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UC Berkeley lecturers share their stories of trial, tribulation and triumph

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FEBRUARY 27, 2022

To most UC Berkeley students, the person standing behind the podium at the front of their classroom is simply their professor. In reality, however, only 1,300 campus faculty members don that title. The remaining 1,100 are UC lecturers.

While this difference in title may seem superficial to students, it determines their salary, job stability and ultimately their livelihood.

“Lecturers work really hard to put on a very professional persona in the classroom,” said Crystal Chang, campus continuing lecturer and co-chair of the University Council-American Federation of Teachers, or UC-AFT, Bay Area Chapter. “Students just don’t always know how much of a struggle their lives really are.”

At about 4 a.m., Nov. 17, UC-AFT — a union representing university lecturers — and the UC Office of the President, or UCOP, reached a contract agreement to improve labor practices surrounding lecturers. According to a UC-AFT press release, this contract “revolutionizes the first six years of a lecturer’s career at the UC.”

The contract includes multiyear appointments rather than the current semester-long ones, higher compensation, more transparent review processes and expanded paid medical leave, among other conditions.

Though “historic,” it took two and half years of bargaining and the imminent threat of a two-day strike for UCOP to settle for the terms UC-AFT had proposed.

In order to understand the realities of the lecturers standing before them, students need to hear their stories, the obstacles they’ve faced in pursuing what they love and why they continue to come back each semester.

These are their stories.

‘Lecturers live precarious lives’: Why it’s worth it to David Walter

“A calling is something that calls you, you don’t call it, unfortunately. I would have rather been a world-famous novelist, but I just kept on gravitating back to (teaching).”

— David Walter

‘Labor of love’: Crystal Chang on the journey to continuing lectureship

Photo of Crystal Chang“We love working with students, you know some of us who do research love that, we love the campus life and community. But on the other hand, it’s so poorly paid and supported that it makes it hard to survive doing this kind of work. It’s definitely a labor of love.”

— Crystal Chang

From tech to teaching: How lecturer Kenneth Worthy found fulfillment

Photo of Kenneth Worthy“I’m passionate about teaching students about the environment and where we are with the environment, what’s happening, the global crises we’re facing and what we can do about it. My disappointment is that we’re living in this moment of extreme danger … too many Berkeley students graduate with little environmental literacy.”

— Kenneth Worthy

‘Is it still worth it?’: Cecilia Lucas grapples with the reality of lectureship

Photo of Cecilia Lucas“My partner, who I’m married to, they are a cancer survivor three times over, so having reliable health insurance is a huge priority, and they were insured through me. The amount of unpaid labor that I put into over the years of battling to figure out maintaining health benefits … is itself just really frustrating and emotionally.”

— Cecilia Lucas

Contact Veronica Roseborough at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @v_roseborough.

MARCH 05, 2022