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Saturday, November 27, 2021

UC lecturers deserve job stability, increased pay

The Editorial Board calls on UC administrators to support our instructors

Last week, members of the University Council-American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT), the union representing over 6,000 lecturers within the UC system, congregated on A and First streets to advocate for job stability, increased pay and fair workload compensation for teaching faculty across the UC campuses. For lecturers, valuable leaders of our education and integral members of our community, these protections are long overdue. 

Lecturers teach roughly 30% of credit courses in the UC system, including those at undergraduate and graduate levels, and provide valuable instruction, though they make significantly less than professors. According to a CalMatters analysis, lecturers earn roughly a third or less of what tenured faculty or those who are on track to tenure make, though those disparities may also be attributed to the fact that most lecturers work part-time. The minimum annual pay for full-time lecturers, however, is $57,000, which is considered a low-income wage at six of the nine UC campuses, according to the same analysis.

UC-AFT and the UC Office of the President (UCOP) have been in negotiations for nearly two years, and this summer, the union filed for an impasse, meaning that both sides are deadlocked in their negotiations. While the UC is proposing pay bumps for lecturers, members of UC-AFT claim that these bumps will not rise with inflation and are therefore insufficient to ensure lecturers the financial means they need to survive. 

Beyond pay, a central issue lecturers and faculty are advocating for is job security. Every year, roughly one quarter of lecturers do not return to teach at the UC — this turnover has been dubbed “the churn.” The exact reasons for this aren’t listed in the UC employment rolls; a common complaint from lecturers is that they do not receive an explanation when their contract is not renewed, and it’s often done on short notice. For example, the 14 lecturers of the Physical Education Department at UC Davis received notification of their layoffs right before fall quarter 2020 — only two days before the start of classes.

It would diminish the work of lecturers to say that this turnover does not have an impact on students’ quality of education. Having different teachers for the same classes can affect the relative intensity of a course from quarter to quarter. Furthermore, classes taught by new teachers can prove challenging for students as a new lecturer must adjust to the content and the pace of the course during the early weeks of the quarter. For students that have built academic relationships with their teachers, it can be jarring to have them removed so suddenly from their educational realm and hinders students from asking for letters of recommendation and building professional connections.   

This seems especially ironic considering one of the primary goals of the UC, as established in its mission statement, is to teach students at all education levels, thus building California’s economy. The UCOP website states: “Through our academic programs, UC helps create an educated workforce that keeps the California economy competitive.” While the UC clearly takes pride in educating the future workforce for the state, it fails to acknowledge its crucial role in being the third largest employer in California by refusing to provide the necessary job security required for the lecturers directly responsible for creating this workforce.

UC-AFT members are also frustrated by the lack of communication from the UC Davis campus administration and the system-wide administration. Never has the gap between our teachers and the administration been so glaring: As members of our community who are so valuable in shaping student’s education, lecturers deserve to feel heard and not ignored by Chancellor Gary May and President Michael Drake.

If they don’t, students will be paying the price. In June, 96% of union members voted to authorize a strike, which would force more than a third of classes to be canceled. Though extremely disruptive, this may be a necessary step for lecturers to receive the rights they deserve as employees. The Editorial Board encourages students to educate themselves on the negotiations and show their support however possible. 

The UC has a duty to provide the appropriate job security and compensation to lecturers to not only support their employees but also to ensure students are receiving a consistent and excellent education. It is unfair both for employees and students to continue to teach and learn in these conditions without action taken by the UC system to meet the needs of lecturers.

Written by: The Editorial Board

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