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UCI Lecturers Face Job Insecurity, UC-AFT Pickets To Raise Awareness

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UCI lecturers picketed to raise awareness for job insecurity, insubstantial compensation and unfair workload among non-Senate faculty in front of Aldrich Hall on Oct. 13 and 14. 

Members of the Irvine chapter of the University Council – American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT) gathered on both days to call attention to the lack of stability for lecturers within the UC System. 

According to Mikhail Zinshteyn’s recent Cal Matters piece, about one quarter of the more than 6,000 lecturers in the UC system do not return annually.

Under their current contracts, lecturers must reapply to teach each term for the first six academic years of their appointment. Only when they have successfully completed a full six years of teaching are they able to apply for an evaluation of their teaching for continuing appointment. 

“It’s an unfair system where older people like me have some job security, and the younger folks really don’t,” Andrew Tonkovich, a retired English lecturer with continuing appointment at UCI,  said.

Andrew Tonkovich passes flyers on Ring Road. Photo by Jon Reyna/Staff

At a quarter system school, a lecturer must teach for 18 quarters before they are eligible for this application process. When lecturers are hired only for one quarter at a time, these 18 quarters can often take longer than six calendar years to complete. Lecturers who have yet to complete six academic years of teaching are referred to as pre-six.

“The university does not want to put in accountable language for job security, that’s what it is,” Trevor Griffey, a history department lecturer with continuing appointment at UCI, said. 

Pre-six lecturers have no guaranteed appointments and can be denied for rehire at any time. UC-AFT has been bargaining with UC administration for the past three years to get re-written contracts with language for job security in place.

“Right now, [the UC system] can have any reason or justification for hiring or not hiring someone,” Kat Lewin, a UCI English department lecturer and a member of the UC-AFT bargaining committee, said.

Lecturers who are not rehired at the end of an academic year are referred to as “churned.” The UC released a statement in March 2021 that acknowledged the status of contract negotiations with UC-AFT and denied the existence of churning all together. A major argument from UC was that lecturers with full time work elsewhere choose not to return of their own volition. UC-AFT noted that this is not the case for all lecturers, and certainly not the case for lecturers who depend on their term appointment’s low compensation.

According to Lewin, lecturers’ compensation amounts can be classified as low-income by the Department of Housing and Urban Development at six of the nine UC campuses. She noted a correlation between positive working conditions for lecturers and a positive learning experience for students.

“I think UCI in particular really prides itself on a reputation of a school that serves a lot of first-generation and low-income college students,” Lewin said. “The studies have shown again and again there is a direct correlation between how secure and stable the people who teach introductory courses are and the success of undergraduates, but particularly in those two groups … you want to be able to get that support. So we see this as a win for lecturers and as a direct win for student success.

UC-AFT called for student solidarity with their campaign and handed out flyers with a QR code linking to a “Stand with the UC Teaching Faculty” action form for students to fill.

A persistent issue for UC-AFT is the silence they’ve received from UC President Michael Drake through his time in office. Lewin wore a ghost dress to the picketing on Oct. 12 to symbolize Drake “ghosting” them.

In the absence of communication from Drake, UC-AFT maintains communication with the UC Office of the President. UC-AFT members received a letter disclosing the UC’s offer for a new contract. This letter, signed by UC Systemwide Labor Relations Executive Director Letitia Silas was shared with the New University. At the time the letter was sent, UC and UC-AFT remained in closed negotiations. 

The letter discloses the key elements of a proposed five-year contract that has not been agreed to by UC-AFT and does not provide the specific, accountable language they are looking for. 

“All Pre-Six Lecturers on two-year or three-year appointments would be guaranteed an academic review at the end of the appointment, and held to a reasonable standard of ‘teaching effectiveness’ for that review.” Silas wrote, on the topic of employment stability. “Provided that instructional need exists and a Pre-Six Lecturer receives a positive review, reappointment of a Pre-Six Lecturer is likely.”

This proposal contains no further guarantee of appointment than the current contract.

“What they’re telling our members is ‘Hey, we’re offering you all of these wonderful improvements to job security,’” Lewin said. “But what they’re not saying is that there are a couple of key things that [UC-AFT] has been fighting for at the table for years that would actually make that job security a reality, that would make it enforceable.

The UC-AFT has a strike authorization in place which can be called at any time. Despite Silas’ letter, UC and UC-AFT remain in negotiations at this time.

Lecturers hold a banner on Ring Road, visible to Aldrich Hall. Photo by Jon Reyna/Staff

Dhanika Pineda is the Managing Editor for the 2021-2022 school year. She can be reached at manager@newuniversity.org