WHAT WORRIES ME ABOUT THE UNIVERSITY (IN THIS WEEK OF PROTESTS)

The students’ Assembly of the Facultat asks us, teachers, to use some time this week in class to explain to students what worries us most about the current state of the university. I will do so tomorrow but I have also decided to leave here in my blog the snapshot of what things look like right now. Sad and depressive…

My current worries can perhaps be summarised in just ONE major worry: the Spanish university suffers from a chronic lack of funding, which is now, because of the bottomless crisis we’re going through, simply appalling. This lack of funding translates into the following:

*STAFF:
– we have more or less sufficient staff to cover our teaching but 50% of that are part-time associates with temporary contracts that can disappear overnight.
– the associate positions they occupy are ‘fake’ since they should have been by all rights full-time junior positions like the one I enjoyed (as ‘ayudante’) before I got tenure (a permanent contract).
– this also means that, since in our Department the admin jobs done by the teaching staff are not carried out by associates, we, full-time teachers, do an enormous share of that.
– many of these associates have accreditations to be hired as ‘lectors’ (a four-year contract), which is a tenure-track position. However, there no openings at all. This year a full professor will retire and she will be replaced with a part-time associate with the cheapest contract, instead of using these resources to offer at least one associate a full-time contract. I’m speaking of persons 35-50 years of age who have already worked with us for many years. And, yes, we have six former full-time positions underused in that way.
– the lack of resources for full-time staff or for, generally, new staff also means that the Departament’s teaching staff is ageing too much in relation to the students we teach. We need fresh blood…

*ADMIN(ISTRATION) WORK (‘GESTIÓ’):
– the principle that universities should be autonomous entities that run themselves with no outside interference has lead to a situation in which bureaucratic tasks have multiplied and fallen into the hands of teachers, who often feel just like glorified clerks. These tasks have particularly increased as regards the amount of paperwork needed for practically everything. For each hour devoted to admin tasks by senior teachers we miss one hour of productive research. This is bad for the Department and frustrating for the teachers who take their research seriously.

*RESEARCH:
– time: every committed researcher complains against the same problem –we use too much time for admin tasks and for marking, but too little for research (even for plain reading to keep up-to-date). Continuous assessment, which replaces the older final exams, demands plenty of time. At the same time, it’s hard to reduce it without crucially affecting the quality of teaching (we should reduce the size of the groups, with more teaching staff).
– funding for books and for conferences: This Department has always spent money, quite generously, on books (for the Library, never for individual teachers) and to attend conferences. This year it seems that we won’t be able to buy any books, without which our research cannot be up-dated, and the money for conferences could be as little as 200 euros each teacher. Considering that our wages have gone down quite sharply and that conferences seem to have less and less weight in our CVs, we might in some cases (particularly the associates) stop attending at all. This is very important, as conferences are essential to make and maintain academic contacts.

*WAGES:
– I assume that many of my fellow Spaniards would consider me a privileged worker with a big salary. This is, of course, relative to their own situation. What I must stress is that in the fat cow times of the recent past our salaries remained frozen for years, which means that we lost every year around 3% of our real income. Whatever increase I have got since then comes from complements I have earned on the basis of my (good) teaching and (good) research, and from seniority.
– however, for the last two years the Generalitat (which is NOT my employee, as I am a civil servant of the Spanish state) has been taking money from my wages –the full summer pay, which is not a bonus, but part of my salary. This month they have taken 338 euros and they will do so for 8 months (this is much more than the summer pay). Mariano Rajoy’s Government, my real employee, will deduct the winter pay…
– I myself can buy cheaper clothing, and do with fewer luxuries but other teachers with a mortgage and children are really going through a very rough patch. We often feel as we have to pay for the privilege of teaching, when what we actually offer is a high-quality public service, scandalously cheap in relation to how much work we do.

*PUBLIC IMAGE (AMONG STUDENTS AND SOCIETY): Finally, what also worries me very much is how little students and society know about what we do and how little sympathy we get for our troubles. Instead, everyone assumes us to be a bunch of lazy people who do nothing else but teach six or eight hours a week. All of us work at least the 37.5 hours of our contract and in most cases anything beyond that as there’s no real limit to what committed university teachers will do.

So now you know…

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4 thoughts on “WHAT WORRIES ME ABOUT THE UNIVERSITY (IN THIS WEEK OF PROTESTS)

  1. Are you sure you are a “central government” civil servant? I think we have been transferred a long time ago to the autonomous communities, together with the relevant “competencias”, for good… And, in the newspaper today: Artur Mas’s counselors (counselors are notorious for advising politicians what they know they want to do) advise to suppress all civil servants except for policement and inspectors, and demote them to an ordinary contractual basis, to make it easier to fire them.

  2. Well, José Ángel, if that happened and I no longer work for the Spanish Government, no one has notified me… In Britain Thatcher did away with tenure and, yes, in Catalonia they are now strictly applying the principle that university teachers must be all under indefinite contract rather than tenure (you can be an ‘agregat’ but not a ‘titular’). As far as I know, we’re still, at least, ‘funcionarios’.

  3. Oh well, we were not notified either that we could no longer apply for vacant posts in other universities, not to mention other autonomous communities, but that simply happened as a matter of course. If we are (still) civil servants of the Ministry, which I doubt, it is surely only in theory. Some day in the 1990s I became a local civil servant marooned in an autonomous university… surely the greatest uncommented loss of rights for our proffesion.

  4. If you want another big joke, here it is: the Generalitat paid to me in one single installment the research complement to my salary for the whole of 2012. The result? My total income went up to the next segment, which, in the eyes of the Generalitat itself, makes me an overpaid worker. Half the money has gone back to them as taxes…

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