Saturday, July 11, 2020
Home Opinion Op-Eds We Hate to Ask, Again, But Will You Help Lecturers?

We Hate to Ask, Again, But Will You Help Lecturers?

UCI has around 400 lecturers who teach hundreds of classes in nearly every school, program and department. From the performing arts to writing and languages, and mathematics to business, we are present in every area of learning on campus. Some lecturers teach as few as one class in an academic year. Some teach all year, full-time. Some have been at it for years. Others decades. But all of us, regardless of our time here, deserve to be treated with the dignity and respect afforded to our tenured colleagues.

A much-publicized recent struggle to secure paid medical leave for a longtime composition lecturer was possibly the first time many students, staff and Senate faculty considered the working conditions of adjunct teaching faculty. Adjunct teaching faculty go by many names including lecturers, part-timers, contingent labor, non-Senate faculty and “freeway flyers,” since many teach at other universities, community colleges and high schools. Before this recent struggle, many Anteaters probably didn’t recognize how precarious our working conditions are or how decisions about our health care, leaves of absence, salaries and future teaching assignments are subject to the whims of the administration. 

Full disclosure — I was and am in fact that lecturer, faced with no salary for four months while recovering from brain surgery.

But with the support and encouragement of students, colleagues and community members —  7,000 of whom signed a petition, called or emailed on my behalf — UCI granted me full paid medical leave so I could recover from a serious medical challenge.  

So, thank you! I’m back in the classroom, feeling good and grateful for the solidarity. But I have one more favor to ask. On behalf of my fellow lecturers system-wide, nearly 4,000 of us, please stand with us once more. We are in negotiations with the UC Office of the President (UCOP) over our labor contract, which is about to expire. We are currently covered by what has been acknowledged, even celebrated, as the absolute best Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), or collective bargaining-based labor contract, of any part-time teaching faculty in the nation.

My own successful struggle and the spirited collective expression of empathy, political engagement and vigorous lobbying on my behalf (by you!) inspires me to ask for even more help. UCOP sits down at the negotiations table this week with us, Wednesday and Thursday, Jan. 22 and 23 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for two important meetings with our bargaining team. Our volunteer representatives, who are unpaid for their union work, are advocating for more and even better protections for lecturers such as increases in salaries and guarantees of greater job security. After seeing, witnessing and being profoundly moved by your concern for me, I have to ask: Will you join us, even for just an hour, to show your support and, perhaps help us win again?

Here’s what we face: Most lecturers have to re-apply for their jobs each year. We are uncompensated for many of the activities we perform which are integral to serving students, including sitting on committees, writing letters of recommendation, mentoring students, advising student groups and being trained in new mandatory technology. We are working to maintain the best and most important features of our MOU, but we are feeling even more ambitious, partly because we see that we can win and know that we can’t afford to ask for less.  

As Kat Lewin and Jonathan Keeperman, our two UC Irvine representatives, have reminded UCOP, our working conditions are students’ learning conditions. We deserve stable employment, adequate healthcare, fair wages and access to basic teaching resources so that we can survive and, yes, so our students can succeed.  

“Ultimately, what’s at stake in these negotiations is the integrity of the education provided by the UC system,”  said Keeperman. “The interests of lecturers are the interests of students. And what we want is for the university to prioritize our students’ learning and recognize the full scope of what Lecturers contribute to that.” 

To this end, you are invited to join us.

Lecturers are there for you every day. You’ve been there for me, for us, before. Please let the University see your further support by sitting with and standing with — literally! — your lecturers in bargaining meetings this week in Humanities Gateway, Room 1030 and at our Monday, Feb. 3 support rally at noon at the flag poles. All are welcome at these public events: undergrads, community members, Senate faculty and staff. We are all in this together. Thank you, again!

Andrew Tonkovich is a Lecturer in the Department of English, Composition Program. He serves as Secretary-Treasurer of University Council-American Federation of Teachers Local 2226.