California Aggie, May 7, 2002

Guest Opinion: WHAT'S IN A NAME?
John Stenzel Lecturer, English Department

When students ask how to address me--the Professor-vs-Dr.-vs-Mr.-vs-"Hey you!" question--I realize that they should know why "caste differences" among faculty members are actually no laughing matter these days.

I am a Lecturer, or a "non-Senate faculty member," a member of the Academic Federation as opposed to a member of the "Academic Senate." Another name for Senate faculty is "ladder faculty"--those on the professorial "ladder" (the rungs of which, in some respects, are generally books or articles or grants). I have a Ph.D. and some publications, but I was originally hired to teach, and subsequent renewals have been made on the basis of excellence in teaching; thus, to the UC way of thinking, the funds that pay my salary are considered "temporary." Until recently, in my department (English), lecturers were first hired for one year at a time, and after six years were eligible for what used to be considered a lecturer-equivalent-of-tenure review, an exhaustive process where every student evaluation and bit of class material you prepared was reviewed, and you were given a three-year renewable contract if you were found worthy. I am about to begin my third three-year contract.

Our contracts were subject to cancellation or reduction based on anticipated "instructional need" for our services; in effect, some lecturers were fired each year, and then (sometimes in mid-summer) assured that the budget would include enough money for them to teach a full load and earn health or retirement benefits. Our title used to be "Visiting Lecturer," though the "visiting" part was dropped in the mid-1980's as the University acknowledged continuing need for a corps of professional teaching faculty who were not professors (doing research first, and some teaching) and not strictly temps (with no institutional continuity or office space or service obligations).

Things got nasty when a new Dean of Humanities Arts and Culture Studies decided that the temporary instructional funds that pay lecturer salaries and merit increases might be spendable in some other way, more specifically, one that would raise the US News and World Report rankings of her Division and the English Department. Her original plan was to phase out the 25 or so English Lecturers and roll that money into research positions, which would raise the ranking by the sheer number of professors' books and articles on the department's rolls (lecturers' publication lists don't count). She apparently first proposed to eliminate the Advanced Composition requirement and move to a two-quarter lower-division writing requirement: because graduate students aren't supposed to teach upper-division, moving to a lower-division requirement would allow graduates to teach all composition, thereby eliminating the "instructional need" for lecturers. This would also save money, in part because full-time lecturers get health and retirement benefits; interestingly, up until very recently grad students were not even considered employees, yet here their cheaper labor was being used to fill positions previously held by professional teachers.

For various reasons her original scheme stalled, but in an "Academic Vision Plan" leaked to us and eventually circulated, she has articulated a new policy, whereby there will be no new three-year lecturer appointments made. A couple of my colleagues who have been here six years and who had expected to be reviewed for three year contracts have been told to find new jobs. In the long run she plans to eliminate all long-term lecturer positions (through attrition and retirements), with their classes taught by temporary faculty, part-timers, and a newly created class of two-year post-docs, all of whom will be shown the door before developing too much expertise or institutional longevity (try tracking them down for letters of recommendation!). The Task Force she convened to review the advanced composition requirement--her original justification was that the program is not "financially viable"--recognized that a limited number of lecturers are a necessary part of the teaching force at Davis, but that more and more of the instruction will be carried in the future by temps, "freeway flyers," post-docs and graduate students.

The money talk seems a bit ironic, though: full-time lecturers in our department teach seven courses a year, all of which demand substantial paper-grading and preparation, whereas the professors a few years ago voted themselves a reduction in course load from five down to four, arguing that "it was a marketplace thing," that they otherwise couldn't attract the caliber of research colleagues they wanted. Yet the price tag of free-agent research talent is quite high: the English department has recently sweetened the pot for new targeted professors with "off-scale" packages above $100K per year, almost three times the lecturer base salary, and more of these appointments are apparently in the works.

Certainly there are professors in our department who are excellent teachers and productive scholars, but the grim reality at the UC today is that publication and research obligations outweigh incentives or rewards for outstanding teaching. As one bluntly put it, "If I've got the books, I can have the absolute worst student evals in the department and not a thing's going to keep me from getting my promotion." As a corollary, the rare candid administrator will tell you there is great pressure to increase class sizes--hence the moves to create huge "writing intensive" classes taught in lecture fashion but with TA's providing the writing instruction and student interaction.

Obviously the losers in all of this (besides lecturers) are the undergraduate students, for a variety of reasons: new hires will be under tremendous pressure to publish, and graduate students will be shouldering more of the teaching load. Dean Langland has recently directed departments not to let lecturers teach upper-division courses except composition, as a matter of general policy, though there is much evidence that lecturers do at least as good a job as professors.

Hence the question of how to address me is fraught with a lot of baggage you surely didn't expect. As an undergraduate I called my teachers "professor" as a gesture of respect, but in the UC the differences between teachers and professors are serious. Only professors can vote in many matters, including all meaningful personnel and curriculum decisions. To cite just one obvious example, we have been trying to create a practical Writing Minor for many years, but have been told it is impossible without ladder-faculty sponsorship--and most ladder faculty consider labor-intensive Advanced Composition classes as not for them (and few of them are actually trained in anything except literature-oriented writing anyway!). There are other distinctions as well: when subsidized housing (like the Aggie Villa units) was offered for sale to "faculty," the term did not initially include lecturers; benefits and salary steps are less generous for lecturers, and the UCD Catalogue calls us the English Department's "affiliated" faculty--a nice irony, considering that the definition of "affiliated" includes a sense of bastard child made legal!

I could go on, but I won't. I have a doctorate, but only the pretentious insist on being called "Doctor." Maybe "professor" with a small letter would work. Just recognize that many folks in the UC system would just as soon have you ignorant of how the University's business really gets done; opening up this can of worms is only the start of the process of change. I trust that what concerns you most is the quality of the teaching you get, and the engagement you have in your own education; my goal is to be the best teacher I can be.