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Statement on Precarity and Intellectual Property Rights at Canadian Universities

Governing Council of the Canadian Historical Association

The governing Council of the Canadian Historical Association is deeply concerned by recent employer demands for sessional instructors at some Canadian universities to cede their intellectual property rights to the courses that they design, develop and deliver.  This modern-day effort to de-skill university faculty is unacceptable to us.

These actions must be understood within the wider restructuring of post-secondary education in Canada as universities shift more and more of the undergraduate teaching onto contingent and occasional faculty. The problem of precarity, while longstanding, is growing worse.  On the one hand, a diminishing number of full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty enjoy job security, academic freedom, and full intellectual property rights. But for how long? On the other hand, a growing number of occasional and contingent faculty are being hired with little to no job security and where their academic freedom and intellectual property rights are increasingly being put into question.

This trend strikes to the very foundation of the collegial structures of our university system and contributes further to the development of a two-tiered system of employment at Canadian universities. Nobody benefits from this transformation – not students, not faculty, not even our institutions. It likewise has a very real negative impact on our capacity to undertake knowledge-production.

One of the beautiful things about a university is the way that teaching informs research and vice versa. A two-tiered system disrupts this relationship.

Quite simply, intellectual property rights are a corner stone of our university system. These rights must extend to all faculty regardless of their employment relationship. To cede our intellectual property rights is to ultimately cede our academic freedom and to abandon the very idea of the classic university.