Better To Not Create Lectureships?


An assistant professor who wishes to remain anonymous (“given the possibility that my department might proceed to hire a lecturer, I do not by any means want that individual to feel anything other than completely welcome in our department”) writes in with the following query:

“Say an institution is contemplating creating a new non-tenure-track lectureship position to staff an increasing demand for a variety of gen ed courses, both upper and lower division.  One could be of two minds whether the increase in such ‘Lecturer’ positions is a net value to the profession of philosophy as a whole: on the one hand, it may be creating a stable, full time job which may not otherwise exist, on the other hand, it may contribute to the erosion of the tenure system and indicate a lack of support for scholarship in philosophy. I wonder if members of the philosophical community would provide some context and perspective.”

Readers?

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Clayton
6 years ago

It’s hard to know what to say about this because there’s important background information that’s missing. This lectureship isn’t tenure track. If it paid anything like the lectureships I’ve done or seen, the salary probably won’t be sufficient to get you by without doing supplementary work (e.g., adjunct work, part time jobs in the service industry, etc.). If the lectureship is anything like the one that I knew, it’s not really stable employment. (I’m assuming that when we talk about stable jobs in academia, we think of these jobs as jobs in which you have some assurance of year to year employment, you aren’t living paycheck to paycheck, and you’ll get some protection that’s like the protection afforded to tenured members of the department so you can’t be fired or not renewed for expressing unpopular views.)

The lectureships I’ve seen are pretty exploitive, so I’m skeptical of the suggested upside. Still, you might ask, isn’t it better than nothing? Two quick thoughts about this and one caveat. First, I’m sort of skeptical of the suggestion that the alternatives are limited to using contingent faculty and using nobody at all. The situation is created by a demand for teaching. If departments took the hard line and insisted that the use of contingent faculty is unacceptable, there’s the chance for a third alternative. Second, for whom is this supposed to be ‘better than nothing’? The department? Perhaps. The tenure track people get to benefit from the exploitive arrangement they didn’t fight against. Better for the job candidate? Not obviously. Having departments stand up for job seekers might lead to an increase in good jobs, it might force some to look outside of academia for employment, and the net result might well be better than it would have been if the department just accepted the idea of using contingent faculty.

The caveat: my answer (and this question) assumes that departments have some say about how things run. This might be a silly assumption.Report

Matt
Matt
6 years ago

I don’t know what I think about this. It’s a very tough question, and the right answer probably depends on specifics of the case, which we don’t have. So I’ll just present my own case as an anecdote that may be helpful here.

Last AY, right after graduate school, I took a lecturer position. It was a 10 month contract, though I learned about 4 months in that I’d be able to renew the contract for an additional year if I wanted to. But it was not what I’d call permanent employment in any sense. The salary was somewhat less than that of TT assistant profs. in my department, but it was plenty to live on without having to find an additional source of income. I had health insurance. I was treated well—very well, actually—by my department. The point here is that not all lecturer positions are exploitative; this was much, much better than an adjunct position, for instance.

The other relevant feature of the story is that I am now in my first year in a TT position at another institution. I probably would not have been able to get my current job right out of graduate school. I gained a lot of valuable and marketable teaching experience as a lecturer, and this was an important part of my dossier. (I know this because my current colleagues told me as much after I got the job.)

As I said, I really don’t know how to answer the original question. But I hope this anecdote is of some help.Report

Lisa Shapiro
Lisa Shapiro
6 years ago

I find this note confusing, as departments do not on their own create positions.
Lectureships in my department (and indeed University), while not tenure track, are contracts without term, and are essentially permanent. Lecturers are part of the collective bargaining unit that includes faculty and librarians, and so are accorded the same benefits (health, retirement, professional development funds, etc) as well as study leave. The only substantive difference is in teaching load, but then again, the criteria for salary review are in regards to teaching. There are no research expectations (but the lecturer is hardly prevented from doing research). The salary is competitive. Lecturers are part of the life of the department. This is not an exploitative position. It is far far better than an adjunct or limited term position.
If this is the sort of position at issue, the question, I would think, is whether your department is being told by higher admin that it can only have a lecturer and not an assistant professor. The danger here is a department moving from a research department to a service department, but with awareness of that danger a unit can protect against that even while hiring a lecturer to increase teaching capacity. There is also a danger of refusing the admin offer, as the department might not be able to hire at all if it decides to play hardball.Report

Tim O'Keefe
6 years ago

As noted above, obviously this depends on the terms of the lectureship. At Georgia State, we have lectureships that I think are worth supporting. They’re full-time positions with either higher teaching loads (4/4 in philosophy and the possibility of summer teaching if you opt for that) or other significant service duties (e.g., organizing and helping run the extra lab sections in biology or supervising and training graduate students who teach their own classes), and they have no research expectations.

The pay is less than for TT jobs, but it’s within shouting distance of starting asst. prof pay and is enough to live on without taking on another job, and it comes with health and retirement benefits. Because these aren’t research jobs, there isn’t tenure, but these are designed to be stable, long-term jobs. (2 of our lecturers have been here more than a decade.) Lecturers have an “up or out” review to be promoted to senior lecturer after 6 years, and there is a strong presumption they’ll be reappointed. Lecturers have a say in departmental governance (they attend department meetings and get a vote alongside the TT folks.) Moving to these lectureships has allowed GSU to stop relying on part-time adjuncts hired term by term and paid by the course.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

Anonymous because I’m junior in the field.

The way I see it, the starting point would be to figure out whether this hire benefits the STUDENTS or not. An exploitative lecturer position with a 5/5 load and little job security is not likely to produce an optimific classroom experience for the students. However, creating a lecturer position that’s 3/3 or 4/4 that is fairly compensated (less than tenure track, but a dignified wage) can attract philosophers who are student-centered and more interested in teaching than research. If you ask me, we could use a few more philosophers in the field who put teaching first. I think it would be wonderful to have one or two philosophers in every department who are teaching specialists, and instead of focusing on research these individuals would be department leaders in pedagogical development.

My points above echo some of the previous comments. The takeaway:

“Yay” to lecturers that are fairly paid, given long-term contracts, and are authentically teaching-focused.

“Boo” to lecturers that are overloaded with a 5/5, paid poorly, and lack job securityReport

Kommissar
Kommissar
6 years ago

Why not have tenure lines that are teaching-focused instead?Report

Matt Drabek
Matt Drabek
Reply to  Kommissar
6 years ago

Now, I think this is an excellent question, and one that university administrators who create even the desirable lectureships described above ought to be able to answer. Until I see teaching-focused TT positions, it’s hard not to see even good lectureships or 3/3-4/4 teaching-only positions as part of a chess match to undermine tenure.Report

anon
anon
Reply to  Kommissar
6 years ago

I think this is a great idea. One possible concern is that tenured teachers will stop being good teachers because they won’t “have” to anymore (this is no different than the concern that tenured researchers will stop being good researchers because they don’t “have” to anymore — I’m just putting it in the present context). Does anyone know of schools who do this — have teaching-specific TT positions?

Separately, I’m going to ask a really, really naive question: why don’t adjuncts unionize? And/or if they do unionize, why are their unions so f**#(&(*#&ing ineffective?Report

Chris Stephens
Chris Stephens
Reply to  anon
6 years ago

We have teaching specific TT positions here at University of British Columbia. They teach a bit more, but can get tenure, and promotion (based on teaching and teaching related scholarship). (The highest promotion on this track is called “Professor of Teaching”).
Also: our adjuncts: more or less Unionized (the same faculty association that represents TT faculty also represents adjuncts. etc.)
Also: occasionally the faculty association is even effective.

Still: some of the non-TT jobs (adjuncts) are somewhat exploitative (though not, I think the one and two year “lectureship” positions, which are like the ones described by Tim and Lisa, above). The conditions for the adjuncts (people just teaching a course or two here and there) are much better than at most Universities in the US, from what I can tell.Report

Lisa Shapiro
Lisa Shapiro
Reply to  Kommissar
6 years ago

As I noted above, at SFU and at many Canadian universities, lecturers are appointed ‘without term’ (or at least they come to be on a contract without and end after a year probationary period). Qualitatively, there is little difference with tenure. This is not a contract that is renewed year over year. There are very specific conditions under which the university can terminate the contract: financial exigency. And if the lecturer’s position does end, the university has to try to find him or her alternative employment in the university, or pay a year’s severance. I suspect that the positions outlined by Tim O’Keefe are similarly structured. I’m not quite clear what more you could be looking for.Report

Matt Drabek
Matt Drabek
Reply to  Lisa Shapiro
6 years ago

Lisa: I certainly don’t want to speak for O’Keefe, but I think the arrangement you’re describing is very rare in the United States. In particular, requiring cause or specific circumstances like financial exigency for firing someone is, I think, almost unheard of outside the tenure system (as is the requirement to try to find the person alternate employment). But I’d be very pleased to find out I’m wrong about this. The lectureships your describing sound great, and really don’t raise any red flags at all.Report

Tim O'Keefe
Reply to  Matt Drabek
6 years ago

Matt, you’re right, these are non-TT positions. The relevant regulations for lecturers and senior lecturers at the University System of Georgia (http://www.usg.edu/policymanual/section8/C245/ ) states that “Lecturers and senior lecturers who have served full-time for the entire previous academic year have the presumption of reappointment for the subsequent academic year unless notified in writing to the contrary as follows:”

That’s followed by information on how far in advance they need to be notified, which for people with at least 6 years as lecturers or senior lecturers needing to be given 180 days notice prior to the start of next year’s classes, and those folks are also “entitled to a review of the decision in accordance with published procedures developed by the institution.” I know a lot of lecturers at GSU who have had their positions for a really long time, so the above is not merely pretty words: lecturer positions are meant to be filled for the long term, and you can make a decent career out of one of these positions. But it’s not the sort of job security tenure gives you.Report

Anony
Anony
6 years ago

There seems to be three distinct positions under discussion so far. There is, firstly, part time adjunct work. Secondly, a full time lectureship that lasts no more than a year. And, thirdly, a full time lectureship whose contract is renewable either for one or more years. I will assume that any full time position will come with benefits and, though this is not always true, that any department will be welcoming of colleagues teaching at any of these three levels. While none of these positions are tenure-track, they are very different with respect to the benefits and costs to the employee.

Surely we are not discussing the potential merits of part time adjunct work. So I will limit myself to a few observations about full time lectureships. If someone accepts a year-long contract to teach in a department, then they can expect to start working on their job applications within months of starting the position. For example, I currently have a year-long contract. It began in September and then, one month later, I started preparing in earnest for the next job cycle. If someone accepts a two-year lectureship, then one can expect to teach, participate in the department, and perhaps get some work done for the better part of a year before preparing for the job market. Of course, the time one has for research and teaching will increase for every year for which the contract is renewed.

It seems to me obvious that multi-year lectureships have substantial benefits for employees. However, it is less clear in the case of single-year lectureships. Yes, such contracts will benefit ambulatory job candidates as well as those living near the institution. But such a position is likely to be very costly for those, at whatever level of their studies, who have a spouse or a family. Here arises what I believe is a point of difficulty for the discipline. The job candidates accepting one-year lectureships are not limited to those who have little to lose. These are people, in at least some and perhaps in many cases, uprooting their entire lives for a single year of full time work in the discipline.Report

Fritz Allhoff
Fritz Allhoff
6 years ago

At my school, lecturer (or, as we call them, visiting assistant professor) positions pay 90% what entry tenure-line positions do. They have full benefits, including health care. The teaching load is 3/3, whereas the tenure stream is on 2/2. 3/3 is clearly not a bad teaching load.*

To be sure, the administration uses VAP positions to get cheaper teaching than tenure-line teaching (again, 50% more teaching, 10% less money), plus the VAP’s “reset” every year, which means salaries don’t really go up, unlike tenure line who get promoted to associate professor then full professor. Of course we’d prefer tenure streams, but there’s just no way we’re going to get them in our current funding situation. (The entire university, with about 800 tenure-track faculty, hired 8 new ones last year.)

In any case, my view is definitely that VAPs aren’t (necessarily) exploitative, and certainly that ours aren’t. I definitely think they’re a gain for the profession, and certainly for job seekers who would otherwise be adjuncting for far less pay and for no health care.

* We also have “faculty specialists” which are tenure-track positions with no research expectations, and a 4/4 teaching load. So, in principle, a department could lobby for one of these positions that confers tenure. In practice, I think few do (and we never have) because it’s harder to recruit top talent for that, and because we need research faculty for our graduate students (i.e., at least in our department, not all departments on campus have graduate programs).Report

Clayton
Reply to  Fritz Allhoff
6 years ago

I agree with lots of what Fritz says here. The kind of position I had in mind isn’t/wasn’t a VAP. The kind of lecturers position I had in mind would teach more than 50% more than the permanent faculty would teach and they weren’t paid anything like WMU’s VAPs, lecturers in Canada, or lecturers in the UK.Report

Philip Kremer
Philip Kremer
6 years ago

One more data point. At the University of Toronto, Lecturers are faculty members protected by the University of Toronto Faculty Association — not quite a union, but a collective bargaining unit. Many lectureships are permanent arrangements (there are also limited term appointments, for sabbatical replacement, etc., just as their are limited term assistant/associate/full professorships). After five years or so, Lecturers are considered for promotion to Senior Lecturer: it’s almost as hard to fire a Senior Lecturer as a tenured Professor. A Lecturer can become the Chair of a department or Director of a similar unit: the Director of the Centre for French and Linguistics at the University of Toronto Scarborough is a Senior Lecturer, as is the Associate Chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto Mississauga.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

I have one of those sorts of positions now where I work. It’s more than 1 year, but limited term nevertheless. My pay is excellent and better than some post docs I missed out on, but I don’t know what it compares to other TT professors at my school. I am treated excellent, have benefits, have a 4/4 load and job security for a few years. I am very appreciative, but I worry about the state of the university system when it was explained to me the minuscule possibility that this could turn into a TT line. I was told the entire school is moving towards this contract system. Tenured people are retiring and being replaced by limited-term contract people. I’m unclear how you can run a functional department with just contract people once the last tenured prof retires, or if there is some minimum baseline of tenured and TT profs they want in the department.Report

Derek Bowman
6 years ago

Thanks to the anonymous junior prof who asked this, and thanks to those who have contributed. I hope more people become aware of the wide range of positions that can full under the title ‘lecturer,’ especially in the U.S. (For a further example, at my present institution the ‘Adjuncts’ are full-time, salaried, and term limited, while the ‘Special Lecturers’ are part-time, per course contract workers).

But while many of these comments address the important issues of exploitative vs non-exploitative positions, I don’t think most of them address the questioner’s original worry – do these positions contribute to the further erosion of tenure. So it’s good that some lecturers have a path to promotion and job security, but how much effective academic freedom do they enjoy in their classrooms? And are they able to contribute independently to faculty governance with the same security as those with tenure? (Or, for example, do they have more reason than their tenured colleagues to be afraid to contribute to forums like this using their own names?)Report

Philip Kremer
Philip Kremer
6 years ago

Derek, this is obviously going to depend massively on the institution. In my experience talking to lecturers at the University of Toronto, they generally have as much academic freedom in their classrooms as do professors. As noted, they can contribute to faculty governance, but it is rare: I know of only a couple of cases of [Senior] Lecturers appointed as Chairs or Associate Chairs, and it would be unthinkable to appoint a [Senior] Lecturer to as Dean or Provost, etc. I don’t think that any lecturer at the University of Toronto should be any more afraid than anyone else to contribute to a forum like this under their own name, certainly not a senior lecturer: you couldn’t dismiss a senior lecturer any more easily than a tenured professor for their public pronouncements. (Public pronouncement that break our hate-speech laws might, for all I know, put both senior lecturers and tenured professors in a position to be fired for gross misconduct.) Anyway, this is my impression of the matter.Report

CGH
CGH
5 years ago

My husband is a TT lecturer at a large UC school. To me this seems like a grueling job I think he has 4/4. My question to you all- does anyone know of anyone who has moved from lecturer to assistant professor? He wants to wait for tenure to start looking for new jobs (that will be after 6 years, with no research). Is assistant professor completely out of the question at that point?Report