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Lecturers express concern over job status

Lecturers must take on responsibilities outside of academic purview, such as advising

By
Senior Reporter
Wednesday, October 25, 2017

In limbo between the temporary, teaching-centric appointments of adjunct and visiting faculty and the research-focused tenure-track faculty, “lecturers at Brown feel that their role here is unique,” said Joel Revill, associate dean of the faculty and adjunct assistant professor of history. Four lecturers expressed concern with their responsibilities, job security and place within the University in interviews with The Herald.

Lecturers will “tell you that they’re undervalued, that they’re not treated well; they’re not respected,” said Dean of the Faculty Kevin McLaughlin. “Maybe that’s true at some level … they don’t have the same status in a way.” McLaughlin added that lecturers “complain all the time,” because they compare their status at the University to that of tenured or tenure-track faculty rather than to the status of lecturers at Brown’s peer institutions.

According to the University’s Handbook of Academic Administration, lecturers are appointed to teach courses and take on additional “academic responsibilities” but are not expected “fulfill the requirements of scholarly research” expected of tenured or tenure-track faculty. Along with tenured or tenure-track instructors and professors, lecturers are regular faculty with voting privileges.

The 758 regular faculty that the University currently employs includes 20 lecturers, 44 senior lecturers and six distinguished senior lecturers.

The frontline troops

Lecturers are the University’s “frontline troops,” coming into contact with “a larger number of undergraduates than anyone else” because of their role as teaching specialists, according to Chair of the Economics Department David Weil.

Whereas the appointment of tenured and tenure-track faculty factors their ability to “build up the research capacity of the University,” lecturer hires are made “with regard to the enrollments,” McLaughlin said.

Lecturers are expected only to teach, not conduct research — a difference reflected in their salaries, McLaughlin said. While tenured and tenure-track faculty are paid a nine-month salary over 12 months, with the understanding that they will use the three months of summer as research time, lecturers are paid just a nine-month salary. Lecturers’ compensation is not dependent upon any research or work done over the summer, McLaughlin added.

Lecturers are also expected to meet “administrative and advising needs that aren’t necessarily best answered with tenure-track faculty,” said Patrick Heller, chair of the sociology department.

A lecturer who wished to remain anonymous for fear of professional repercussions said that when she began at the University, “almost without being told literally … the information seemed to have transferred that, yes, (advising) is expected as a lecturer.”

David Buchta, a lecturer in classics, said that because he is “paid with the expectation that (he has) this as a full-time job,” he must take on non-teaching responsibilities such as first- and second-year advising.

When Luther Spoehr, a senior lecturer in education, was first hired by the University, he was told not to worry about research and publishing, he said. But “that has changed a little bit, so now you’re under a little more pressure to publish, even as a lecturer,” he added.

The University’s increased emphasis on research is even more evident among tenured and tenure-track faculty, who are consequently focusing less on teaching and advising, Spoehr said. “And a lot of lecturers have found themselves asked to do more in that regard because junior faculty in particular, but also senior faculty, are less available,” he added.

Because the number of regular faculty in the anonymous lecturer’s department has decreased and its “funding level … doesn’t compare very favorably with peer institutions,” tenure-track faculty in her department must focus on writing grant proposals, she said. Her workload — formerly one course a semester —has subsequently increased. She is now required to teach at least two courses, she said.

Spoehr said that he feels lecturers have been pressured to do more research since he began at the University. But Buchta said he would like more time to do research, but that his teaching duties sometimes interfere with that.

Whereas professorships in the humanities generally require a two course per semester teaching load, lecturers in those disciplines are expected to teach three courses per semester, Buchta wrote in an email to The Herald. Buchta, who has “an active research agenda” and publishes research regularly, added that this teaching load “does not offer as much time as I would like for research and writing work.”

Permanency and promotion

Since lecturers are employed primarily to teach, giving them multi-year contracts rather than lifetime positions allows the University to respond to fluctuations in the popularity of courses and concentrations, McLaughlin said. If a department “explodes for a while and then draws down after 10 years,” hiring lecturers rather than “locking into tenure-track faculty” gives the University flexibility to adjust the number of faculty in that department accordingly.

Lecturers are hired on three-year contracts, while senior and distinguished senior lecturers operate on six-year contracts. Senior lecturers also receive a salary boost. When lecturers are up for contract renewal, a committee assesses their teaching and makes a recommendation, the faculty votes and the dean of the faculty reviews the final decision, Heller said. The decision to renew is based on student evaluations, course materials and in-person evaluations from committee members, he added.

Lecturers “have pretty good job security,” Heller said. “As long as they’re fulfilling the basic functions of their position, they are generally renewed at Brown.” The contract renewal process is effective because years of experience lead to an understanding of how to engage and mentor students and use class time effectively, said Kenneth Wong, chair of the education department.

Appointment as a lecturer often results in a longer career at the University than an appointment as a tenure-track or tenured faculty member because tenure-track faculty are more likely to receive offers from other universities, Spoehr said.

When the anonymous lecturer was hired by the University, she was told that promotion to senior lecturer was almost tantamount to tenure, but a lack of permanency is inherent in the lecturer position, she said. “If they truly wanted to get rid of me … they can,” she added.

The anonymous lecturer said that she was not immediately hired as a lecturer but instead started at the University for a trial year with a one-year contract. Her recent application process to become a senior lecturer was “an ordeal,” she added.

Catherine Imbriglio, a senior lecturer in English, also said that the promotion process — in her case, from non-regular faculty member to lecturer — was “quite rocky and irregular.” She was at the University for more than six years before becoming a regular faculty member.

Lecturers have PhDs, meaning they could become tenured. But the University conducts national searches to fill tenure-track openings, and being in-house does not give lecturers an advantage in applying to a tenured position, said Chair of the English Department Philip Gould.

“I’d love it if there were some way for a lecturer who has taught at the University for a number of years and has a significant record of publication to petition to switch their position at the University to a tenure-track assistant professorship,” Buchta wrote.

Salary and sabbatical

Lecturer salaries are based both on their disciplines and on the compensation offered to faculty members  in similar positions at peer institutions, McLaughlin said. Lecturers are paid 15 percent better than faculty with corresponding posts at peer schools and are considered for raises every year, he added.

Lecturers, senior lecturers and distinguished senior lecturers currently receive median base salaries of $72,250, $90,625 and $90,250, respectively. As of 2015, the average salary for lecturers at four-year private colleges was $62,824.

Assistant professors, the lowest ranking tenure-track faculty at Brown, currently earn a median base salary of $95,505, while professors earn a median base salary of $174,000.

The discrepancy exists because  lecturers “don’t have the same kinds of contracts; they don’t have the same responsibilities; they don’t have to meet the same standards for research; they don’t have to undergo a tenure review,” McLaughlin said.

Though Buchta’s “compensation is somewhat disproportionately low relative to” his education level, this is a problem shared by almost all humanities faculty members, including those with tenure, he wrote.

The anonymous lecturer said she was satisfied with her salary.

Like tenure-track professors, lecturers can also take sabbatical. They are eligible for the semester of paid leave after six years of teaching, McLaughlin said.

The anonymous lecturer said that she took a semester of sabbatical, which she spent travelling to other universities to observe courses that could help her improve her lectures. Sabbatical is “a nice way of accommodating the lecturers who care about research,” said Spoehr, who is currently taking a semester of paid leave to focus on a research project.

Belonging at Brown

As much as any tenured or tenure-track faculty member, lecturers are “part of the Brown family,” Weil said, adding that the University involves lecturers in curricular decisions and departmental affairs.

Heller and Wong both agreed that lecturers are active members of the communities within their respective departments. “They attend departmental meetings, they sometimes vote on departmental affairs and they contribute to a lot of curriculum issues and student programming,” Wong said.

Buchta attends department faculty meetings and participates in all votes except for those pertaining to the promotion of his senior colleagues, he wrote.

Not all lecturers feel equally included in their respective departments.

Imbriglio said that because she is not “invited into the discussion” of the future of her department, she does not feel fully integrated into the community. “I feel like I’m in the dark in some ways,” she said, adding that this is partly due to the hierarchy of regular faculty within her department.

The “very clear distinction between tenure-track and non-tenure” faculty leads her to at times “feel invisible” within her department, the anonymous lecturer said. To avoid becoming invisible, lecturers must make an active effort to “have a say” and “to show up to some of the faculty meetings even though they somehow conflict with office hours and advising,” she added.

“Things are better for non-tenure track from when I first started,” Imbriglio said, but she added that University can still take steps to improve. “Are we going to go forward or are we going to stop right where we are?”