We contingent faculty are always happy when students are curious about how the university works and interested in analyzing the power structures that affect them. Austin Pink, in his recent opinion column titled “Reliance on nontenured faculty harms teaching environment, education quality,” gets a lot of things right about the challenges UCLA lecturers face. We completely agree that UCLA needs to stop exploiting adjunct faculty.
However, we don’t fully understand why Pink did not quote any contingent faculty in a column about us. Readers may have a skewed picture of UCLA’s labor and education conditions because of this omission.
Lecturers and other nontenured faculty don’t harm UCLA’s teaching environment and educational quality; lack of institutional support and respect for us does. Lecturers are hired specifically because we are excellent teachers. Our contract is one of the best in the nation for contingent faculty and our students, yet it is regularly and egregiously broken. To quickly and dramatically improve education for UCLA students, deans and department chairs need only follow the procedures that our union, University Council-American Federation of Teachers, and the University of California have already agreed to.
Instead of paying lip service to job security, UCLA administrators could just abide by our current contract, which provides for meaningful and significant job security for lecturers. Instead, deans and department chairs often breach our contract and refuse to rehire lecturers, even when we teach popular classes that are offered year after year.
Additionally, our contract provides full benefits for all lecturers teaching 50 percent of the time or more. Yet many lecturers are employed at artificially depressed appointment percentages that keep them below that 50 percent threshold, thereby excluding us from these benefits. This is a choice by university administrators, not a necessity.
In his column, Pink describes how contingent faculty are forced to teach at a different university each year because their contract has not been renewed. High rates of turnover among UCLA’s contingent faculty are entirely within the control of the Academic Personnel Office. Not only do they signal disrespect for classroom education, but they are also an attempt to weaken our ability to advocate for our students. In the future, we may even see teaching shift away from lecturers to other types of contingent faculty who lack basic union protection if the current trajectory of exploiting lecturers continues.
I fear lecturers will be deprived of even more dignity and respect under the guise of needing to stop exploitation. The answer to contingency is not more contingency; it is more institutional respect for the talented and dedicated lecturers who are passionate about educating UC students. If you are concerned about the plight of contingent faculty – and we all should be – advocate that your department respect the faculty currently teaching there.
McIver is a UCLA writing programs lecturer and president of UC-AFT.