Professional associations do care

The problems facing PhDs without permanent academic jobs are receiving increasing attention from professional associations. In the US John Marincola, the President-Elect of the Society for Classical Studies (formerly the APA), has declared his intention to pursue these issues during his presidency and to make them the focus of his Presidential Panel at the society’s 2016 annual meeting in San Francisco. In Britain the Council of University Classics Departments recently held a discussion of the problem and invited Hortensii to write a piece for their Bulletin (https://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/classics/cucd/bulletin.html#2014); they intend to take positive action on some of the issues raised.

UK funding bodies are also concerned. The AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council), which discussed the issue at its subject association meeting in September (see http://www.slideshare.net/AHRC/challenges-for-post-ph-d-career-development-dr-ian-lyne), and the British Academy have received the Oakleigh report (http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/News-and-Events/News/Documents/Support%20for%20Arts%20and%20Humanities%20Researchers%20Post-PhD.pdf; a one-page summary can be found at http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/News-and-Events/News/Pages/Support-for-researchers-in-the-Arts-and-Humanities-post-doctorate.aspx), a study of certain aspects of the problem, and are concerned by its findings.

The Oakleigh report includes an investigation of the extent to which improvements to the working conditions of early career researchers have been made as a result of the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers (about which you can learn more at https://www.vitae.ac.uk/policy/concordat-to-support-the-career-development-of-researchers). This is an agreement between funding bodies and universities; it is voluntary but the universities have more or less agreed to abide by it. It is not a very well-known document; in the entire Hortensii discussion since April no-one had mentioned it to me until the Oakleigh Report. Perhaps in consequence of that lack of visibility, it does not seem to have achieved the positive effect it aims at — but it contains some good recommendations, so if implementation could be achieved people would clearly be better off.

In a similar vein, it turns out that quite a few UK professional associations have codes of practice for the hiring of part-time and temporary academics: the Royal Historical Society’s code can be found here: http://royalhistsoc.org/early-career-historians/, the British Philosophical Association’s policy can be found here: http://www.bpa.ac.uk/policies (scroll to ‘Policy on casual and temporary staff’), and as previously noted the Council of University Classics Departments’ protocol (which is being revised) can be found here: http://www.rhul.ac.uk/classics/cucd/tempstaff.html. These policies are in general stronger than the Concordat, in terms of offering temporary staff better conditions: the historians even suggest that teaching staff should be paid the Living Wage when preparation time is taken into account. As far as I can ascertain, however, all these subject-endorsed policies remain completely unimplemented at universities.

The conclusion to draw from all this may be that voluntary agreements are not the solution. But it could also be that the policies might be implementable if more effort went into doing so; it certainly seems worth trying to see what would happen if the subject organizations and/or the funding bodies started complaining about specific instances of violations of their policies. One way this could be achieved would be for subject organizations and funding bodies to solicit information on such violations; if such a request were sent out periodically it might at least alert universities to the existence of the policies.

As we hoped when the Hortensii report was first published, numerous academics are now attempting to get their universities and departments to make changes based on our recommendations. Some attempts have been thwarted, but we know of four UK universities where Hortensii initiatives are currently moving through approval processes; probably there are others we do not know about. We look forward to publicizing successful initiatives once they are implemented!

Here is a small selection of other relevant pieces published since Hortensii last posted:

http://www.slate.com/articles/life/education/2014/09/a_changing_view_of_alt_ac_jobs_in_which_ph_d_s_work_outside_of_academia.single.html

https://chroniclevitae.com/news/632-between-postdoc-and-job-a-whole-lot-of-questions

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