UC Academic Lecturers Seek Improved Working Conditions

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Jacob Wong
National Beat Reporter

Academic lecturers play a key role in faculties across the UC system, can be found in any academic department, and teach over a third of all credit hours here at UCSB. However, according to the University Council-American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT), the current payoff for these lecturers pales in comparison to their colleagues with tenured positions.

The UC-AFT is a labor union representing librarians and non-senate faculty throughout the UC system. On Wednesday, May 1, the group organized a tabling event in front of the UCSB library in an effort to raise awareness for lecturers’ needs and working rights.

One of the UC-AFT’s primary concerns regarding lecturers is how many of them are considered adjunct faculty, or employed on a short-term contract. According to the union website, roughly half of the 5,000 lecturers employed by the University of California work part-time.  

“We’ve seen a growing trend of lecturers and other faculty in our unit who are hired part-time, so they’ll be given one or two classes a year or they’ll only get a contract per quarter, and they don’t know if they’ll be hired for the next quarter,” stated Kathleen Patterson, a continuing lecturer for the UCSB Writing program and union member who was present at the tabling event.

The effects of this arrangement run deep; not only do lecturers go from one academic year to the next without guaranteed job security, but the university has little incentive to provide resources to faculty members who could be gone the next quarter.

“The problem with adjunct faculty is that it’s pervasive in the California public university system anyway,” stated Patterson. “There are lots of [faculty] working multiple jobs, commuter jobs where your office is your car and each place you don’t even have an office.”

In addition to the concern over faculty turnover, equity in compensation is another key grievance that the union has cited. Currently, UC lecturers working part time are paid a minimum annual salary of $54,738, while professors have a base salary of $91,700.

UC-AFT’s awareness campaign for lecturers comes on the heels of another recent contract agreement between the union and UCOP over librarian salaries, featuring union victories in a number of key areas, including pay raises and increased benefits and protections.

For the current set of lecturer negotiations, UC-AFT has listed a set of demands including livable salaries and benefits, fair hiring and reappointing procedures, faculty diversity, and union rights. Additionally, the union has made an effort to send a message that this campaign is in the best interests of students as much as it is for faculty.

For Patterson, poor lecturer working conditions can spell a lower quality of education for their students. “Say something happens in a student’s life and he needs an “incomplete” for the class. Well the program is suggesting that we try not to do that because you don’t know if you’ll be back the next year to help them finish out their incomplete.”

Patterson pointed to the lack of permanent office spaces as another hardship that could potentially affect students. “When you’re meeting with students, there are actual legal requirements about student privacy when you’re discussing coursework and grade,” she stated. “If we have offices that have six lecturers at a time, how do you make sure you’re protecting students’ rights?”

Citing these examples, the union is pushing the slogan “faculty equity equals student success” as part of its campaign. “Obviously if we’re overworked, we might not be able to give you the attention you need,” stated Patterson.

There are no immediate plans for negotiations between UC-AFT and UCSB administration to begin, but UC-AFT staff representative Holly Craig Wehrle hopes to start that conversation by the next academic year. Once contract talks do start, she expects them to be a long process.

“UC is taking a lot longer to negotiate contracts. We have a lot of significant changes that we’re seeking and they’re seeking some major concessions which we’re not willing to give into, so it’s going to be a major campaign.” Craig Wehrle said.

In an email statement to The Bottom Line, UCOP spokesperson Sarah McBride confirmed that negotiations with UC-AFT are occurring at a system-wide level, and the UC’s ultimate goal is a multiyear agreement “with market-competitive pay (consistent with past years), along with excellent health and retirement benefits – to recognize the significant contributions our lecturers make to UC’s education mission.”

In the meantime, Craig Wehrle and other union members hope to mobilize students to start getting involved in the effort.

“There are going to be a lot of opportunities in the future…some of it is staying informed, some of it is asking their lecturers about their working conditions,” stated Craig Wehrle.

Patterson chimed in, “Solidarity that’s visible really sends a message to the university. It lets them know that they’re not just negotiating with us, but they’re negotiating with you. And there are a lot of you.”