Senior on the Lecturer Track?

Julie Shayne offers advice for colleges that want to improve working conditions for non-tenure-track faculty members.

September 28, 2018
 
 

What does it mean to have “senior faculty” status when you are on the lecturer track, thus untenured and ineligible for tenure? What about when colleagues in your profession incorrectly assume that given the opportunity, you would take the tenure track over lecturer track? I am a senior lecturer in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences (IAS) at the University of Washington at Bothell (UWB), institutionally “senior” in some respects but professionally marginal in others. In reflecting on what my university has done correctly and where we still have room to grow, I believe IAS has much to offer other campuses seeking to value lecturers by establishing structures that enable leadership and communicate respect.

Here is some context that is key in shaping my experiences and thus recommendations. I am one of 10 senior or principal lecturers in IAS, the two senior ranks on the lecturer track at the university. All full-time lecturers and artists (junior and senior) are hired to teach, perform service and remain scholarly/artistically engaged in our fields. There are no explicit expectations to conduct research, though most of us do anyway.

Encouraging, enabling and valuing lecturers to serve in leadership capacities suggests to me that senior lecturers are recognized as senior faculty. Nonetheless, there are material and cultural differences that keep the lecturer versus tenure-line hierarchy firmly entrenched, starting with the obvious: salary. If the lecturer track truly equaled tenure track in everything save job descriptions, then the base salaries at each rank would be virtually identical. They are not. According to the American Association of University Professors 2017-18 data, there is anywhere from a $14,000 to $48,000 pay gap between lecturer and tenure-line faculty.

Another material difference: offices. Most campuses have their own versions of space crunches and inequitable distribution of offices, experiences we were all likely introduced to while graduate students. In IAS, except in the case of associate deans, lecturers share offices; tenure-line faculty do not. This can be frustrating because lecturers teach as many as 90 more students a year, thus more visits from students, and greater need for an unshared office.

Finally, professional norms also affect how we understand what it means to be senior faculty. There is the narrative that the lecturer track is plan B or a temporary option until we get a real job (read: tenure track.) Indeed, most mentors overwhelmingly encourage their graduate students to apply predominantly (if not solely) to tenure-track jobs. Speaking for myself, being a senior lecturer is not a backup plan. In all honesty, I did not choose this path, but that is because I did not know it existed. Had I known there was an academic path with job security that prioritized teaching and included sabbatical and nonmandatory promotions, I would have sought it out, but graduate school mentors never mentioned such an option existed. I left the tenure track over a decade ago and celebrate that decision regularly, especially during the summer as I feel no pressure to catch up on research. (I have written about making the decision and its aftermath elsewhere.)

Other people’s career choices are not my stories to tell, but I do know that many of my lecturer-line colleagues chose this track intentionally or are thrilled to have found it. Over the years I have been contacted frequently by graduate students, always women, asking for advice on how to stay in academia while staying off the tenure track. Yes, some of my colleagues hope the lecturer track is temporary, but that is the nature of many early-career academic jobs, not just lecturer-line ones.

So, what to do? Some of these suggestions are what IAS has done correctly, others are about what we, too, need to fix. I believe the following recommendations are adaptable to any unit or institution that claims to value its lecturer-line faculty.

  • Establish salary parity. I am pleased to say my school has started these conversations and has acknowledged the problem, most recently in response to an animated protest by full-time lecturers during a faculty meeting. The issue is not just salary compression within ranks but differences across tracks. The concrete way to communicate that lecturer and tenure-line faculty are equal is equal pay.
  • Create parallel ranks. UW has a tiered lecturer track; lecturers are eligible for promotion and sabbatical and thus senior status. So IAS created a structure where principal lecturer equals full professor, senior lecturer, associate professor, and full-time lecturer, assistant professor. Claiming these equivalencies exist does not automatically make them the case, but I believe they absolutely matter and that other institutions must create their own versions. The professor hierarchy is familiar, so creating a parallel lecturer one makes perfect sense.
  • Enable lecturers to take on leadership roles. Since the national norm is lecturers teach more than tenure-line faculty, simply making us eligible to serve as associate deans and the like does not enable it; we need course releases adequate for that sort of service or the parallel ranks are largely symbolic. Lecturer teaching loads must be accounted for so we can act upon the leadership roles for which we are eligible and qualified.
  • Reshape norms via structures. One of the things that I think IAS has done the best and should be emulated by the profession writ large is incorporate senior and principal lecturers into our deanery. This recommendation is about more than “allowing” us to serve or making sure we have adequate course releases that enable us to assume these roles. In practice, when lecturers are part of the leadership, we are consulted when major decisions are made. As associate deans, we represent the school in various capacities. Symbolically and structurally, any institution that follows this path communicates that senior and principal lecturers belong at the same decision-making tables as associate and full professors. Ideally, over time these practices reshape the patronizing norms that imply lecturers, regardless of our years in service, are not qualified decision makers or leaders.
  • Provide space. Faculty need to have an honest discussion about office use. How often do you use your office? Do the sharing arrangements need to be based on average number of students taught or mentored? Do you do the majority of your writing at home? Are you someone who enjoys having an office mate? Simply put, if space is limited, the shared office burden cannot only fall to lecturers.
  • Consider the lecturer narrative. Nonlecturers, we appreciate your concern and your support, but please stop assuming we do not want to be on the lecturer track. The irony embedded in the narrative is that folks who are worried that lecturers are not receiving the recognition that we deserve are actually undermining the prestige of the lecturer track; by perpetuating the plan-B narrative you are minimizing the status that a competitive hire and earned promotion warrant. We may want the same material benefits as you but not necessarily the same job description, expectations and pressures.

I am always amazed when I hear colleagues disparage lecturers right in front of me, knowing I am a senior lecturer. UWB is young, so anyone who has been here for over a decade (myself included) is considered a veteran. I have listened to faculty -- all tenure line, all men, all new to campus, junior and senior alike -- make condescending remarks about lecturers. Professional norms must change. Valuing lecturers across the academy, acknowledging our earned seniority, regardless of tenure, is a key place to start.

Bio

Julie Shayne is the faculty coordinator of gender, women and sexuality studies and a senior lecturer in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington at Bothell. She is editor and author of three books, including Taking Risks: Feminist Activism and Research in the Americas (SUNY, 2015). She would like to thank Professors Jennifer Atkinson, Carrie Bodle, Bruce Burgett, Shannon Cram and David Goldstein for reading an early draft of this essay.

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