers that be at this, our Looneyversity, do. Apart from the iPads of course.
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