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UC Lecturers Get Pay, Seek Respect

Friday July 04, 2003

Despite signing a new contract that provides University of California lecturers with pay hikes and increased job security, some instructors are still feeling vulnerable and undervalued by a system that caters to tenured and tenure-track professors.  

“I don’t know that we’ve eliminated the status as second-class citizens. In fact, I don’t think we have,” said Alan Karras, a UC Berkeley lecturer in world history and political economy who helped negotiate the contract, which was announced Monday. “But it’s changing slowly.” 

Lecturers, who make up about 12 percent of the university’s faculty, teach about a quarter of the classes on UC’s nine campuses, freeing up tenure-track professors to pursue research and other duties. For years, they have complained that they shoulder a heavier workload than professors, while enjoying fewer rights and inferior pay. 

Average salary for a lecturer with less than six years experience is currently $43,000, according to UC figures, and average salary for a lecturer with more than six years experience is $51,200. That compares to a $63,700 annual salary for the average tenure-track assistant professor and $109,200 for the typical tenured professor.  

UC spokesperson Paul Schwartz said the university pays professors more because they have research, publishing and public service responsibilities that lecturers do not. 

The new lecturers’ contract, approved by the instructors this week, provides modest pay increases for all instructors. But the most significant gain comes in minimum pay. Lecturers with less than six years experience will make no less than $37,000 by 2005 under the new contract, up about $10,000 from the current floor. Instructors with more than six years experience, also known as “post-six” lecturers, will receive a minimum of $41,700.  

The deal, which runs through 2006, also provides lecturers with professional development funding, greater leeway in pursuing research grants and a “continuing appointment” for post-six lecturers, meaning they will no longer have to re-apply for their jobs every three years. 

“For the first time, we’re being recognized as professionals rather than vendors,” said Kevin Roddy, a UC Davis lecturer in medieval studies and president of the University Council-American Federation of Teachers, which represents UC’s roughly 2,600 lecturers. 

Despite the gains, some lecturers said the union did not win adequate protections for pre-six instructors, who account for three out of every four lecturers.  

“It leaves the vast majority of us just as vulnerable to the whims of management,” said UC Irvine lecturer Andrew Tonkovich, who heads the Irvine branch of the union. 

Lecturers have long contended that the university routinely fires instructors before they reach post-six status in order to save money, a process know as “churning.” Schwartz said the university has never fired lecturers for economic reasons and notes that the new contract includes explicit anti-churning language. 

Still, Schwartz said, the anti-churning provision doesn’t change the fundamental status of the lecturer. 

“The lecturer role is not meant to be a permanent position,” he said. 

According to Roddy, the university began hiring lecturers in the 1950s, when the G.I. Bill helped swell the student ranks. The first lecturers, he said, taught for brief periods, filling in for a professor on sabbatical, for example. 

“We were considered truly temporary,” he said. “[But] slowly, these people started getting hired at a regular rate, year after year.” 

Still, the university required lecturers to leave after six to eight years, so as not to threaten tenured professors. That changed in the mid-1980s when the lecturers formed a union and negotiated a contract that provided for a performance review after six years, with a three-year job renewal for those who scored well. 

“At the time, that was considered a major breakthrough,” Roddy said. 

But pay began to lag in the late-1990s, charges of churning surfaced and many felt they were simply invisible on campus. 

“People didn’t even know who we were—even faculty,” said Kathryn Klar, a UC Berkeley lecturer in Celtic Studies who has taught for 23 years. 

Klar said things began to change last year when lecturers, two years into a three-year contract battle, made headlines—staging an August strike at UC Berkeley and an October strike at four other UC campuses. 

“I think the university had to come out publicly and say we actually do something valuable for them,” she said. 

Schwartz defended the university’s treatment of lecturers. 

“UC has a history of offering its lecturers benefits and wages that are virtually unmatched,” he said. “This contract is in keeping with that.” 

The strikes, he added, had no impact on the university’s bargaining position. 

“If you look at the history of the proposals that both sides made, I think you’d find that the contract was pretty much in line with what we’d been offering [all along],” he said. 

Tonkovich said the university was, indeed, able to block many of the lecturers’ demands, including job security for pre-six instructors, significant pay hikes for any lecturers making more than the minimum and a reduction in workloads. 

The lecturers, he said, still have a battle ahead of them if they are to win true respect. 

“I don’t want to let the university off the hook with the core problems,” Tonkovich said.