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Bargaining Statement: Crisis Shows Need for Stable Teaching Faculty


This statement was written and read in bargaining on March 21 by UCB Legal Studies Lecturer, Ben Brown.

I would like to give a short testimony today. The events of the past 11 days have given me some insights into the importance of this bargaining process for our union members, for our students and for the health of the University. One of the things we will be talking about today is the possibility of these external events leading to layoffs of union members. But in order to finalize this contract we are also going to have to deal with this basic question of whether lecturers are an integral part University or are just fungible employees who can be replaced at any time and who best meet the needs of the University by being transitory. I think the events of this last week have shown that the lecturers best meet the needs of the University when they are well-supported, well trained and experienced.

Not to dwell on my own experience too much, but 11 days ago I taught a course in front of a live student audience. Today I’m about to leave this meeting to go teach a course on my back porch using only my own resources except for a Zoom account that the University has provided. And yet, for the students in my classes when I go to my back porch and turn on my computer, that virtual classroom is the University of California Berkeley. That virtual classroom is where their education is taking place. I know this is temporary and I as much as anybody hope that things return to the old normal as soon as possible but right now University of California educational mission is continuing because I, a lecturer, am stepping before a camera on my back porch.

I could not continue this mission but for the years of experience and the accumulation of material that I have created which allowed me to take the last week to learn how to present classes in an entirely new format. If I was a first year or second year or even third-year lecturer who was still working on preparing for the first time or the second time or even the third time an excellent lecture, I would not have had the time last weekend to give myself intensive training in how to turn my back porch into a learning environment. It’s because I have lectures that I have prepared over the 19 years I’ve taught here; it’s because I have materials that I’ve accumulated over my academic career; it’s because I already have the power points that I have worked hundreds of hours on preparing, that I had the luxury to devote myself to learning a new way of presenting my class rather than preparing those materials for the first time. It’s because I have a webpage full of material that I have curated and edited that my students can continue to have access to the sources they need to learn the subject matter I am teaching. It’s because I have years of experience that I’ve been able to counsel my graduate student instructors on how best to deal this new environment.

I think the lesson to be learned from this crisis for the University of California, for our union members and for our students is that the University, the lecturers, and the students are all best served by experienced lecturers who have a commitment to the University’s educational mission. You do not get this body of lecturers that can continue the educational mission of the University in this crisis situation if the University’s main goal for the first six years of their career is to make sure that at no time the University is committed to rehiring and fostering their efforts. You do not get this body of lecturers if your main goal is to make sure that it is easy to lay off lecturers. You do not get this body of committed lecturers if they are constantly worrying about the healthcare for their families and whether their appointments will be reduced to the point where they will not have that healthcare. You do not get this body of lecturers if their pay is such that they cannot support themselves and their families in expensive California urban environments. My testament today is that the University of California is largely continuing its mission because of the commitment of lecturers like the ones that you are looking at right now in this virtual meeting room. I would urge you to take that lesson into account as we go forward with this bargaining. This crisis has shown just how important lecturers are to the central mission of the University of California, which, for me, is educating our students. Thank you for letting me share his thoughts.