Educating with excellence

The UCSD literature department employs 13. The math department employs just four. The history department clocks in with a tally of 31.

Pat Leung

Lecturers — nontenured instructors who generally do not enjoy the same job security and benefits as professors — are everywhere at UCSD, an immutable fixture of education within the University of California.

Lecturers are the only university-level instructors whose commitment is clearly and undeniably to teaching, as they are not living within the bounds of the tenure track’s “”publish or perish”” world. And, ironically for such a group at a university committed to teaching excellence, lecturers do without many benefits accorded to tenured faculty, such as higher salaries, prestige and influence.

Lecturers shape our education and thought, and they teach most of our classes: According to the UC Undergraduate Instruction and Faculty Teaching Activities Report, released in July 2000, half of all graduate and undergraduate UC classes were taught by lecturers in 1998-1999.

Because they are not called upon to conduct research, lecturers carry heavy course loads and bear the brunt of instruction for many lower- and upper-division classes. Full professors, propounded as the torch bearers illuminating the way of knowledge for students, often teach as little as one class per quarter, if any. Naturally, they can be heavily involved in research as part of their scholarly activity, but the brunt of teaching then falls to other instructors. One lecturer I know teaches three lower-division classes and heads an independent study course.

UC Senate faculty are tenure-track professors with opportunities for advancement on the academic ladder. Lecturers, by contrast, do not number within senate faculty and do not enjoy the same opportunities. Though there exists one senate position for lecturers — lecturer with security of employment — there is a paucity of lecturers actually accorded that status.

Most lecturers are hired ostensibly to fill in the gaps when there is a shortage of instructors in a particular field. Consequently, they are often perceived as “”temporary,”” and treated as such, when in fact many lecturers are anything but that: Up to 30 percent of UC courses taught by lecturers are headed by instructors who have been with the university for more than six years. These scholars carry the burden of intense course loads and fulfill the long-term needs of the university, but they do so as “”temporary”” employees.

The University of California ought to offer tenure-track employment and advancement opportunities to these instructors. However, like many other instances within the UC system, money, not quality, steers the fate of education.

Hiring tenure-track professors is expensive and involves a long-term commitment, whereas the university can snap up lecturers for no-frills, three-year contracts at paltry starting salaries. There is no published salary scale for lecturers within the UC system, and only two opportunities for merit increases — raises based on a positive performance review — per contract term.

There are few other occupations in which a scholar with a doctorate from a top university can be expected to be content with $30,000 per year and an uncertain career future.

If the University of California wishes to be perceived as an entity that perpetuates equality and fairness in education, it has certainly demonstrated that it has a long way to go.

In the realm of teaching, the university should realize that instructional quality is instructional equality: All UC instructors should be accorded the respect and career opportunities reasonable for anyone teaching at the world’s finest public university system.

The University of California has demonstrated its commitment to attracting high-profile, prestigious scholars at the top of their fields. It should extend this commitment and include its current faculty in that estimation. Instead of inflating the salaries of just a few positions, it should create more tenure-track positions to attract a broad base of quality instructors and researchers.

Lecturers have paid their dues to the University of California and its students for years. The university, in turn, should be prepared to reward the loyalty and excellence of its teaching staff.