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College Lecturers Long for the Respect, Rewards of Tenure

Education: Universities are rethinking the way they treat part-time instructors.


Educational psychologist Jessica Revill loves teaching at Cal State Los Angeles, inspired by the chance to help struggling students, often the first in their families to attend college.

But the California State University system, she says, doesn't love her back.

Revill was rehired to teach three courses this fall quarter. But on the basis of her experience over the last two years, she doubts she'll get her own computer or even a listing in the online campus phone directory. As for faculty meetings, forget it--she's never been invited.

Revill belongs to the growing, and increasingly testy, tier of perkless PhDs and other teachers known as lecturers. They are the teaching workhorses of the university world who often don't receive the pay, benefits, security or prestige of tenured or tenure-track faculty.

In California, their long-held grievances have broken into the open.

Unionized lecturers staged a one-day strike last month at UC Berkeley, and two-day walkouts are planned for Riverside, San Diego, Santa Cruz, Davis and possibly other UC campuses on Oct. 14 and 15.

Meanwhile, the 23-campus California State University system released a plan this month to reverse a lecturer-hiring binge and instead bring more faculty members into the tenure pipeline. The plan, initiated by the California Faculty Assn., reflects the rising clout of lecturers in the union, which represents both tenure-track and non-tenure-track teachers.

Higher-education experts say the lecturers' struggle for greater status has major implications, because lecturers often teach students' introductory courses--the students' first taste of college and unfamiliar fields of knowledge.

If teaching jobs increasingly are treated by colleges as temporary employment, "we really run the risk of creating a pipeline problem that discourages people from entering the profession," said Ronald G. Ehrenberg, director of Cornell University's Higher Education Research Institute.

Full-time, non-tenure-track faculty--almost non-existent 30 years ago--accounted for 54.1% of new full-time hires at two- and four-year schools in 1999, according to research by Jack Schuster, a professor of education and public policy at Claremont Graduate University.

These types of appointments are everywhere, "at public and private and all types of institutions," Schuster said. "The high-end, high-quality institutions are by no means immune."

Flexibility and Diversity

College administrators say lecturers give them flexibility and bring diverse backgrounds and teaching skills that enrich academia.

"The teaching provided by lecturers is very high quality," said Jackie R. McClain, a CSU vice chancellor for human resources, and they give campuses the ability to add extra class sections "at the last minute when we have enrollment surges."

Both universities and tenured faculty also like lecturers because they free up professors to do research--bringing money and prestige to the individuals and the institutions.

And lecturers cost less. At the University of California, for example, tenured or tenure-track professors last year made an average of $93,754, versus $45,519 for lecturers, including some who have taught for more than 20 years.

To be sure, tenure-track professors often have vastly different qualifications. Top researchers with degrees from elite universities find it far easier to land tenure-track jobs than do teaching-oriented PhDs from less-acclaimed institutions.

"There's a very limited market for great teachers, but there is a national market for great researchers," Ehrenberg said.

Some lecturers aren't looking for tenure or even full-time employment. They do the work for a little extra income, the love of teaching or to gain experience.

The more fortunate win titles such as "senior lecturer" and receive better benefits and longer-term contracts, though nothing like the career-long security of a tenured position.

Whether they are interested in tenure or not, they often see themselves as the educational underclass.

"The academic life is as carefully ranked as military life," said essayist Joseph Epstein, who for 23 years was editor of the American Scholar, a quarterly journal published by the Phi Beta Kappa Society. "The lecturer is comparable in some ways to the warrant officer. He's a little bit out of the chain of command."

Epstein, himself a part-time lecturer at Northwestern University since 1973 and author of the recently published book "Snobbery: The American Version," said he never has pursued a tenured job. "I've had a base salary, benefits, and I could get a lot of writing done," he said.

But he couldn't help noticing lecturers' second-tier status, especially the way they are saddled with introductory and low-level courses that some professors disdain.

"I don't know of anyone saying, 'This table is for full professors only,' " Epstein said, but tenured professors nonetheless sometimes regard lecturers with "mild contempt."

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