The University Record, November 21, 1995

Senate Assembly ponders 'Catch-22' faced by lecturers

By Jane R. Elgass

What good are lecturers? Why do we need them?

There is a need in the University for the appointment of lecturers because they are dedicated to teaching and focus exclusively on that.

Who needs lecturers? Not students. Not professors. The University just wants an inexpensive, replaceable faculty.

Lecturers can reach the same levels of excellence and dedication as do tenure-track faculty.

The overuse of lecturers threatens the University's academic excellence.

Those are among the issues brought forth at last week's Senate Assembly meeting during a point-counterpoint discussion on the growing use of lecturers.

Providing the "point" was Barbara Weathers, who has been a lecturer in the Department of Chemistry for five years. Lewis D'Alecy, professor of physiology, agreed with many of the points made by Weathers, but for the purpose of debate assumed the counterpoint.

Weathers, who teaches first- through third-year classes of 50 to 500 students, said her focus on teaching is "an advantage accorded to a lectureship vs. professorship. There is a need for people like myself."

Many faculty, she said, are unhappy when asked to teach "large, mundane classes. This comes across to students. If they are unwillingly forced, it shows."

Weathers noted that there has been a "dramatic change" in entering students, resulting in "a bi-modal population---students who are very bright and bored and students who understand nothing you say."

Weathers said lecturers can have successful careers if "they accept it with a positive attitude. Establish yourself as an individual, so that you stand out, so people take notice of you. If you make a point of making yourself a valued member of the community, they'll beg you to stay."

Lecturers are not paid as much, Weathers said, "but they are not less educated. They meet standards of excellence equal to any professor on the staff."

Taking the counterpoint, D'Alecy said that if lecturers are capable, they should be hired full-time on the tenure track. The current system, he said, is artificial and intentionally creates a separation.

"Entry-level material should be at the cutting edge. Research professors develop that knowledge and should be required to take it to the classroom to young minds. If you separate teaching and research," D'Alecy said, "you destroy the fiber of the university."

D'Alecy read excerpts of a letter he'd received from a lecturer speaking to the University's reliance on "hired hands" at "wages that ensure food stamp eligibility." After holding one-term contracts for seven years, the lectur er was offered $13,000 to teach four classes. She's now a research secretary making two times that salary.

Citing a graph tracking the appointment of faculty since 1982, D'Alecy noted that there had been a 63 percent increase in the lecturer track and a 12 percent increase in the tenure track since President James J. Duderstadt announced the Michigan Mandate.

"It's another new hire every time you hire," D'Alecy said. "It's not a full commitment to diversity and women, but rather short-term piecework. I don't question [lecturers], I think they're wonderful. But most are short-termers.& quot;

Among the other issues raised by D'Alecy:

Is the [hiring] pattern a real problem? Yes.

Is the threat to the University's academic excellence real or perceived? "It's real and eats away at the heart of the tenure system. It erodes and will eventually dissolve it."

Faculty have abdicated their responsibility. They have the responsibility to set the curriculum, to be involved in deciding who teaches what.

In open discussion, Valerie Lee, associate professor of education, brought to Assembly's attention the large percentage of lecturers who are women. "It pops right off the page. Is this discrimination? It doesn't look good to me."

Speaking to the increased number of lecturers, Terrence McDonald, LS&A associate dean for faculty appointments, noted that there are those with long- and those with short-term service. Thirty-three percent don't hold the position the next year. Thirty percent have Ph.Ds and "a significant number of these are long-term. If you factor out those numbers, the total is significantly less."

McDonald urged understanding of the various categories "before painting with a broad brush," noting that some of the LS&A appointments are the result of "faculty initiatives in pedagogy."

Ruth Barnard, associate professor of nursing and co-chair of the Academic Women's Caucus, noted that lecturers are caught if they want to go for tenure. "They don't have enough time to develop their scholarship," she said. "If their role is so important, why not reimburse them and get other people to take care of the masses? They have no role in faculty governance. They are second-class citizens. I'm st unned at the faculty acceptance of this."

Assembly members also heard from Barry Rosenberg, a member of LS&A Student Government, who noted the most serious concern is the quality of instruction.

"Instruction is equally important as research. We are obligated to strive for the highest quality possible," said Rosenberg, who then proposed a re-examination of the academic system with an eye to awarding titles and salaries based on student and faculty peer review.

William Condon, acting director of the English Composition Board and an eight-year lecturer, accused the faculty of creating the current situation. Working with entering students is part of the University's "permanent job," he said, &qu ot;and we shouldn't use temporary people to do it. One-third of faculty manage to avoid teaching. It's a culture you have created. We need to have a system of tenure and promotion in which different kinds of excellence receive consideration."

A system that forces a unit to lose its best teacher because he didn't bring in grant money was decried by David Hessler, professor of information and library studies.

Hessler noted that when he was a student in the 1950s, "every course was taught by a professor. I've been at five universities and on the promotion and tenure committee at each one. We just lost our best teacher because he didn't generate o utside grant money. There's something wrong with a system that doesn't have a balance.

"We need lecturers," Hessler said. "The real culprit is promotion and tenure, which is really skewed to research grants."