Universities have traditionally offered a clear path to a professional academic career: muddle through graduate school, work as an assistant professor, and then finally reach the golden apple, tenure.
Currently, tenured professors teach roughly half of the courses at UCLA, but instruction could be further improved if lower-division lecture classes were taught predominantly by full-time lecturers focused only on teaching, without the added concern of research.
In fact, trends are already heading in this direction ““ U.S. universities, including the University of California, are hiring greater numbers of adjunct faculty, some of whom may in fact focus solely on teaching.
UCLA should consider emphasizing a career track for those scholars hoping to focus on instruction alone. The burden taken up by these lecturers would revolve primarily around lower-division courses, allowing tenured faculty to focus on research and upper-division courses.
Additionally, graduate school deans should refocus graduate degrees to allow students to pursue such non-tenured positions. Providing degree programs that recognize full-time instruction as a viable alternative to the tenure track and emphasize pedagogical training over research would better prepare aspiring academics intent on applying their knowledge to the classroom.
These ideas were proposed in the “College, Reinvented” report by The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Schools such as Duke University and New York University have already begun hiring educators off the tenure track as full-time lecturers, albeit with one-year contracts in the case of NYU.
If scholars were offered full-time contracts as lecturers, they would be able to teach at the same schools for a prolonged period. This would spare lecturers from having to search continuously for employment at other schools and would allow them to focus on improving the quality of their classes at one institution.
As the current system stands, a majority of those pursuing a career in higher education must train for a doctorate. Those who do not achieve a doctorate or cannot find full-time tenured posts frequently have to accept adjunct contracts ““ which can be a combination of research and instruction ““ as a fallback, or may leave academia entirely.
If graduate students were allowed to complete only a master’s degree with the express intent of becoming full-time lecturers, they could focus more on developing better teaching methods in their given fields rather than dividing their attention between instruction and research.
By implementing a system at research universities like UCLA to distinguish between faculty devoted to research and those devoted to teaching, professors and lecturers could focus on their respective interests, increasing the efficiency and focus of the university’s research and instruction.
Some professors may not have significant experience in the classroom, having emphasized research in their graduate studies. A teaching-intensive graduate degree might serve to make up for this gap, said Robert Samuels, a lecturer in the UCLA Writing Programs and president of the University Council ““ American Federation of Teachers.
The transition to this new track system would not be as difficult for UCLA as it could be for other universities.
At many schools, working as a lecturer offers limited academic freedom compared to tenured faculty. Because tenure prevents schools from firing professors without just cause, they may freely dissent from prevailing opinions or teach unpopular subjects, said David Teplow, a neuroscience professor at UCLA and chair of the UCLA Academic Senate Committee on Academic Freedom.
According to Teplow, the academic freedom of all professors and lecturers in the UC system is protected, making our campus a suitable incubator in which to test this two-track plan.
By creating a new path for full-time lecturers, the UC system would be able to better serve instructors and students ““ all while getting the most bang for its buck.
Rather than using the tenure track as a cookie-cutter path for students wishing to become professors, UCLA should provide degree programs that prepare students specifically for non-tenure lecturing positions and offer more full-time contracts for lecturers.