When UC Irvine adjunct lecturers assembled on Saturday, Oct. 24, outside the Barclay Theater with the support of their families, community members and local candidates, our homemade signs both called out a problem and offered solutions: “NO GIG TEACHING AT UC,” and “JOB SECURITY for LECTURERS!” Most adjunct faculty do not have anything at all like job security now. Lecturers — and almost everybody around them, except the UC — demand it.
Unionized lecturers are approaching two years in contract negotiations with the UC Office of the President (UCOP). Like everybody, we accommodated COVID-19, working harder and longer. As a goodwill concession, we backed off of many of our earlier demands. But we 4,000 lecturers are absolutely sticking to a reasonable employment change which other higher education institutions have easily administered: providing non-senate faculty (NSF) a modicum of basic job security and stability.
What does a lack of job security look like for lecturers? Adjunct faculty at UCI have to teach an unbelievable six years until they achieve what’s called Continuing Appointment status. Before they acquire this status, lecturers are forced to apply each and every year for the same job. Imagine if every spring, no matter how qualified you are and how fantastic your performance, the certainty of returning to work the following fall was never guaranteed. How can lecturers on this system possibly plan in advance to secure work — at UCI or elsewhere — when they constantly live on the razor’s edge of existence? Simply put, they can’t.
That’s why the University Council – American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT), which represents lecturers, has proposed an entirely do-able, smart, and easy to implement solution that has been already adopted at many state schools and community colleges. The solution is called a “1-2-3” plan, where a lecturer is initially hired to teach for a year. At the end of the initial year, their work is evaluated. Colleagues and students affirm their success during this evaluation. Upon being affirmed as “excellent” they would then be hired for two years. After those two years of further excellent teaching, they would receive an appointment letter for three years. Finally, after this last three-year stint, they’d achieve Continuing Appointment status and would not have to keep asking for their own jobs every year. Lecturers would still be subject to merit reviews, evaluations and expected to meet the high standards of instruction at the University of California. But at the same time, they would be grounded in the knowledge that they can have a home, job and something like a career for more than a year at a time.
How long does it take to establish “excellence,” or acknowledge an excellent instructor? The UC says six long years. While we think this is nonsense, if UCOP insists on such a long timeline, then it should support those affected by at least creating the proper conditions for lecturers to actually have the chance to prove themselves. It should trust its own process.
Do the math. Or the writing. Or the sociology. Or the business. We do. Lecturers teach in every discipline, and in nearly every school, program and department. Some lecturers teach only one course a year. Some teach at a 100% appointment. Lecturers teach more than half of the undergraduate classes in the UC system, commit personally and professionally to the institution and to their students and work with colleagues as equals. Why is the UC pretending we are gig labor, like Lyft or Uber drivers, as disposable seasonal help? Teaching at the UC should not be like doing a two-week holiday job stocking shelves at Walmart. Teachers should not have to choose which campus to accept work at because UC can’t make up its mind, assign classes or make modest administrative commitments That’s unfair, dishonest and sadistic.
UC can do so much better, and so easily. Job security should be an easy expectation for all employees. Just now it’s denied a significant number of educational professionals who are giving their all and being treated like second-class members of our community. We lecturers ask for your support for the easy to implement the “1-2-3” plan, which takes a big step toward labor justice and respects our labor.
This letter was written by the Executive Board of University Council-American Federation of Teachers Local 2226.