Vol. 51 No. 1 (2021): 51(1)

Sessional Contract Faculty, Unionization, and Academic Freedom

Stephanie Ross
McMaster University
Larry Savage
Brock University
James Watson
McMaster University

Published 2021-03-23


  • academic freedom,
  • sessional instructors,
  • contract faculty,
  • faculty associations,
  • unions,
  • bargaining unit structures
  • ...More

How to Cite

Ross, S., Savage, L., & Watson, J. (2021). Sessional Contract Faculty, Unionization, and Academic Freedom. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 51(1), 57–70. https://doi.org/10.47678/cjhe.vi0.188989


This article explores the relationship between unionization and academic freedom protections for sessional faculty in Ontario universities. Specifically, we compare university policies and contract provisions with a view to determining whether unionized sessionals hired on a per-course basis have stronger academic freedom protections than their non-union counterparts. We then explore whether particular kinds of bargaining unit structures are more conducive to achieving stronger academic freedom provisions. Finally, we consider whether academic freedom can be exercised effectively by sessionals, whether unionized or not. We conclude that unionization does help to produce stronger academic freedom protections for sessional
faculty and that faculty association bargaining unit structures are most likely to help deliver this outcome. We further conclude that academic freedom is difficult to exercise for sessional faculty, regardless of union status, but that unionization offers greater protections for sessionals facing repercussions as a result of asserting their academic freedom.


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