The University of California needs a lecture or two on how to treat its lecturers.
UC’s chief negotiator said early March that summer lecturers at UCLA and several other campuses will lose their retirement benefits starting summer 2017. The UC isn’t required to provide retirement benefits under its agreement with the American Federation of Teachers Local 1990, a union which represents UC lecturers and librarians.
That’s apparently reason enough for the UC to cut these 15-year-old benefits.
These cuts shouldn’t come as a surprise. The UC has historically mistreated its lecturers by providing them meager salaries, slashing their retirement benefits and potentially withholding academic funding from them.
What is surprising, however, is the UC’s lack of forthrightness in the matter. The university has hardly provided a convincing reason for the cuts, and the sudden fixation on cutting already slim lecturer benefits isn’t just concerning; it’s indicative of a university system that exploits its lecturers.
This isn’t the first time the board has called on the UC to be more transparent when negotiating with its lecturers. But this time, the UC has outdone itself.
The additional benefits provided to lecturers at UCLA, Berkeley, Santa Barbara and Irvine only amount to about $60,000 a year each. The UC has provided these since 2001, according to Mia McIver, president of UCLA’s chapter of the AFT. UC spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez said the university is making the cuts in order to make lecturer benefits consistent across the system.
Yet, Vazquez said the UC only recently learned these benefits were not covered by the UC-AFT collective bargaining agreement, which was signed over a year ago and dictates what the UC will provide for its lecturers.
As if that’s not hard enough to believe, McIver said a UC lawyer told her the cuts are not for financial reasons. If the cuts aren’t to save money, the UC could very well simply increase lecturer benefits across the board to be uniform. Clearly, however, the idea of axing the 15-year-old benefits was just too lucrative to pass up.
The UC is sending mixed messages to its lecturers and faculty. The university doesn’t just need to be transparent about why the cuts are being made; it also needs to be fair. Cutting benefits for lecturers is hypocritical when the administration continues to bloat and provide nonsensical benefits for executive employees such as free limousine rides and exorbitant travel reimbursement.
Certainly, increased student enrollment and decreased state government funding has forced the university system to find ways to make up costs, and cutting summer lecturer benefits can fit that narrative.
But the UC isn’t making the cuts for financial reasons. Even if it was, the savings would be minimal: With 85 lecturers at UCLA, the UC would be saving only about $5.1 million – hardly enough to make even a dent in its multi-billion dollar budget. The “savings” made by cutting benefits at the other campuses would be similarly miniscule.
Except, of course, for the lecturers seeing their livelihoods threatened. McIver described the benefits as a huge safety net for UCLA’s 85 summer lecturers.
The facts simply don’t add up. The UC’s latest efforts to curb lecturer benefits bring into question the university’s very commitment to serving its students and faculty. And that lack of commitment isn’t just a disservice; it’s wrong.