The Alexander Coward story is big, and not just because he had a huge following after his 2013 email to his students or because he is cherished by many of his students. It is big because Coward is yet another victim of the University of California’s misguided approach to lecturer hiring and appointments. Unfortunately, the university treats all lecturers as temporary appointments, even when there is a clear, permanent need for excellent teaching faculty. Coward teaches calculus courses, for which there is an indefinite need. Nothing is temporary here, and yet many departments and programs in the UC system insist on pushing lecturers out of such positions.
The lecturers’ union, UC-AFT, has been in contract negotiations with the university for nearly nine months, and the main thing we are fighting for is job stability and security for our “precontinuing” lecturers, such as Coward. Precontinuing lecturers have little job security, and their appointments can be subject to termination each and every semester. Our proposals in bargaining include shortening the time in precontinuing appointments and getting multiyear contracts for precontinuing positions so that lecturers have enough security year to year to fully commit to excellent teaching. We are also fighting for consistent and transparent reviews for precontinuing appointments so that lecturers will know where they stand at the end of their contract.
The university’s response to these proposals thus far has been less than unsatisfactory. Our proposals call on the university to stabilize our appointments so that we can be the excellent teachers our students deserve. Some in the university believe that we should not consider lectureship a career and seem to think that any stabilization of precontinuing appointments might give us the wrong idea about our future with the university.
Coward’s situation is unjustifiable, and it’s great that it is getting the attention it deserves. But this story is bigger than Coward. Hundreds of lecturers are spurned by the university every year because they are too good, because they speak up in meetings, because they don’t conform perfectly, because they refuse to do all the unpaid work expected by departments or because their area of study or emphasis offends one or more of their ladder-rank colleagues. This is an injustice to lecturers and an equal injustice to students, because our teaching conditions are student-learning conditions. Teaching matters! The university needs to take this seriously by supporting teaching faculty in making this great public university an authentic center of educational excellence.
Bill Quirk is the associate director of UC-AFT.