The University Record, November 6, 1995


Anchovies and the Lecturer at the University

By Louis G. D'Alecy
Department of Physiology and Surgery

While not as riveting as the O.J. trial, nor as stimulating as a Tigers winning streak, a subject that is beginning to gain some attention in the halls of academe is the impact of the recent and rather dramatic growth in the numbers of lecturers joining our faculty. In the interest of open debate, and in anticipation of an open discussion on the floor of the Senate Assembly (see box), I put forth some of the arguments for (points 1-5), and some concerns about (counterpoints 1-5), the marked expansion in numbers of lecturer positions and its potential impact on the professoriate and the University of Michigan. SACUA has encouraged me to attempt to open a dialogue, but has not endorsed nor approved of any of the positions I have assembled here. A further disclaimer is that this is not about teaching assistants or the University's reward system for teaching; it is about a changing pattern of recruiting faculty.

Some of the points or arguments in favor of increasing the numbers of lecturers are:

Point 1 Lecturers fulfill a University need. The bright, young Ph.D.s fresh from their graduate program can step in and teach the numerous entry-level courses that often require so much manpower they represent a burden to just about every department. The lecturer thus satisfies the need for teaching large-scale undergraduate courses.

Point 2 Lecturer positions offer opportunities to entry-level Ph.D.s in a system that could not otherwise offer them employment as tenure-track faculty. In this argument the part-time nature of the lecturer position and the flexibility of the work hours are attractive to spouses rearing children and others who are unable or unwilling to make a full-time commitment to an academic career.

Point 3 Hiring lecturers frees up time ("protects time" or "releases time" depending on the unit) for the tenure-track and research professors to pursue extramurally-funded research without the distraction of hours of service teaching that would cut into their productivity.

Point 4 Lecturers are cost effective. Not only are they virtually hourly workers paid only for part-time work, but they represent minimal fringe-benefit burdens to the University. Therefore, hour-for-hour of teaching, they are less expensive than regular faculty. Further, there is a multiplying effect in that, by freeing up the research investigator to pursue extramurally-funded research, they increase the opportunity for acquisition of indirect costs and additional salary replacement funds.

Point 5 Lecturer positions are said to have facilitated the University in meeting its diversity goals and by implication have improved the distribution of women and minorities within the professoriate.

Let us now examine the respective five counterpoints, or arguments against, increasing the numbers of lecturers.

Counter Point 1 I started by granting that lecturers "fulfill a need," but whose need? Is it the need of our students who are paying top dollar to come to one of the country's leading universities presumably to bask in the light of the country's intellectual elite? Is it the need of the smartest and most aggressive students in the country who are seeking the ultimate educational experience? Does it fulfill the need of the professor who must package, sharpen, and focus ideas and concepts so they are understandable in the classroom to the learning mind---that is, does it obviate the professor's need for preparation for teaching? Or does it perhaps fulfill the need of the University's administration for a way out of meeting the awesome responsibility of maintaining, replacing and reseeding one of our nation's most competitive faculty? The lectureship approach fulfills immediate short-term goals of staffing the multiple and difficult-to-teach entry-level courses at the undergraduate level, but at what cost? Below I develop the argument that fulfilling the teaching obligation by this approach, while apparently effective in the short run, is potentially lethal to the long term pre-eminence of the University.

Counter Point 2 The lectureship presents "opportunities"---or does it? If these individuals are really fully capable and competitive, as evidently many are, then they should be hired as full-time tenure-track faculty. The lectureship is not an opportunity, but the formal establishment of a second-class citizenship in the University's professoriate. Lecturers tend to be temporary appointments to teach 101 this or that. True opportunities should contain some long-term promise, reasonable commitment on both sides of the agreement, and some professional challenge, not simply piecework and hourly wages. The lectureship approach could simply be a replacement strategy by the administration to avoid the recruiting and hiring of full-time tenure track faculty.

Counter Point 3 The case is clearly made that the presence of lecturers to take care of the undergraduate teaching load "frees up research time." One must ask, however, is it right? This artificial and intentional separation between the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge strikes at the very heart of the University structure. This is a university and not a think tank or a research institute. The research that should be done at a university should be done with and involve the students both inside and outside the classroom. It should not be progressing independently of the students and independently of the University's academic programs.

In the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, the faculty and the administration were blinded by the glitter of federal and industrial research support. The research culture generated an entire bureaucracy of its own within the University and, for some, set the stage for justifying the separation of the educational mission from the research mission of the University's faculty. The growth of the lectureship program simply reflects a final and potentially lethal step in the separation of these two important missions of the University. Professors in general should not be freed from teaching responsibilities. They are here to teach and, in that context, to do research within the scope of the academic mission of the University. The new knowledge thus developed can then be knowingly and rapidly incorporated into course work for the students.

Counter Point 4 No one can disagree with the assertion that the lectureship program is "cost-effective." One could make the same argument for slavery and for sweat shops! While pragmatic realities demand that we attend to issues of cost, making University decisions regarding faculty recruitment and composition based solely upon cost produces distortions of the University's mission. In the long run, this apparently cost-effective use of the lectureship strategy will, if continued unchecked, be the single most costly and destructive activity to beset tenure-track faculty. Replacement of tenure-track faculty with part-time (one or two courses), temporary (semester or annual contracts) workers simply does not produce an image of an academic institution determined to maintain its international reputation for sustained educational excellence and academic superiority.

Counter Point 5 Diversity has become a standing goal for the University, and rightfully so. Indeed, if one casually examines only the percentage composition of the lectureship faculty one might conclude that the University has been highly successful in recruiting women and minorities to its faculty. But let us look again. Has it really led to faculty positions of full and equal expectations and opportunities?

The graph shows the numbers of lecturers who had appointments greater than 0 percent in the years indicated. The striped bar symbolizes men, gray bar women and black bar total.

The non-tenure track faculty (see graph), in the 1982 -1992 decade, has increased by 63 percent. The tenure-track positions, particularly those at the Associate and full Professor levels, have increased by only 12 percent in this same decade. When assessing diversity goals, however, the fractional compositions have remained virtually unchanged. A careful look at the current distribution of women and minorities on the University faculty leads directly to the conclusion that the lectureship program has simply allowed the maintenance, if not the expansion, of their second-class status. If we are really committed to diversity, then women and minorities should be recruited directly into tenure-track positions and asked to compete on an equal basis with the rest of the permanent faculty.

Overview. Let us step back and look at this situation in a somewhat broader context. How does the lectureship program serve the students? While many lecturers, particularly in their initial years of teaching, can be exciting and animated in their presentations, their lack of continued involvement in developing new knowledge in their chosen area makes them a different entity from a tenure-track professor at the University. Undergraduate students at the University of Michigan pay for and deserve the best efforts of the best faculty and an educational experience that goes from the relatively stable fundamentals to the rapidly changing cutting edge of each discipline they choose to study. The students pay for and deserve exposure to, and tutelage by, the best professors our University has to offer, those developing the new knowledge.

What, if any, relationship is there between these non-tenured lectureships and regular tenure-track faculty positions? It is clear that the continued growth of non-tenured lectureships could ultimately reach the point where all of the service teaching and essentially all of the undergraduate teaching is done by non-tenured lecturers. Tenure then will have essentially disappeared without a whimper and without a bang. It would have simply been eroded away by the negligence of the dwindling number of tenured faculty. At that point we would have reached the pinnacle of corporate success. Our students will have been produced by hourly workers, not unlike those on the automotive line cranking out widgets at the whim and discretion of the CEO. There would be no regular (or real) faculty and, I argue, no university. We will have allowed the development of a nominally cost-efficient corporation, albeit one producing a substandard product.

This same extreme can be presented in an argument concerning academic freedom. One might ask why would hiring a lecturer compromise academic freedom? Lecturers have essentially no potential of obtaining tenure. They are hired and fired based upon the immediate need of the administration and hence at no time are protected to pursue what they and their peers consider intellectually meritorious pursuits. There is no academic freedom because there is no tenure in the life of a lecturer.

This diatribe was clearly not intended to present a balanced or equitable account of the myriad positions possible for these matters. What I would hope is that it initiates some active discussion of these issues amongst the faculty in such a way that the faculty actively participates in the decisions associated with the ongoing practice of expanding the lectureship component of our faculty.

What about the anchovies in the title? A few carefully placed anchovies can make a Caesar salad an exquisite taste treat. A bowl of them clearly has a negative impact. On your corn flakes in the morning, and your banana at lunch, the overuse of anchovies could get really disagreeable. So too, an excess of lecturers.

SACUA and I respectfully request the thoughtful, enlightened, or infuriated input from the Universitywide faculty including in particular the school and college executive committees. It is only through dialogue and discussion that we can gain a more thorough understanding of these issues.

With tenure comes a measure of intellectual autonomy which presumably cannot be bought or sold. While tenure and this autonomy may appear to be a luxury for the individual, or the university, it is a necessity for society's intellectual maturation. Paternalistic, top-down control of day workers has gone the way of monarchies and fiefdoms. Even in the corporate world, the more forward looking institutions have abandoned the archaic "CEO rules all" approach to management. Why would we, the University of Michigan, allow it to return by our negligence, or much less want to bring it back?