Temporary Lecturers Step From the Shadows at Chico State

Last week, Tony Waters commented to me that something has changed in me this year.

“You’re acting like an Assistant Professor,” he said to me late last week. “You’re not slinking through the shadows like all the other lecturers any more. After ten years you are starting to participat in faculty governance, and everyone was glad to come over to your house to meet the job candidate last week. It works! People respect your experience and views, and do want you to be involved in the department in the same way that an Assistant Professor would be, even if your are still a lecturer. Maybe if you act out the role, it might come true.”

I hadn’t really thought about it much.

I considered Tony’s observation and I realized, I have been acting differently as of late. Nothing specifically has changed, except that I have some longevity at Chico State now, more than ten years, and that means I have a contract that protects me, somewhat, as I walk through the halls. I’ve also learned the culture, how to talk to people, who to talk to, and who not to talk to, all things that make me more confident to speak up more, be more engaged in department and campus happenings. Also, as my teaching schedule has become full and as a result, I am more present day to day, I am more comfortable in my office, my building.

Most lecturers here don’t enjoy the same privilege of such longevity and security, and the confidence and comfort that comes as a result.

Tony’s astute observations were correct: lecturers at Chico State (and I suspect elsewhere), have historically stayed in the shadows around here, and recently, something is changing, but not just with me; other lecturers are stepping out of the shadows to have their voices heard as well.

Lecturers don’t stay in the shadows by choice, instead several factors make our presence on campus sporadic and uncertain, a little dodgy even, or maybe even “slinking,” as Tony observed.

First, we are temporary employees, regardless of how long we have been employed by the university. This category of employee works fine for faculty who teach part-time because they have full-time, “day” jobs somewhere else, and who might choose to teach only at their leisure. But the title “temporary” implies that this job is seasonal, or “as needed”, “back up personnel”, “fill in” and it is a reminder that we are not permanent. It implies that we are expendable.

We internalize that temporary status, and it makes us feel as not fully part of the university, like we don’t quite belong. But others also identify lecturers as temporary and because lecturers come and go with the changing of the seasons, the permanent faculty and staff see individual lecturers as expendable, and therefore, not fully part of the university.

A few months ago while chatting with the head of one of the departments at Chico, I asked about how a specific lecturer who I had recommended for the job was doing. She replied, “I guess fine. I don’t know. Is he even teaching this semester? I don’t even know which lecturers are teaching this semester, we have so many.” She laughed at her own lack of knowledge about which lecturers were teaching at that moment in her department.

But think about that: lecturers are so expendable that some department heads do not miss them when they are gone.

For the lecturer, though, perhaps the worst thing about being “temporary” is that it means, regardless of how long someone has served the college, they can be laid off without cause.

You might be asking yourself how that is different from any other job, so let me give you a scenario:

Doctor Lecturer (temporary) earns her PhD at a prestigious university but unfortunately, due to no fault of her own, is unable to secure a tenure track job at the time of graduation due to the economy (the Great Recession in the U.S. in 2007-2009). Doctor Lecturer finds a temporary teaching job at Chico State to make ends meet and teaches for 10 years at the university. Doctor Lecturer earns high teaching evaluations from both students and peers, contributes to research in her field by publishing journal articles, mentors students in graduate programs, and serves on university committees, even when she is not required to do so. Doctor Lecturer takes whatever classes are offered at any time of day or evening, without being asked what she would like her schedule to be. Doctor Lecturer teaches whatever class subjects are available to teach. Doctor Lecturer’s schedule is largely determined by what is leftover after the tenure track faculty have made their “wish lists” of their preferred schedules teaching classes in their specialty. After ten years or so, Doctor Lecturer is finally offered a full-time schedule of 5 classes per semester (but not permanent, tenure track appointment) after outlasting all the other lecturers in the department, and makes a decent salary.

Doctor Assistant Professor (tenure track and therefore “permanent”) earns her PhD at a prestigious university and happens to graduate from school at a time when there are a lot of new faculty being hired across the nation. Doctor AP secures a tenure track job at Chico State, and begins her career full-time a few months after graduation. Doctor AP is given a reduced work load in the first few years (2 or 3 classes per semester) so she has time to do research and publish, she serves on a few campus committees, and is paid full-time wages that are $15,000 – $20,000 higher than Doctor Lecturer’s full-time salary. Doctor AP is asked what the ideal teaching schedule would be, and consulted on which classes she would really love to teach. In addition to classes that she has to teach due to demand, Doctor AP would love to teach the same courses Doctor Lecturer teaches so one or two of Doctor Lecturer’s classes are assigned to Doctor AP. Since there are no other courses to offer Doctor Lecturer, and Doctor AP is permanent, Doctor AP gets the courses, leaving Doctor Lecturer with a reduced teaching schedule, and reduced pay. For each reduction of a 3 unit course, Doctor Lecturer loses 20% of her pay. In extreme cases, all of Doctor Lecturer’s classes are given to permanent faculty and Doctor Lecturer loses all of their classes, regardless of performance.

This difference in temporary and permanent status is not the fault of either the lecturer or the tenure track faculty: it’s a function of the institution of higher education. The institution relies on annual budget variations from the State revenue and also variations in student enrollment, so there needs to be wiggle room in the budget somewhere. That “somewhere” is in temporary faculty and temporary staff budgets, which falls under “Operating Expenses.” Other items that fall in that category are office supplies.

The recent motion to discuss a No Confidence vote at Chico State brought by a lecturer stems from the late November reduction in the Operating Expense budget at Chico State, and the resulting reduction in course offerings that lecturers had already been scheduled to teach in Spring 2016. We’ve lost about $5 million across the campus for the Spring 2016 semester. The budget cuts do not impact the salaries of permanent staff and faculty, and there’s only so much paper and staples we can save from the Operating Expense budget, so the next, and biggest, target, is lecturer pay.

We are under constant threat of these reductions in the university system, which leads to the second factor that makes us slink through the hallways: we are afraid of losing our jobs, and it makes us powerless. We slink because we worry about offending the wrong administrator, the wrong student, the wrong colleague, who might decide to make a complaint, or decide, at our next performance review, to skewer our reputation, and deny promotion or even deny us courses.

But that’s changing at Chico State, at least this week. The shadows are a little less crowded, and the voices are getting louder. The lecturers are stepping out of the shadows, and I suspect will make their way to the Chancellor’s office, and the Governor’s steps, before this journey ends.

Click on the links below for other posts about the work environment at Chico State and the university system from Marianne and Ethnography.com. 

Lecturers Lean In

Second Class PhD

Shared Governance or Managed Dissent at Chico State

The McDonaldization of Higher Education

When the Red Ink Stops Flowing

One thought on “Temporary Lecturers Step From the Shadows at Chico State

  1. Thanks for this post. It would be great if we could get our learners to prerape before they attend lectures in such a way. As a learner myself, I feel I can contribute better when I am appraised of the topic beforehand and am allowed’ to discover some of the material, if possible in a different format, before I get to class’. This sounds like a positive development!

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