Lecturers Reach Out For Support

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Illustration by Owen Thomas.
Illustration by Owen Thomas.

What students don’t know about the difference between professors and lecturers is what’s most interesting — and most alarming — to Josh Brahinsky. Brahinsky, a lecturer at San Jose State University and former grad student at UC Santa Cruz, said students are surprised to discover their professors aren’t actually professors, but lecturers.

“They’re learning that many of the faculty  who they thought were professors ­— people who had been here for 20 years and had been an important part of the community — are actually paid half of what they imagined and have little or no job security,” Brahinsky said.

With UC lecturers’ teaching contract expiring on Oct. 31, lecturers like Brahinsky stopped by classrooms to inform students about their ongoing bargaining effort for smaller class sizes, shared governance, job stability and fair salary and benefits.

Lecturers will host a demonstration on Oct. 22 and 23, and on Thursday they will meet at 1:15 p.m. at Quarry Plaza to rally before an organized bus ride off campus to Staff Human Resources at 1201 Shaffer Road where they will rally again.

The University Council American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT), which represents over 4,000 UC lecturers and 300 librarians, is at the front of the negotiation for better working and learning conditions in public higher education. Lecturers are separated in two categories — those who have been lecturers for less than six years, or “pre-six,” and those who are continuing. “Excellence reviews” are given to lecturers who complete 18 consecutive quarters — six years — in a single department or program, and can provide more security through continuing appointments.

Once the contract expires, everything that was earned through bargaining also has the potential to expire. A few of these negotiations include a decreased number of circumstances for continuing lecturer layoffs, and increased protections for retiree health coverage.

Unlike lecturers, professors are on a tenure track for guaranteed job security at the university. Mike Rotkin is a continuing UCSC lecturer and was Santa Cruz mayor and UC-AFT vice president. He said lecturers can be replaced for reasons like a course canceled due to underenrollment or a new lecturer hired who will work for lower pay.

“We have lecturers who have the same job security as a McDonald’s worker,” Rotkin said. “For 18 years we are on probation. In fact, McDonald’s workers actually have a somewhat better deal. They have to get two-weeks notice. You don’t get any notice.”

Among the lecturer’s concerns is an increase in class size. Rotkin’s experience with the UC-AFT allowed him to visit other UC campuses, and report back that UCSC had the largest writing class sizes with about 24 students per course.

“We have too large a class and have to read too many papers to do a really good job of responding to the problems,” Rotkin said. “[We are] trying to figure out how to meet with students often to really give them the individual help they need, which then means the students aren’t learning what they need to learn.”

Roxi Power, the UC-AFT president and a continuing lecturer for UCSC’s writing program, said the UC administration’s resistance toward bargaining requests affects undergraduate retention.

“[The administration] thinks it will be less expensive for them in the long run to deny us health and retirement benefits and churn us before we demonstrate our excellence in the sixth-year review, thereby attaining a small modicum of job security,” Power said. “We teach most of the undergraduate courses. If you short-shift this faculty, you’ll see unfortunate attrition among undergraduates which will affect their sacred bottom line.”

UC-AFT field representative Josh

Brahinsky was involved in the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2865 bargaining over the last two years for teaching assistants’ working conditions. He said “all other unions that have been bargaining over the past several years won what they won because of undergraduate student support.”

At Tuesday night’s Student Union Assembly (SUA) meeting, the body passed a resolution in support of UC-AFT, stating demands that “lecturers get compensated fairly for their work in an effort to improve the student learning experience.” The resolution noted lecturers teach nearly half the course credits at UCSC, and their job instability negatively affects the learning environment for students.

Queer Student Union SUA representative Vanessa Sadsad expressed urgency in passing the resolution this week because of the upcoming lecturer’s demonstration. The resolution ultimately passed with 32 in favor and two opposed.

“It is important we come together as a community to make sure our faculty lecturers know they are not alone in this fight,” Sadsad said.

“The administration continues to raise tuition and fees along  with their own salaries while not prioritizing its faculty.”

Of the SUA members who opposed the resolution, Crown College SUA representative August Valera said the reason he opposed the resolution wasn’t because of a lack of support of worker’s rights and the lecturer’s union.

“As a representative in SUA, I voted no on the resolution in solidarity with this movement, because I feel we did not put in the necessary effort to educate ourselves on the topic, nor take the time to notify and consult with our constituents,” Valera said.

In effort to further connect with students and highlight the issues they face, lecturers visited classrooms, passed along flyers and sent around sign-up sheets to inform students about their treatment at the UC.

“The working conditions of our members are really the learning conditions of the students,” Mike Rotkin said.