‘They deserve recognition’: UC lecturers bargain for higher pay, job security

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On Oct. 22, campus lecturer Khalid Kadir was in the process of writing multiple letters of recommendation and had several meetings scheduled with students beyond office hours — none of which would be represented in his paycheck.

Lecturers consistently take on additional obligations such as these, and pay for this work is one of several contentious topics being discussed this year as lecturers renegotiate their contract with the university.

University Council-American Federation of Teachers, or UC-AFT, Local 1990 president and UCLA lecturer Karl Lisovsky said lecturers fall into the category of nonsenate faculty. Faculty with this title are not eligible for tenure and are not a part of the Academic Senate, according to the current contract between UC-AFT and the UC system.

At UC Berkeley, in the 2018-19 academic year, 42% of student credit hours, or SCH, were taught by nontenure track faculty, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore. The number of SCH taught by “other faculty,” including lecturers, has increased by more than 40% since the 2008-09 academic year, while the number of SCH taught by tenure-track faculty has increased by 10% in the same time period, according to data published by the campus Office of Planning and Analysis.

According to UC-AFT Local 1474 co-chair and campus continuing lecturer Joanna Reed, all lecturers and librarians are represented under the UC-AFT labor union.

“I see the union as a space to be in community with people I share a context with,” Kadir said. “We transcend differences in beliefs and values to work towards a common goal, which I think is a beautiful thing.”

This year, the union’s lecturers have been focused on contract negotiations with the UC system.

UC administrators and lecturers across different campuses are in the process of renegotiating the lecturer contract — which went into effect on Feb. 29, 2016, and expires Jan. 31, 2020 — through a series of bargaining sessions, Reed said. Bargaining has continued since April, and sessions move between campuses.

Through bargaining, lecturers hope to make improvements in a number of areas, including job security, pay, benefits and workload.

Seeking job security

Nonsenate faculty can be evaluated for a continuing appointment once they reach their 12th semester or 18th quarter on a UC campus, according to UC Office of the President, or UCOP, spokesperson Andrew Gordon.

Until lecturers are eligible for a continuing appointment, however, they are “hired and fired” on a quarterly, semesterly or yearly basis, according to Reed.

“The first 5 years are very precarious — especially in departments other than my own here on campus — meaning that the university can let you go for just about any reason, and with very short notice,” said UC Davis continuing lecturer and UC-AFT Local 2023 spokesperson Katie Arosteguy in an email.

Arosteguy added that short notices have impeded some lecturers’ abilities to apply to other jobs, and some do not know what courses they will teach from quarter to quarter.

Because new lecturers “almost always start at the bottom of the pay scale,” a system of replacing lecturers reduces costs and allows departments to retain flexibility, according to Lisovsky.

According to data published by the Academic Senate, 24.3% of surveyed lecturers at UC Berkeley have been on campus for one or two semesters, and 66.8% have been on campus for six years or less.

Once they reach six years of employment, lecturers undergo an “extensive and thorough” review process to determine if they will receive a continuing appointment, according to Arosteguy.

Arosteguy added that continuing appointments are the highest level of job security a lecturer can receive. It differs from tenure, however, in that lecturers can be laid off under continuing appointment.

Lecturers are hired for specific courses with continuing appointment, according to Kadir.

“I am hired to teach, by this department, five specific classes,” Kadir said. “If one of those classes is not taught, if a tenure-track faculty member takes that class over, they don’t have to offer me a different class.”

According to campus continuing lecturer R. Ben Brown, the lack of job security lecturers face makes it difficult for them to commit to students.

“I know lots of lecturers, and every one of us is here because we love to teach students,” Brown said.

The cost of “faculty prestige”

Kadir, who has taught at UC Berkeley for 10 years, said he is also a lecturer at Presidio Graduate School because his full-time job on campus does not allow him to live in the East Bay. According to Reed, many lecturers are in a similar position.

Tenured faculty are paid more than lecturers and teach fewer courses because they are “supposed to do first-rate research,” according to campus professor and Berkeley Faculty Association secretary Michael Burawoy.

Burawoy added that the UC system pays tenured faculty a high salary to maintain “faculty prestige” by discouraging professors from working at other universities.

But low pay is only one of lecturers’ grievances. According to Lisovsky, lecturers can be hired at part-time — 25%, 33% or 50% — appointments or full-time appointments, which can impact their benefits.

Lisovsky added that lecturers receive benefits if hired at a 50% or greater appointment. Benefits start and stop on a quarterly basis as teaching appointments change, and those with yearly appointments stop receiving benefits just before summer.

Reed said lecturers are hoping for improvements in pay and access to benefits in the new contract.

“Taking two jobs is absolutely hindering my ability to have time for students,” Kadir said. “I still do all my job things and beyond, but, in some sense, Berkeley’s not embracing me.”

Working off the clock

This semester, Kadir said he wrote 11 letters of recommendation for students, all of which was unpaid labor.

According to Reed, most lecturers do many types of unpaid work, including mentoring students, holding extra office hours and writing letters of recommendation.

Reed added that lecturers are paid for class time and office hours. Part of the ongoing negotiations, Reed said, is determining what the UC system considers part of the job of a lecturer and subsequently what work is paid.

Brown said work such as participating in department governance and creating courses is also unpaid.

“Right now there’s an expectation that lecturers will participate in that, and yet that is not actually what we’re being paid for under the contract,” Brown said.

Lecturers’ working conditions directly affect student learning, Kadir said.

According to Arosteguy, it can be difficult for students to reach lecturers if they are not rehired and lose access to their campus email.

Campus junior Eliza Davis said lecturers have less time to prepare and be available for students, and as a result, it is hard for students to get the attention they need.

“Doing work for students comes out as unpaid work, and that’s a big ask to put on our community,” Davis said.

According to Davis, students should spread awareness of the issues lecturers face by talking to their peers and encouraging friends to come to events.

UC Student Association Labor Relations Officer and campus sophomore Josh Lewis echoed Davis’ sentiments, and said many students are not aware of the distinction between lecturers and tenure-track faculty.

“The difference between lecturers and tenure-track professors is virtually nonexistent,” Lewis said. “In conversation with students, it’s very rare to encounter students who are aware of that difference.”

While there is no explicit rule detailing the impact of student course evaluations on lecturer reappointment, they have an effect on the job security of lecturers, according to Kadir.

“In all the experience the union has of going through these reviews, what matters is two numbers — overall teaching effectiveness and quality of the course content,” Kadir said.

Kadir alleged that course evaluations are negatively biased against women and people of color. He added that evaluations should be done in a manner that “encourages a student to bring their best selves” rather than frustrations over grades.

Lewis said the course evaluation process concerns lecturers because of its impact on longevity, and that the evaluations do not serve as indicators of the greater student experience.

According to Brown, lecturers are aware of the impact the bargaining sessions have on students.

“We want students to know that this battle is for the benefit of the students as well as the benefit of us,” Brown said. “We aren’t selfless heroes, but we wouldn’t be doing this job if we didn’t care about students.”

The UC system, the community and the union

Lecturers and UCOP have been negotiating these topics since April, and according to Reed, it is likely that they will continue past the contract’s expiration date in January 2020.

“From our perspective, we’re feeling that on the university side, they’re not really responding very much to our proposals,” Reed said. “The people at the bargaining table at the university don’t seem to have a good concept of what it is we do and how what we do impacts student experience.”

Bargaining sessions include UCOP and union representatives from each campus and a lead negotiator on each side, according to Brown. Both sides share proposals, discuss and ask questions about the proposals.

According to Gordon, the university is working to reach a fair contract before the current agreement expires.

“Our lecturers play an essential role in supporting the University’s mission of teaching, research and public service, and our goal is to reach agreement on a multi-year contract that includes fair pay and excellent benefits,” Gordon said in an email.

The Academic Senate, composed of tenure-track faculty members, released a statement Nov. 4 in support of lecturers. The statement recognized lecturers as “essential” members of UC Berkeley and voiced support for higher wages and employment stability in the next lecturer contract.

Tenured faculty depend on lecturers as a part of the UC community, Burawoy said. He added, however, that support for lecturers varies between departments.

“These people are the great people on campus, and they are so poorly paid and so unrecognized, and we can’t keep going on like this,” Burawoy said. “They just give their souls to teaching, and they deserve recognition.”

According to Kadir, the Academic Senate and Berkeley Faculty Association have historically been supportive of lecturers.

He added that the protection of tenure allows faculty members to voice concerns on campus, and while many tenured faculty members speak up for lecturers, others do not.

“They aren’t speaking up for oppression they see around them in the institution,” Kadir said. “That’s a big moral failure.”

According to Kadir, lecturer conditions can be altered once community groups come together and demand change through collective action.

“Holy s—, the librarians show up,” Kadir said. “They have no interest in this, their contract is done, they have no personal benefit to showing up, but they’re there. We all need to be more like librarians.”

A “widely pervasive” system

Reed said many lecturers feel that their department does not respect their work.

Various departments do not invite lecturers to department meetings, according to Lisovsky. He alleged that while lecturers see different levels of respect across different departments, “none give them equity.”

A system of low job security and lower pay is “widely pervasive” across the greater higher education system, according to Reed.

UC Berkeley pays lecturers more than many other universities, but campus lecturers’ salaries and conditions are still “much worse” than tenured faculty, Burawoy said.

“We need to fix this, but if we think about this in a systematic way, we need to rethink the approach to education,” Kadir said. “This isn’t a job making machine, it’s about learning and education.”

Maya Akkaraju is a higher education reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @maya_akkaraju.