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Davis, California

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Universities turn to lecturers in place of tenured faculty during hard times

A trend sweeping across U.S. universities seems to have missed the University of California campus at Davis. The hiring of lecturers as a means of confronting budgetary concerns has yet to be implemented.

The U.S. Department of Education cites the national average of “part-time faculty” as nearly 41 percent — a roughly 9 percent increase from 1993.

In comparison, while a rise in both ladder faculty and teaching assistants has remained rather constant at UC Davis, the welcoming of lecturers has stalled and petered out over the past decade. In the 1997-98 school year Davis was home to 656 ladder faculty and 155 lecturers. Jump forward to this past year’s census and the number of ladder faculty has increased to 880, while the number of lecturers has dropped to 138.

“Our campus certainly has no policy of increasing the numbers of lecturers at the expense of ladder-rank faculty,” said Vice Provost of Academic Affairs Maureen Stanton.

Concern has been raised over the influx of lecturers at other institutions, arising chiefly from the instability seen to accompany certain, particularly newly instituted, lecturing positions. Due to the inability to receive tenure, some have voiced the opinion that lecturers are not able to champion their beliefs regarding sensitive subjects, such as school reform or students’ rights.

The possible circumstances of lecturers, such as those mentioned previously, have not flown under the radar of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies Dean Jessie Owens.

“The Provost has established a task force to address non-senate academic appointments [which would include lecturers],” Owens said. “I am chairing the task force, and expect that we will have draft recommendations for consideration by the entire campus ready during the summer.”

At UC Davis, a professor may take one of two routes. The first, that of a lecturer, is focused solely on teaching as opposed to research and publishing. Lecturers are granted merit-based pay raises with student evaluations constituting a significant role in this determination.

The second means, tenure-track or ladder-rank faculty, is differentiated by a heavy emphasis on research and publishing — many a time coming before teaching abilities as an indication of tenure. Therefore, student evaluations factor little, if at all, in a professor’s ability to achieve such a position.

The two paths do have the possibility of intertwining. Owens explained that certain lecturers have the opportunity to become members of the academic senate — tenure-track or tenured faculty.

Apart from questions arising over lecturers, some critics have commented on the use of graduate students as essentially cheap, readily available labor.

“Just as adjuncts are used for cost saving, grad student ‘readerships’ seem also to be used to cut costs,” said an English department graduate student.

Although those participating in readerships are generally given duties virtually identical to those of teaching assistants, they receive half the stipend teaching assistants do.

And although the university may not be taking as severe a route as other institutions when it comes to facing monetary concerns through decisions in faculty hiring, budgetary trepidation is far from over.

“Budget cuts have made it impossible to replace all ladder-rank faculty members when they retire,” Stanton said. “Until those positions can be filled, the campus uses many different mechanisms — including hiring lecturers, increasing teaching loads of remaining faculty and doing temporary recalls of retired ladder-rank faculty.”

KELLEY REES can be reached at city@theaggie.org.


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