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Don't Get "Churned" by Stephen Potts

Don’t Get “Churned”

As a Lecturer at the University of California, you have a contract that is the envy of most lecturers elsewhere. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreed to by the UC-AFT and the University establishes medical and retirement benefits, professional development funds, a quasi-legal procedure for handling grievances, and potential job security through a Continuing Appointment, among other provisions. Nevertheless, like all legal documents it is subject to interpretation and enforcement. As one of our regular functions, your Union constantly monitors the University’s adherence to the letter and spirit of the MOU.

One problem that frequently arises is a practice informally known as “churning.” The MOU gives the administration considerable autonomy over the hiring or non-rehiring of Lecturers (Non-Senate Faculty or NSF) who do not have Continuing Appointments. On the other hand, Article 7a.C.1. specifies that “the University will not engage in activities or establish practices and/or programs that preclude pre-six year NSF access to Continuing Appointments.”

As Hamlet would say, there’s the rub. Every year we hear from Lecturers who have taught effectively for ten to fifteen quarters, only to be told by their departments that their services are no longer wanted. It is not unusual for the NSF to be told that the decision is not based on personal or professional criteria; the department just wants to avoid the needs assessment and sixth-year review that might lead to the long-term commitment of a Continuing Appointment. That avoidance is the proscribed “churning.”

The challenge is proving it. It is not likely that administrators will explicitly cite avoidance in writing. It is up to the Lecturer to make detailed notes of such conversations and save any relevant emails. The Union is always looking for patterns that might indicate the establishment of “practices and/or programs” designed to avoid Continuing Appointments. We are currently making specific Requests for Information from the University in search of such trends, but if you suspect that your department or program regularly lets Lecturers go before they can approach a six-year review—and especially if you are being let go on this basis—we would like to know.

Significantly, the MOU (7a.C.4a) does require that the decision to rehire or not actually be based on an assessment, and that the NSF be notified of assessment criteria and be permitted input. Thus, if you want to keep your position, and you have evidence of effective teaching and professional development, be pro-active. Never take your employment for granted: make sure you re-apply every year, and be certain to collect a paper trail that demonstrates your value.

Above all, don’t be afraid to stand on the rights granted you by the MOU. Remember, you do not have to face problems alone. You can always get in touch with your Union representatives with any questions or concerns. We are here to guard your back and to guarantee that the MOU is enforced.