According to the American Federation of Teachers, lecturers teach 40 percent of classes at UC Davis. Unlike lecturers, professors are able to ascend to the level of tenure-protected faculty, and have a permanent place in the university after a period of review and evaluation.
“Tenure is achieved after a faculty member has been deemed qualified and having achieved the necessary level of a scholarly body of work,” said Binnie Singh, assistant vice provost of Academic Affairs, in an email interview.
While a lecturer’s primary function is to teach, a tenure-track professor also has to do research. It is not required for lecturers to pursue research, but many do.
The UC Davis Academic Personnel Manual UCD-220 Section IV states that in order to receive tenure, professors must show that they are working towards being published or have just completed a publication.
APM UCD–133 states that assistant professors must ascend to the title of associate professor within eight years to receive tenure. If assistant professors are not promoted within this time frame, they are let go from the university.
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is a union designed to represent and support lecturer and librarian rights. Jeffrey Dunbar Narten, Field Representative University Council for AFT, said the screening process for lecturers to become continuing lecturers takes up to 18 quarters, usually amounting to six years.
“The [AFT’s contract for lecturers], based on excellence of education, is the best opportunity for people without tenure,” Dunbar Narten said. “It has been copied by many other unions. It was completely novel when brought to campuses.”
Pre-sixes, a term used to describe lecturers before they go through the screening, are on a yearly contract. After this 18-quarter period, the options are either to become a continuing lecturer, with greater job security and rights, or be dismissed.
This year, neurobiology, physiology and behavior lecturer Lauren Liets was given a “pink slip,” meaning her job can be revoked at any time over the year.
Liets’ case became known among the campus community after Justin Van Hoorebeke, a current NPB graduate student and one of her former students, started a petition on Change.org to gather student signatures for the cause. Hoorebeke said the aim of the petition wasn’t to aggravate the administration, but to show that students care about their education and want qualified lecturers to remain on campus.
“I knew her as an undergrad [because] I took a few of her classes,” Hoorebeke said. “I took Neurobiology of Addictive Drugs and she has also written letters of recommendation for me.”
One of the main reasons why Hoorebeke started the online petition was because of his belief that quality professors and lecturers are a vital component for education at the university. While he does think that research is an important part of the university experience, he also values education equally.
“I’ve had professors who are great researchers, but I didn’t really learn much from them,” Hoorebeke said. “I feel like having students say, and show the administration, ‘This person is more than just a name on a paper, this is someone who makes or breaks the program,’ [is powerful].”
Liets has taught at UC Davis full time for fourteen years and received her first pink slip after 2008, when AFT rewrote lecturer’s contracts. When the AFT contracts were rewritten, the definition of seniority changed from being based on the lecturer’s time spent working to the number of quarters the lecturer has taught.
“While they were rewriting our contract, I became lowest in seniority,” Liets said. “I am constantly working under the threat of being fired.”
Liets said she prefers working as a lecturer because of her ability to focus on teaching students, and believes there may be budgetary reasons behind her pink slip, as opposed to the staff purposefully trying to oust her from her position.
Hoorebeke agreed with Liets, believing that the administration may not be against her position, but should still make an effort to retain her as a faculty member.
“They could create another position for Dr. Liets,” Hoorebeke said. “They can restructure the program so we don’t miss out on a very special lecturer.”
Liets said she was aware of the petition made by Hoorebeke and was touched, though still wary of the attention the petition has brought to her. However, Liets is glad that students are speaking up.
“What sparked the petition is that the student’s voices are never heard,” Liets said. “They don’t have a good way of being heard. So this is how they are trying to be.”
Liets, who was not involved in the petition in anyway, found a link after receiving an email from a former student.
“On the days where I feel like crap, I’m going to open this up and read it,” Liets said. “That’s what it’s all about. Anyone should be lucky enough to have passion for their job like I have for mine.”