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Mia McIver Statement to WASC Accrediting Board

Dear WSCUC Team,
I’m a pre-continuing lecturer in UCLA Writing Programs, which means A) I’m a teaching faculty member dedicated first and foremost to my students’ education, and B) my job is extremely precarious. 45% of the teaching faculty who were on payroll at UCLA during the last academic year are not teaching here now. That’s 700 people. By and large, this is forced turnover, not voluntary departures. UCLA administrators hire teaching faculty on short-term, part-time contracts that prevent a stable, well-supported, well-resourced teaching faculty. These practices are detrimental not just from an educational perspective, but from a diversity perspective as well: UC's teaching faculty are much more likely than tenure-track faculty to be women and slightly more likely to be people of color, meaning that radical contingency perpetuates structural sexism and racism.

I’m going to say a couple words about the challenges I face in my own teaching, then I’ll say a couple words about the Teaching and Learning Criteria for Review. I’m speaking here today partly because the WSCUC Institutional Report from Fall 2018 does not mention UCLA’s 1,655 lecturers, nor the strain we bear as we shoulder responsibility for the university’s educational mission, and I think we need a voice in this process. The main point I want to make is that the quality and integrity of UCLA degrees are eroded by UCLA’s exploitation of contract labor.

Like many of my colleagues, I hold office hours and student conferences in coffee shops because I lack appropriate office space. Like many of my colleagues, I have a second job to make ends meet, when I would much rather be focused on preparing to teach and supporting my smart, ambitious, and totally impressive students. Like many of my colleagues, I lack professional development opportunities to improve and refine my pedagogy. Like many of my colleagues, I am expected to contribute enormous amounts of unpaid labor in service activities for which I am not compensated. Like many of my colleagues, I am assessed primarily on the basis of student evaluations, which research shows are extremely poor indicators of teaching effectiveness.

Taken together, my experiences and those of my colleagues put into real doubt whether UCLA is satisfying WASC’s Teaching and Learning Criteria for Review.

  • CFR 2.1 requires sufficient numbers of qualified faculty. Understanding whether there are sufficient numbers of qualified faculty must be accompanied by an understanding of how stable that faculty is. Sufficient numbers lose their value when they are attained through high rates of forced turnover.
  • CFR 2.2 requires that student achievement be more than simply an accumulation of courses or credits. The abuse and exploitation of contingent faculty reduces student achievement to merely such an accumulation. Students cannot achieve in meaningful ways without stable faculty dedicated to supporting and mentoring them in and out of the classroom.
  • CFR 2.2a requires the development of core competencies and the fostering of knowledge, skills, and values beyond core competencies. Students’ ability to attain core competencies is severely compromised by UCLA’s general unwillingness to retain teaching faculty for more than a quarter or a year at a time, to say nothing of what students are losing out on when their faculty aren’t present to cultivate additional knowledge, skills, and values.

Let me be absolutely clear: the fact that lecturers exist is not the problem. The fact that lecturers have direct responsibility for student learning is not the problem. We are hired precisely because we are excellent teachers. We play an essential role within a research university. It is appropriate that some faculty are dedicated exclusively to educating students. Here and now, there are many pathways for UCLA administrators to provide teaching faculty with full-time, ongoing appointments with a modicum of stability and dignity. But UCLA by and large does not use them. UCLA is currently failing to provide teaching faculty with the support and resources we need to effectively promote student learning. In treating teaching faculty disrespectfully, UCLA communicates to students a lack of respect for their education. Faculty equity is the path to student success, and I ask that you keep UCLA’s lack of faculty equity in mind as you complete your report.

All my best,

Mia L. McIver, Ph.D.
Lecturer, UCLA Writing Programs
President, UC-AFT