Lecturers teach a third of the credit hours at UC Santa Cruz, but we are chronically disrespected by UC, with devastating effects for undergraduate education. That’s why we are ready to strike.
When my students call me “professor,” I feel like an imposter. See, I’m not actually a professor, I’m a “lecturer.” To be fair, it’s easy to mistake a middle-aged, cisgender white guy as a professor, a benefit that many lecturers, who are more likely than professors to be BIPOC and women, don’t receive.
This is my 12th fall teaching here. I have a PhD, I do research, and I contribute to the work of the Writing Program. But none of this qualifies me to be a “professor,” a title and rank that only tenure-track faculty receive at the University of California. Instead, I’m one of the 6,000 lecturers who teach 30-40 percent of the credit hours at UC, enduring high teaching loads with low pay, little job security, and hardly any recognition or respect from our employer.
Our statewide lecturers’ union is struggling with UC for a fair contract, and we need your support. We are fighting for reasonable workload standards, fair compensation, and transparent, consistent rehiring processes that lead to job security. Quite frankly, there is nothing radical about these proposals, and with California’s historic boost in higher education funding, UC can easily afford it. But after two years of negotiating, the UC still denies our proposals, leading us to the verge of a strike.
How did we get to this point? Many assume that anyone teaching at a prestigious university has tenure or can earn it someday. But for a generation, the UC system has drastically reduced tenure-track positions in favor of cheaper, gig-like lecturer positions. Lecturers are never eligible for tenure, no matter how good we are at our jobs.
In this two-tiered system, tenure-track faculty usually teach four courses a year, receive research funding, get occasional sabbaticals, have strong job security, and make relatively good salaries. In contrast, lecturers teach eight courses a year but make two to three times less than tenure-track faculty. We have no research funding, can’t even apply for a sabbatical, and most of us don’t have any meaningful job security. We are often excluded from department meetings and denied membership in UC Santa Cruz’s faculty Academic Senate. While tenure-track faculty have more administrative responsibilities and research expectations, and have labor and equity challenges of their own, most lecturers would rather have the terms of their jobs than our own.
Lecturers have kept UCSC running during the pandemic, but every day I witness the devastating effects our job conditions have on our well-being and ability to teach. We are chronically overworked, burned out, and facing extreme financial insecurity. While some lucky lecturers like me are full-time, 80 percent are part-time, teaching at multiple colleges just trying to make enough. The median yearly salary for a lecturer is less than $20,000. That is simply unjust and unsustainable.
Students should have stable and fairly compensated teaching faculty, but UC routinely “churns” lecturers out of employment without even reviewing their teaching. Over 25 percent of the lecturers that UC hires this year will not be here next year, and most lecturers teach here for an average of only two years. This is not only inefficient, it erodes the educational and research mission of the University.
I know it may sound cliché, but our teaching conditions really are your learning conditions. When your university treats the people teaching you as replaceable and denies them respect, it has a destructive effect on your education. Because lecturers teach foundational courses — most College 1, writing, languages, and many other GE courses — our teaching has a major impact on your undergraduate experience. Teaching so many courses here, and often also elsewhere, means that we are less available to advise and mentor you, to write recommendation letters, and to participate in campus life. We are less able to keep up with emerging trends in our fields, to innovate our teaching, and to be the experts that you expect us to be.
The UC system is the greatest public university system in the history of the world. You’re investing a lot into it, and you deserve faculty who are respected, fairly compensated, and fully-involved in your University. If you agree, join us in our struggle for high-quality public higher education.
Philip Longo, PhD is a Continuing Lecturer in the Writing Program at UC Santa Cruz and a recipient of the 2020-2021 Excellence in Teaching Award.