Issues on the Table: Improved Right of First Refusal for Sessional Lecturers

It is often said that a community is only as strong as its most vulnerable members. Within the U of L’s academic staff, Sessional Lecturer appointments are the most precarious because they come with very little job security, very few benefits, and most often, very modest compensation.  Supported by a 94% vote in favour, ULFA’s bargaining mandate for this round of negotiations contains several desired improvements for sessionals, including a strengthened “right of first refusal” summarized in this post.

The Current Right of First Refusal

Article 34 (Sessional Lecturers) of our 2018-2020 Collective Agreement contains a right of first refusal provision (34.01.9, “Reappointment”) first introduced in the previous bargaining round. Essentially, this says that at the end of a sessional appointment, a sessional can ask to be considered for future sessional appointments by writing to their Dean and providing evidence of their teaching effectiveness. Letters written to invoke sessionals’ right of first refusal are kept by the Dean for three years, with priority for a new appointment given to the sessional who has taught the most courses that are the same or similar within that three-year period.

The Problem

An unintended outcome of the Reappointment (i.e., right of first refusal) provision as currently written has been brought to our attention. Some sessionals who have taught a course repeatedly for considerably more than three years are losing their reappointment priority to sessionals who have far fewer years of teaching in a subject area but have taught more courses each year, so that more of their teaching experience is recent

This is fundamentally an equity problem. Sessionals who have responsibilities caring for family or dependents often cannot accumulate adequate priority over such a short period, even if doing so were financially sustainable. It is also a matter of respect for the precariously employed members of our community who often are forced to juggle several sessional appointments, sometimes across multiple institutions. ULFA members care deeply about the well-being, rights, and fair terms and conditions for all academic staff.

The Positions

As the right of first refusal is intended to be a form of job security for long-serving sessionals who wish to be considered for future sessional appointments, ULFA proposes to increase the right of first refusal period from three to ten years. This right of first refusal proposal in Article 34 was included in ULFA’s January 18, 2021 proposal package delivered to the Board. The ULFA team presented its Article 34 proposal to the Board team on April 8, 2021. All of ULFA’s subsequent proposals on Article 34 (February 4 and February 9, 2022) have retained the same proposed right of first refusal improvement. 

To date, the Board team has not shown any willingness to adjust the existing terms of the right of first refusal or to discuss ULFA’s proposal to make the right of first refusal for sessionals more fair.