University must reorganize its priority on language courses

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Alvaro Azcarraga/Staff

One more added to the list, Professor Nezar AlSayyad. How many is it now? Four? Five? And these are the ones we know of: administrators and tenure track professors — all male, all put on paid leave, not allowed to teach or come to campus, some given a golden handshake. In the meantime in Dwinelle Hall, there is a fight going on. Twenty-two language lecturers — largely highly trained women and many from minority communities, without security of employment, and low-paid — are fighting for pennies. And yet, the university is willing to spend thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars to avoid giving them the small pay increase agreed to in their newly signed contract.

Last spring, a new contract was agreed on between the campus and the union that represents language lecturers. Much to the surprise of both campus administrators and language lecturers, the agreement included a revised workload for language lecturers, one keeping with the workload that language lecturers at other UC campuses have had for 10 years. The agreement says that instructors of “Foreign Language Courses” should be paid 40 percent instead of 33 percent per course per semester.

In order to save a few thousand dollars (a 7 percent increase for a handful of classes), the administrators at Berkeley, in their wisdom, have decided that classical languages are not really foreign languages — they are not as hard to teach, apparently — and that some classes are too small to be counted as “foreign languages.” Instead, they are initiating a system whereby these instructors are paid on a per-student basis — clearly a disaster in the making for students and all faculty members, regardless of rank.

The instructors of these classes are, for the most part, not full-time; in fact, many teach only one or two classes and earn barely enough to survive on. The small monthly increase for them means the difference between food on the table or waiting in line at a food bank.

When the university needs to tally up its “minority” employment totals or discuss “gender” equity, it is more than happy to include these instructors in its numbers. Depriving a few dedicated, hard-working and vulnerable instructors at UC Berkeley of a small pay increase and yet being willing to pay those who abuse their students not to teach — the university seems to have something gravely wrong with its priorities. Wrong yes, but unexpected no. The university’s unstated policy has long been to protect the powerful at the expense of the weak.

Sally J. Sutherland Goldman is a senior lecturer in Sanskrit and recipient of the 2012 DTA in the department of South and Southeast Asian studies.

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  • BerkeleyDude

    This is really nuts. Classical and ancient language courses are one of the things that makes Berkeley great. Having access to courses in Sanskrit, and having them taught by eminent scholars like Prof. Sutherland, is amazing. The idea of paying a faculty member for a course by the number of students who take it is ridiculous.

    If there is a budget problem, then we should ask ourselves about how to achieve efficiency globally. I’d rather have already large courses become larger than to lose smaller courses that add intellectual distinctiveness to the campus. If it comes time to cut, then we should ask ourselves which of the many valuable things that the university does should it stop doing. For this, I think that core academics like classical languages must occupy a higher priority (assuming that Berkeley is good at them, as it certainly is in Sanskrit) than any sport.

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