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UC-AFT Response to Faculty Association Reports on Gould Commission


In the Berkeley Faculty Association’s criticisms of the Commission on the Future of the University, there is a constant devaluing of the work of lecturers.  One passage argues that,  “Recommendations for savings call for reduced time to degree and cheaper “instructional delivery systems”-- lecturer-taught or on-line courses. Thus, future undergraduates will pay more for less.”  Here the implication is that lecturers, like online courses, by definition undermine the quality of undergraduate education.  Of course, this argument flies in the face of the fact that lecturers are the highest rated teachers in the UC system and are hired and promoted based on their excellence in teaching. 

Instead of recognizing the important contributions of the UC lecturers, the Berkeley professors lament the role non-tenured faculty play in separating research from instruction: “There are proposals for "changing faculty mix," using non-Senate faculty to "backfill for instruction" and to separate teaching from research faculty. In short, the current reliance of summer session on graduate student and other lecturers would become the model for cost-effective UC undergraduate instruction.” It is important to point out that just because lecturers may cost less, it does not mean that they reduce the quality of instruction.  Moreover, many lecturers combine research and instruction in their teaching, while some senate faculty only do research and do not teach any undergraduate courses.            

In their general condemnation of the Commission’s recommendations, the Berkeley faculty lump together several different issues.  For example, in the following passage, they combine a concern for rushing students through the system with a commentary on the use of non-tenured faculty to teach undergraduate courses: “In short, taking these proposals together, a picture emerges of undergraduates jammed through a mediocre education and ladder rank faculty substantially removed from both control over and involvement with undergraduate education. Undergraduate programs of study would be narrowed and shortened. More UC students would take fewer courses from a shrunken UC Senate faculty.”  What this analysis does not admit is that senate faculty already teach less than half of the undergraduate student credit hours, and administrators have already usurped much of the professors’ former control over undergraduate instruction.

If we now turn to the UCSB faculty response to the Commission, we find a similar debasing of lecturers coupled with a concentration on promoting graduate education: “Every dollar invested in graduate teaching assistantships and research assistantships constitutes an inexpensive way of enhancing the quality of undergraduate education right NOW while simultaneously investing in the next generation of innovative researchers and professors. There is no question that graduate education -- and not online learning – is the best bet for the future of the UC system.”  According to this group, the key to increasing the quality of undergraduate education is to fund more graduate students through assistantships.  Here, we encounter one of the irrational kernels of the research university: even though many grad students will never earn their degrees, and many who do get their doctorates will never get a tenured position, there is a constant call to increase the number of graduate students. 

We must ask how do graduate student instructors without degrees, expertise, or experience enhance the quality of undergraduate education, while lecturers with doctorates somehow lower educational standards.  Moreover, why do the campuses want to increase the number of grad students and decrease the number of undergrads, when it costs at least four times as much to educate graduate students than undergraduates. Furthermore, the use of grad students as section leaders in large classes also drives up the cost so much for lecture classes that it is actually more expensive to have many large classes than small, interactive seminars. 

Since the senate faculty do not want to recognize the important contributions that lecturers make to undergraduate education, they must posit that grad student instructors are the key to quality instruction: “At the lower division level, graduate student instructors provide the intensive instructional labor that helps to transform UC’s undergraduates into the articulate, creative, critical leaders that our economy and society need. In recent decades the percentage of graduate students on our campuses has fallen relative to the number of undergraduates, and in the past year, especially, funding lines for graduate teaching assistants and research assistants have been cut dramatically – creating chaos in our lower division classrooms and high levels of anger and stress among our undergraduate constituents and their parents.”  While we should decry the fact that many graduate students cannot get enough funding to complete their studies, the solution is to only accept students that can be funded out of grants and scholarships; however, the idea promoted here is to increase graduate enrollments and force more grad students into the undergraduate classroom and thus increase the cost of undergraduate instruction. As I have written elsewhere, one reason why our grad students cannot get tenure-track jobs once they earn their doctorates is that there are so many grad students without degrees teaching at research universities.  The result of this system is that many grad students drop out, and many others graduate with huge loan debts and no job prospects.

Unfortunately when I have tried to discuss these issues with senate faculty, they have often responded in a highly defensive way.  Professors want to cling to the idea that research and teaching always go together, and therefore lecturers are unworthy because they are not hired to do research.  An example of this privileging of research professors over lecturers can be found in the following criticism of moving more classes to summer: “Furthermore, there is a concern that including summer sessions in the three-year plans would also result in these students taking fewer courses from ladder-rank faculty. We see this as an erosion of UC quality—students come to take courses from UC ladder-rank faculty, which also accords with parents’ expectations.”  Once again, this criticism denies the fact that many professors do not want to teach during the summer, and lecturers have been teaching summer courses for years. Moreover, the problem with summer education is not that non-senate faculty teach it; the problem is that the courses are often too short and too expensive.