Friday, August 14, 2009

Those Evil Part-Time Lecturers

When I first arrived at this job, one of the things I really liked was the fact that lecturers were so well-integrated into the life of the college. Especially in my department, TT faculty and lecturers hung out and drank beer together, worked together on massive research and curricular projects, and ran important committees together. It took me two years to realize that one of my colleagues down the hall was, in fact, a lecturer, and not the full professor I took her to be.

Campus-wide, lecturers are perhaps not as well integrated as in our department, but it's better than at most places. Best of all, lecturers are members of the faculty union, so we all stand or fall together.

Until now, it seems.

Very recently, the union had to vote as to whether to accept a furlough plan. Consequences for a "no" vote were unspecified, but the money would have had to come from somewhere, and lecturers' positions seemed like they'd be on the chopping block.** The vote turned out to be a yes vote. So there will be furloughs.

Nobody likes the idea, not even those of us who voted for it. But here's the issue: some faculty who I have long respected are now all up in arms, blaming the lecturers for their pay cuts (as if the lecturers weren't getting furloughed as well, and from fewer courses than they've had in the past). I even heard one (not from my department, I'm happy to say) insist today that "most of our lecturers are part-timers who have other jobs, and they're making six figures,*** so they're not hurting." The fact that I still haven't kicked this guy in the neck shows what a good person I am.

But it's not just this one guy. Faculty who I've always respected are muttering about splitting the lecturers (the same ones who came to the brink of a strike with us to get a long-overdue contract) off from the union so we didn't have to take their interests into account. Some old friends on campus aren't speaking to each other.

So here's what I'd like to tell my fellow tenured colleagues: unexamined privilege isn't just something we write about; compared to our lecturers (not to mention our students), we live it every day. Yes, it sucks that we're getting paid a lot less this year than we had been promised, but please stop attacking the only people hurt worse than you by all this mess.****

And here's what I'd like to tell TT faculty just starting out: In my department, and perhaps in yours, the lecturers scrambling for ever-scarcer course assignments have Ph.D.s, important committee service, peer-reviewed publications, and university press books, just like you. The main reason we have our TT positions and they don't is DUMB LUCK. Keep that in mind if you're ever tempted to feel like you're more deserving than your contingent colleagues.

And to the lecturers: I don't know what to say, except I'm sorry for the shtstorm you're going to have to deal with this year. And coffee's on me.

**Though even with the yes vote, our department lost over a third of our part-timers.
***Yes, most of our part-time colleagues do have other gigs. But unless the junior college down the road is paying a lot more than I thought it was, this guy is just full of sht. And I don't like him.
****And fertheluvagod, stop bitching about how little we get paid IN FRONT OF OUR WORKING-CLASS STUDENTS!


haphazardmusings said...

You are a credit to your field and to academia as a whole to show such respect for your colleagues, regardless of rank. As someone who is currently caught up in the rat race for AY 2010/11 positions, I pray every day that "dumb luck" will come my way (the spouse is only willing to move if I get a TT position). The lecturer positions I've seen involve just as much, if not more work for less pay and less guarantee of stability. Yet, colleges and universities couldn't survive without this cheap labor, and anyone who believes otherwise is either a complete idiot or in denial.

Well-written post about an issue that people don't really discuss in academia. Hope all the tension dies down soon!

rootlesscosmo said...

I tried to email you with a possibly-relevant story (way too long for a Comment) but bounced. Any suggestions? You can email me at

john [underscore] burke [at] comcast [dot] net


Notorious Ph.D. said...

@ haphazard: good luck! And remember that sometimes those lecturer gigs are placeholders on the way to a TT job -- My friend & fellow blogger Clio's Disciple can tell a tale or two about that.

@ rootless: I just tested, and the address works fine. Perhaps a typo?

Janice said...

It's mind-boggling that someone would blame lecturers for the financial mess and their own suffering. We're so fortunate to have these full-time jobs!

While nobody's happy to have salary cutbacks (I remember furloughs in the 90s, here), it's a lot better than being a part-timer, with no or few benefits, under any circumstances!

clio's disciple said...

Former part-time instructor here. Yeah, I made it, ONLY because I had a spouse with full-time job + benefits. I'll wager some of your lecturers are in the same boat.

I'd like to say to your grumbling colleagues, "have you never heard the phrase 'divide and conquer'?"

Word verification: cluenent. Significant?

rootlesscosmo said...

Yup, a typo--thanks for prompting me to check.

The History Enthusiast said...

Six f**king figures? That is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Unless the lecturer's spouse is a lawyer or something, that is just insane.

The History Enthusiast said...

P. S. I agree with haphazardmusings. Your sympathy towards lecturers' plight is quite refreshing, and I'm sure the adjuncts in your department appreciate your support.

Historiann said...

It's disappointing, but unsurprising. Scarcity leads people to turn on each other, and the most convenient targets are those who have the least.

Like those department chairs at UCSD who signed that letter insisting that the Cal schools be divided into research versus teaching schools with them on the research side, natch--Tenured Radical wrote about this. What I thought was funny is that I never thought of UCSD as one of the top "research" schools in the Cal system. I always assumed the big 3 were Berkeley, UCLA, and maybe Santa Barbara.

It's really hard for some to resist the urge to pull up the ladder once they've got theirs, I guess.

tenthmedieval said...

I have always wondered who the audience for the "oh-how-little-we-are-paid" moan is supposed to be. I've seen it directed at students, and at assistant teachers, and generally never any group that had anything like as much money. Certainly there were times when I as assistant faculty actually said "well, never mind, you can pay your rent which is more than I can" by way of a reality check. Though the reaction in their brain was probably: "Rent? Isn't that... something students have to deal with? And did I mention how terrible my mortgage payments are?" Gah. Your sympathy is unusual and very much to your credit, indeed.

bitternsweet said...

Dumb luck -- I completely agree this is one of the least acknowledged but strongest forces determining professional success in academia. I can't say too much without giving away my Top Secret Identity but I have been the beneficiary of circumstances that could never have been imagined or designed for. But for these flukes, I too would be a part-time lecturer, unemployed, or brewing lattes at Starbucks. Maybe when you've stood that close to the edge, it's possible to acknowledge the role that luck has played -- but when you've bought the whole "my success is completely deserved and all those other losers clearly deserve to fail" mentality ... well, what do you expect?

P.S. Great minds clearly think alike.

Susan said...

I think you're right on. However, I'd say one thing about "how much (or little) we are paid". Almost all academics are paid far less than others with comparable levels of education. And I think there is considerable ignorance among students and the public about what we're paid. So I don't think it's good to complain, but I do think it's worth saying aloud something about levels of pay. If that makes any sense. And of course the dynamics between student resources and faculty pay vary widely. In your context, and mine, we are well paid in comparison to the families of most of our students. When I taught at a SLAC, many centuries ago, I remember overhearing a student tell another that they had only $3000 to spend on spring break. . . that was more than I earned in a month!

Good Enough Woman said...

My husband just got his lecturer contract for next year because the faculty voted for a furlough; thus, I really appreciate your thoughtful post. And as a tenured CC instructor with a lecturer husband, I guffaw at the six figures idea. Unless we're talking about famous authors who just show up now and again.

Ink said...

Six figures? I just can't get over that misconception...

Anonymous said...

I'm an adjunct, and on bad years I make six figures-- if you include cents. maybe your illustrious colleague was just jealous of the $9,221.65 I make when I can't get more classes!

F**ker. I'm struggling to make $25,000/year teaching 5-6 classes/semester WITHOUT health insurance (or a spouse to "support" me), and people like that are the reason I'm beginning be disgusted with even trying for the increasingly-elusive TT-- elitist self-important jackasses like that would be my colleagues.

I find myself becoming increasingly bitter, and I have only had my degree for a year (although I have been adjuncting for 4 years, which probably contributes a bit to the bitterness and exhaustion).

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Thanks for all these responses, and for sharing your stories, both here, and by e-mail (rootlesscosmo, you should blog that one yourself -- it's worth a read).

Anonymous (immediately above): I'm totally in agreement with you. I was so angry at this guy that I nearly laid into him right then and there, but I knew that if I opened my mouth, I'd be shrieking within 30 seconds.

What it makes me cynical about, really, is human nature in general: so many people maintain lofty ideals... until *they* actually have to give something up. I don't think leaving academentia would change that. But you might be happier. Certainly, you'd probably be wealthier.

rootlesscosmo said...

Thanks. I would, if I had a blog, but when I tried it, I found I couldn't resist getting into pointless wrangles with strangers, which only left me feeling out of sorts. The public sphere, it turns out after decades of dutiful activism, is something I'd rather stay near the surface of, so I can make a quick getaway to the safety and comfort of my friends, both online and off-.