UCLA had a stark message for its lecturers last month: you’re expendable, even when you’re needed.
The Department of Mathematics announced in April it will change its financial actuarial mathematics program to emphasize the growing role of data science in the field. As part of the overhaul, the department is not rehiring lecturers in the program, and is instead replacing them with ladder faculty – those who already have or are on track to receive tenure.
This may seem like a positive step at face value, since ladder faculty, who typically focus exclusively on research, are being asked to take on more of a teaching role. But the change comes at the expense of the financial and job stability of the department’s lecturers.
Lecturers provide valuable services to students because their primary focus is teaching. And as students in the FAM program have indicated, lecturers are sometimes better equipped to teach the subject because they also tend to work in the industries students hope to eventually enter.
UCLA’s overhaul of the program, while seemingly motivated by a curriculum change, is just another example of its whimsical treatment of lecturers. Choosing not to rehire all the lecturers for a department is less a sign that UCLA is committed to teaching its students, and more an indication that it views its teaching force as an unnecessary expenditure.
This isn’t the first time UCLA has cast its lecturers aside. Last year, the University of California removed access to retirement benefits for lecturers at UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine on the grounds that it didn’t need to provide these benefits under its collective bargaining agreement with the lecturers’ union. And in 2016, the university allegedly withheld funding that lecturers needed to travel to academic events.
Lecturers have also repeatedly complained that departments often take steps to circumvent the University’s contract agreement with lecturers. Some argue the University has been employing them below the instruction time threshold necessary to give them benefits, and others have argued the UC lets them go before they reach the 18-quarter threshold that requires departments to rehire them continuously.
It’s clear lecturers can never catch a break. And in the case of the FAM program, the university’s mistreatment of lecturers also comes at students’ expense. For example, students taking the program’s Society of Actuaries exam preparation course, following the department’s decision to transition away from lecturers, were taught by a professor who had never actually taken the exam. This prompted a good number of students to consider dropping the class.
This is unacceptable, but not surprising. In the educational conveyer belt that is the UC, responsibilities such as ensuring lecturers’ financial well-being are viewed as additional expenditures, not as investments in students’ success. We need only look at the three days of strikes last week by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 union to see the great amount of work the UC must do before it can claim it values its employees and students.
Certainly, the FAM department is looking to hire people with doctoral degrees to replace its lecturers. But the fact remains that the university is trampling on the backs of lecturers to cut its costs.
And that’s only consistent with the UC’s previous mistreatment of these all-too-valuable teachers.