Wednesday, August 15

Editorial: UCLA lecturer cuts are latest in UC’s mistreatment of employees

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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.

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  • Richard Solomon

    This may be the first university actuarial major in the country where the students have passed more exams than the instructors!
    Clearly these changes have been poorly thought out and implemented. Previously the mission for the actuarial department was to prepare the students for the actuarial exams and additionally to familiarize the students with approaches used in the business world for creating imaginative solutions for practical day to day actuarial problem solving. All of the instructors were fellows of the Society of Actuaries -meaning that each and everyone of them had passed all of the required actuarial exam sponsored by the Society of Actuaries. Additionally, all of the instructors held in the past or currently hold responsible actuarial positions in industry.
    In contrast the new instructors are post doctorate math majors with no practical experience in the industry. None of them to my knowledge have passed any actuarial exams. Ucla can go longer claim that they offer a financial actuarial mathematics major since they would be misleading the public; in no way are they preparing the students to pass exams nor to work as actuaries. My heart goes out to the juniors, sophomores, and freshman who will be adversely affected by the UCLA elimination of a legitimate actuarial math major.
    Full disclosure: I have been supporting the actuarial program for a number of years, working with the Actuaries and students, tutoring, and giving final exam review classes. I am not a dispassionate observer since I have seen firsthand the benefits of this program and the success that our students have enjoyed. These changes that the University is implementing are disasterous for the students, UCLA’s reputation, and for the companies around the country that have relied on this program to help staff their actuarial departments with promising new university graduates.
    Richard Solomon
    Fellow, Society of Actuaries