I am sad to be taking a break from lecturing on Autism Studies due to a number of changes imposed on the teaching team in the last couple of weeks. A reduction in coordination support and downgrading of tutorials have put me in a position where I do not feel I can continue lecturing. I do not think I would have enough support to meet the unpaid expectation on lecturers’ time, and I describe the background in full below.
I have really enjoyed the past three years and I am proud of having been a part of the team that developed the programme, pushed it through the approval process and delivered Autism Studies at UCC. The collaboration with other staff has been so fruitful and, above all, I have learned so much from the students. It has been wonderful to teach a class that has such a breadth and depth of knowledge of the subject.
Thank you all so much.
This September I was asked (privately) to “take all the lectures” on modules I am involved in, as were several other lecturers on the same modules. To be clear, each of us was asked (privately) to replace the others. In this Highlander (“there can be only be one”) model of tendering to retain our own teaching, the victor would also have the (unpaid) privilege of scheduling the course, setting assignments, being available for student enquiries, providing student feedback and liaising with other centres in their own time. The one lecturer would also be obliged to mark all coursework, which amounts to around five or six euro per hour. We previously had excellent support from weekly tutorials throughout the year and from a coordinator who was a leading member of the teaching team. Both were fully involved in delivering and updating the programme.
The teaching team has been excluded from decision-making. In addition, the explicit assumption that any lecturer can fulfill all roles in delivering any module shows a lack of respect for the collective and collaborative expertise of the lecturing team.
The role of a permanent tutor and a coordinator who was a part of the teaching team have been an essential support to me. I am hopeless at adminstration, networking and any kind of personnel management. I also dislike unexpected change, finding new rooms alone and introducing myself to strangers. My paid contribution to Autism Studies totalled 15 lectures the last year, i.e. 45 hours paid employment per year, which was already dwarfed by the actual time spent on preparation, reading, meetings and drafting course material in my own time. The additional unpaid expectations would be unworkable.
Development of Autism Studies
When we started out, there was no public offering of any autism studies course in Ireland. We conceived a course from the outset that covered the lifetime experience of autism, in all forms, at all stages of life. The landscape has changed with autism diagnosed in 2.3% of schoolchildren this year and many autism-related courses are now on offer. These include the College of Commerce, Blackrock Further Education Institute, Portobello Institute, Dorset College and City Colleges. There are also higher level qualifications including those at DCU Institute of Education, St Angelas College, Sligo and Mary Immaculate College. I do not regard a developing ecosystem of alternative courses as a threat, but as healthy competition. There is no better time to invest in expanding the programme and continuing to develop Autism Studies at UCC. This requires the goodwill of an enthusiastic team supported by secure, motivated staff.
I do not believe that Autism Studies can be delivered and maintained by a loose collective of individuals on zero-hours contracts. It requires a secure, permanent core staff.
My own future
I have a few projects including some writing and a pilot of a film discussion group (which has been very informative). I also expect to continue with lectures and public presentations when I have the opportunity and have restored a sense of calm. There are certainly elements of my teaching (all of which I loved presenting) that I would be glad to present to appropriate audiences.
Autism Studies at UCC
Autism Studies of course continues at UCC as before. This is purely a personal decision to protect my mental well-being. I believe the course requires at least one permanent employee who understands and has knowledge of the course content to support the lecturing and delivery. The course cannot be maintained or developed purely on the basis of hourly paid lecturers who have no job security.
I sincerely wish the teaching team at UCC all the best in the future of the course and hope to see the development of further elements of Autism Studies, including a Level 8 (postgraduate) Higher Diploma.