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Tracking COVID-19 at UCLA

Op-ed: UC must revise employment policies to provide lecturers with job security

By Karl Lisovsky

Oct. 12, 2021 6:58 p.m.

UCLA lecturers will be holding an informational picket at Meyerhoff Park, UCLA’s free speech lawn, next to Bruin Walk on Wednesday and Thursday. The topic is the working conditions of teaching faculty who have been out of contract for the better part of the last two years. I urge you to come join us.

At the University of California, there are research and teaching faculty – that is, professors and lecturers, respectively. Professors are hired to both research and teach. Lecturers are hired to teach. When you come into class on the first day of the quarter, you probably don’t know or even care if the person standing in the front of the room is a professor or a lecturer. What will matter to you is how good of an educator that person turns out to be.

Lecturers teach about one-third of undergraduate classes. However, we work under vastly different conditions from professors. We make less money, have limited access to benefits, and are far more likely to be forced to teach part time. But the big difference is this: For our first six years of teaching, we have no job security. This means that an instructor who has been teaching a course successfully and is getting solid student evaluations can be replaced by somebody new from the outside who has never taught the course without a whisper of explanation.

This forced turnover has become the University’s tacit go-to employment policy for teaching faculty. It makes us cheap and easy to get rid of. The administration enjoys this “management flexibility,” knowing that there are dozens of highly qualified people who will be happy to have a UCLA gig, even if it is just for a quarter.

This destabilized learning environment does not enhance your education. Wouldn’t you like to know that your instructor will be around next year to ask for a letter of recommendation? How can you develop a mentoring relationship with a faculty member who is here today and gone tomorrow?

Our core demands are three: job stability, better pay and reasonable workload. Job stability means reappointment rights. The University’s current practice of forced, pay-as-you-go faculty hiring might be convenient for the University, but it offers us little security. It forces lecturers to spend half their time doing their job and the other half looking for a job. Not knowing where you’re going to be working in 10 weeks makes it hard to put down a deposit on an apartment, or even know where you’re going to live – especially in an area as expensive as Los Angeles.

This treatment of teaching faculty is brutal and unnecessary. The University has the money to keep a stable cadre of teaching faculty. One word from UC President Michael Drake to settle this contract now is all that is necessary for his negotiating team to do just that. Yet, Drake has been silent on the matter with the word “lecturer” not passing his lips publicly. And why? Why is he not speaking to a problem that directly involves one-third of undergraduate classes?

We, lecturers, want the best for our students. We love our work, and frankly, we love this University. And we believe that it can become a kinder, gentler university, one that lives up to its vision of equity, diversity and inclusion.

That’s why we’re rallying this week. Our livelihoods are at stake.

I hope you’ll join us.

Lisovsky is a lecturer in UCLA Writing Programs. He is also a Unit 18 Member Delegate of the UCLA Chapter of the University Council-American Federation of Teachers, which represents non-Senate faculty and librarians at the University of California.

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