Tenure system creates dichotomy between professors and mere lecturers

UC Berkeley, along with many other universities and community colleges, operates on a two-tiered faculty system. Tenured and tenure-track faculty have regular positions with benefits and protections for academic freedom. They are mostly white men. All other faculty, who constitute more than half of the teaching positions, operate without job security and benefits — and tend to be women. One has only to look at the hiring notices for academic positions at UC Berkeley to see that they are almost exclusively hiring lecturers, who are temporary teachers with no benefits and single-term appointments. The university does this to get professors on the cheap, in the same way big corporations avoid providing professional pay and benefits to their workers.

There is a movement to bring fairness to so-called “contingent” faculty. It has been around since the late 1990s and is picking up steam. Not surprisingly, many tenured faculty do not support treating lecturers as their professional brethren but rather prefer to keep their elite status to themselves while contingent faculty are treated unfairly. Only tenured professors have a say in governance through the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate.

To bring some fairness back to teaching at the university level, tenure should be eliminated, and all faculty should have job security in the form of permanent, benefited positions — even if they are part-time. The universities should not be permitted to hire lecturers, who are second-class citizens. If some faculty are worth more to the university than others, let that be reflected in their pay level rather than maintaining them as a separate and superior class.

Recently, a California judge ruled that tenure at the secondary-school level is unconstitutional under the state constitution. It makes sense that tenure should be abolished at the university level as well. Academic freedom can be provided to professors in some other fashion without giving a few people a privileged status separate and apart from society. All professionals teaching at the university level should have job security and benefits — and if the problem is that healthcare is too expensive to provide to everyone, then that should be treated as a separate issue and addressed by going to noncommercial health care and insurance.



Elizabeth Barrett recently was an LL.M. student at UC Berkeley’s School of Law.