Faculty diversity has historically been an issue for the UC system and is something that several campuses are attempting to correct. But poor working conditions for lecturers and graduate students are huge roadblocks on the path to bringing in diverse, competent educators.
People holding doctorates often view lecturer positions as a stepping stone to a career in academia, since lecturers are expected to have extensive, in-depth knowledge about their respective fields in order to teach like full-blown professors. But the less than stellar working conditions can be discouraging for academics fresh out of graduate school, especially for those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. That leads to an incredibly homogenized set of educators at UC campuses, as most of them come from similar, privileged backgrounds.
Better pay won’t solve the problem alone. Job security itself is an enormous factor in attracting and keeping quality teachers. Many lecturers at UC campuses are hired on part-time, short-term contracts, with the possibility of termination at any time. That’s an unnecessary and unfair mental burden to bear, especially for people who want nothing more than to teach students about a field they love.
It’s true that the UC system is known for its world-class research and groundbreaking academic pursuits. But at its root, the UC system’s primary goal was always to educate the masses, which means putting teaching at the forefront. The fact that lecturers are paid far lower than their tenured, research-focused counterparts only emphasizes that teaching has taken a backseat to research.
On top of that, a third of all undergraduate credit hours are taught by lecturers. Whether or not it’s intentional, assigning lecturers to teach lower-level courses and then neglecting to pay them a decent wage indicates that the university doesn’t prioritize or value educating undergraduates.
And it’s not just lecturers who need better working conditions: GSIs deserve a more positive experience. Take online GSIs in the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, for example — those who teach for 25% of the full-time equivalent don’t get health insurance benefits from the school, even though they’re doing important work. A lot of public health GSIs come to UC Berkeley for the health insurance benefits. It’s unfair to bring in graduate students to take on teaching responsibilities without giving them the mental security to do exactly that.
Moving forward, the university needs to seriously consider equalizing educator pay, especially for lecturers and GSIs. Diversifying faculty on our campuses doesn’t begin and end with extending teaching offers to talented educators, it also requires ensuring that they’ll want to stay and contribute to a bastion of public education.
Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the fall 2019 opinion editor, Revati Thatte.