The University of California is known to provide a world-class education to its students. Its lecturers, however, get little in return for holding up the university system’s awe-inspiring reputation.
Lecturers, or temporary instructors, have been thrown around by the UC for quite some time. They are usually hired to teach one course per quarter, and although they fulfill many of the same responsibilities as full-time professors, most are given temporary contracts and receive few, if any, health care and retirement benefits for their employment terms.
The UC employs hundreds of lecturers to teach its students. Professors are a pricy investment, after all, and the UC has instead opted for lecturers at a cheaper price.
This practice is inherently exploitative, however. Lecturers’ temporary terms leads to financial instability for many, and many of these instructors live in fear of losing their jobs at any moment. And in the end, both instructors and students suffer because of this.
As such, the UC should extend lecturer employment from one year to three to five years, and include the same benefits that professors in the same department receive. And it can do this by requiring departments hire less lecturers and allow existing ones to teach more courses. Implementing these conditions would guarantee lecturers would teach a fixed number of classes for a predetermined amount of time, thereby providing them with a more predictable income.
As of now, nearly half of all undergraduate instruction in the UC is given by lecturers. Yet, they get few of the same benefits – or even pay – that professors do, despite the UC having the ability to extend benefits at its discretion, according to Article 11 of its contract with lecturers. The University expects these instructors to exert the same effort as full-time faculty, but for little pay.
For example, Simona Livescu, a lecturer in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, feels the administration is exploiting lecturers’ passion and dedication for teaching, as they are temporary employees for what is otherwise permanent work.
“Only the best teachers get to work at UCLA,” she said, “They know we want to do a good job, but it does not translate into overtime or money.”
In other words, the University acknowledges that lecturers are hardworking people that bring value to their school, but they refuse to compensate them fairly.
Furthermore, Livescu added lecturers can only receive extended benefits from their respective departments after teaching for about 18 quarters. This means lecturers must stay in the same department to get additional benefits through a continuing contract.
According to Karl Lisovszky, an English lecturer and current president of the University Council-American Federation of Teachers – the professional labor union that represents lecturers and librarians – if lecturers are able to teach in both the humanities and the sciences, the quarters they worked in the separate departments do not easily combine towards the 18-quarter goal; a petition must be made by the lecturer through their department.
To make matters worse, the lack of tenure gives departments more flexibility to dismiss lecturers, which puts them in fear of losing their jobs. This job instability not only affects their personal well-being, but it could also negatively affect students in the classroom.
According to Lisovszky, if lecturers know where they’ll be employed going into the upcoming year, they are less likely to be worried about their livelihood and can seriously focus on student learning, student outcomes and the general condition of their department. On the other hand, keeping lecturers in an employment limbo hurts the entire classroom – the students and the instructor.
The UC needs to employ lecturers on a three- to five-year contract with full benefits, to ensure that they have steady employment and are fairly compensated for their work. Departments could hire less lecturers, but require already-employed instructors teach more courses, so that the university wouldn’t need to hire additional instructors for exceedingly short terms, as it currently does.
And doing so would have tangible benefits for the UC’s quality of education. Lecturers would be able to improve their teaching skills and give their students what they can at their full potential – something that is not always possible if they’re struggling to bring food onto the table due to poor wages and benefits.
Of course, extending lecturers’ terms and providing full benefits will most likely cost the UC more money. But the expense is certainly affordable. While the UC Board of Regents is throwing a one-night banquet for $17,600 using university funds, hardworking lecturers are struggling to make ends meet.
It is time the university pays heed to the needs of its lecturers. Providing more compensation for the system’s backbone should no longer be up for debate.
Doing otherwise would be little more than elitist exploitation.