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UCLA report explores the UC’s growing reliance on adjunct faculty

(Katie Frei/Daily Bruin)

By Dylan Tzung

March 9, 2022 4:49 p.m.

The University of California is increasingly employing adjunct faculty as the state shifts away from prioritizing higher education, according to a UCLA-led report from February.

The UCLA Luskin Center for History and Policy published the report titled “The Transformation of Academic Labor: Past as Prologue at the UC” as the first part of a larger three-part series from the LCHP designed to critically and constructively envision a path to build a more just UCLA community.

David Myers, the director of the LCHP, said this report examines the UC’s increasing reliance on contingent academic labor and whether the UC is providing the best conditions for this group of faculty as they take on a larger share of teaching responsibilities.

The second report will cover the history of race and racism on campus, and the third report will reflect on how UCLA has responded to major crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, Myers said.

John Schmidt, a co-author and LCHP graduate student research fellow, said that during contract negotiations last year with the University Council-American Federation of Teachers, the research team worked closely with UC-AFT and attended many of the bargaining sessions. UC-AFT is a union representing nonsenate faculty and professional librarians across all UC campuses.

[Related link: Lecturers’ union celebrates new contract with UC after canceled strike]

Schmidt said with the knowledge they gained from the bargaining and the threatened strike, the researchers then worked to add historical context to ongoing events.

In the report, the researchers examined the last 60 years of education policy and changes in state funding. The report noted a long-term decrease in state funding for the UC and an overall decline in the state’s commitment to higher education.

From the late 1970s to 1994, the portion of state funding allocated to California colleges and universities declined from 17% to 10%, according to the report. While state funding did recover, the proportion of state funding used for the UC budget decreased from 67% in 1950 to 33% in 2000, according to the report.

The report states that this overall decline has resulted in the UC spending 18% less per student on teaching and research than in 2000 and will not allow the UC to reestablish competitive salaries for their faculty in the coming years.

Schmidt said this lack of funding, combined with dramatic fluctuations in state funding, makes the employment of adjunct faculty – a cheaper and more flexible labor source – increasingly appealing for the UC.

“They want that flexibility to basically, just kind of, discard parts of the campus community at a moment’s notice,” said Trevor Griffey, a UCLA and UC Irvine labor studies lecturer and co-chair of the UCI chapter of UC-AFT.

Researchers also found that over the years, the number of lecturer positions across the UC has increased more rapidly than tenure-track positions and the growth of part-time lecturers has outpaced the growth of full-time lecturers as a whole.

The report also highlighted the need to increase transparency and provide better information about its use of contingent academic labor.

Schmidt said this will be particularly important in the context of the UC 2030 plan, in which the UC has declared its intention to graduate 200,000 more students and eliminate equity gaps.

“You can’t really meet that goal without incorporating directly into it, the sort of function of that group of people who do 47% of the teaching at the UC, which is the non-tenure-track faculty,” Schmidt said. “And right now, there isn’t really much mention of them within the UC 2030 plan.”

Griffey also said he was concerned with the UC 2030 plan and the impact of the University’s increasing reliance on contingent labor on the quality of education students receive.

“How do we ensure that wages for teachers … are sufficient to prevent them from stacking so many classes that they can no longer provide students the attention they deserve?” Griffey said.

The research team provided policy interventions from the University to federal level, with a particular focus on increasing job stability and pay for the contingent faculty.

At the UC level, some proposals included increasing data transparency about the landscape of adjunct faculty and increasing collaboration between the Academic Senate and contingent laborers, according to the report. At the state and federal level, the report’s proposals included recommitting to long-term funding for higher education and establishing national standards for the workforces of public universities.

Samuel Feldblum, a co-author of the report and an LCHP graduate student research fellow, said the new UC-AFT contract already addressed a lot of the issues faced by non-Senate faculty that the team had hoped to highlight in the report, such as rehiring preferences, pay raises and the shift to longer-term contracts – major achievements for the lecturers.

However, he said it is important for the UC to reconsider its hiring practices and work to rebalance its types of workers and positions. Feldblum added that suggestions from the report included lowering the rate at which new administrators are being hired and instead devoting great funds to instruction and slowing the growth of contingent ranks in comparison to tenure-track lecturers.

Fariha Khan, a co-author and an LCHP undergraduate student research fellow, said following the major win for lecturers, it is time for attention to be refocused on the status of graduate student workers because their stipends are far below a livable wage, especially in cities such as Los Angeles and New York.

Like most workers, graduate students are taught how to practice an academic discipline but are not given the knowledge to actually understand the economics of their industry, Griffey said.

“Once you look at that kind of budgeting in that practice, it looks quite different, and it can be a little disillusioning,” he added. “But, it’s also an awesome wake up call. It’s like when real education begins.”

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