The University Record, November 21, 1995
Lecturers at the
University of Michigan:
Full or Second-Class Citizens?
By Ann Savageau,
Lecturer, Residential College
For 17 years I have taught as a lecturer in the Studio Arts Program of the Residential College. From this vantage point I offer the following points for discussion: first, that there are distinct differences in lecturers across this campus; second, that long-term lecturers are in a particularly anomalous position, with unfortunate consequences; third, that lecturers are denied opportunities to advance into the tenure track; and finally, that the lecturer issue at this University is largely a woman's issue.
There is a broad spectrum of lecturers whose roles, rights and responsibilities vary within each unit. For example, in LS&A, the rank of lecturer is divided into three categories: Lecturer I and II and III, with different appointment terms and salary levels. In some units, lecturers are largely marginalized: they are given no committee assignments, do not participate in faculty governance or curricular planning, and do not engage in research or creative activities. In other units, lecturers may enjoy more voice in departmental matters, but their role remains primarily that of teachers. In contrast, the Residential College is unique for: a) the large number of lecturers that constitutes its core faculty, b) the responsibilities they have for its curriculum and governance, and c) the quantity and quality of their professional endeavors.
Let me describe in more detail the unique role that the lecturers play in the Residential College. We are a faculty of 12 tenure-track professors (three women and nine men) who hold half-time appointments at the RC and tenure in other departments in LS&A, and 33 lecturers (22 women and 11 men). Part of this faculty is the working core of the College and provides its sustaining force and continuity. Since lecturers constitute 73 percent of RC faculty, on the average have larger FTEs in the College, and usually do not have appointments in other units, it is inevitable that many lecturers are in this working core. Lecturers are expected to participate in every aspect of the RC, from policy formulation, curricular development, governance and counseling. For example, in the last four years, lecturers held 77 percent of our committee appointments. The lecturers have developed and run the majority of the 13 academic programs; they develop and teach a wide variety of courses, including many that are upper level. Lecturers have taught an average of 13.5 years at the RC, more evidence of their long-term commitment. In short, many RC lecturers perform the duties that tenure-track faculty normally would in other units.
Furthermore, many RC lecturers are active in their disciplines, whether it be research and publication or exhibitions and performances. For example, in a report prepared for President Duderstadt in March 1995 on "Women Lecturers in the Residential College," we listed some of the professional accomplishments of women lecturers. They include two MacArthur research grants; Fulbright grants; numerous books, articles and reviews; invited lectures and conference presentations; theater productions; symposia; conferences; and art exhibitions. We feel strongly that this professional activity is essential to excellent teaching. And our excellent teaching has been recognized: RC lecturers have won 17 teaching awards in the last four years. Thus, when research grants and awards are open to lecturers, we have done very well at winning them, but there still remains a substantial number for which we are not eligible.
Clearly, except for the title, many RC lecturers are indistinguishable from tenure-track faculty in terms of teaching excellence, institutional service and professional accomplishments. Yet we are in an anomalous position, because the official University definition of lecturers does not correspond to our reality. According to the 1993 SACUA report, "Life on the Other Side of the Tenure Track," lecturers "have very limited participation in faculty governance" and "little, if any, voice in planning the curriculum. They are usually hired to teach specific courses with specific objectives, often entry-level courses." The University views lecturers as temporary appointments: as stated in the LS&A document on Temporary Academic Personnel, the title of lecturer "in particular should be used for a new Ph.D. (or someone who has nearly completed a Ph.D.) who has yet to obtain a regular academic position." Officially, lecturers are not expected to pursue their own scholarly activities. LS&A takes the position that although lecturers may choose, on their own, to engage in creative activities or research, neither these nor departmental service are included in the definition of lecturer positions and are not to be considered in any performance review. This contrasts with the reality in the Residential College, where salary increases and promotion within the lecturer ranks are based on three factors: teaching performance, service, and scholarly or creative activities.
This discrepancy between the University definition of lecturers and our reality has had some unfortunate consequences, two of which I will mention. First, as I have already discussed, we are denied access to some of the internal grants and awards that would support and enhance our professional development: examples include the Career Development Award for Faculty Women, Michigan Arts Award, Michigan Humanities Award and Rackham Research Award. We generally remain an "invisible faculty" in terms of compensation, recognition and inclusion in faculty life. In recent years, in LS&A, progress has been made in opening up awards and grants to long-term lecturers. However, much remains to be done in terms of professional support, compensation and recognition if career lecturers are to be treated as full citizens in the University community.
Second, those lecturers who might want to advance into a tenure-track position encounter a "glass ceiling." Some people might argue that there is no barrier to lecturers applying for tenure-track positions within the University and, in theory, lecturers are free to do so. However, let's look at the situation more closely: the reality is that in proportion to their numbers, extremely few lecturers ever advance into the tenure track. This fact was noted in the 1993 SACUA report: "Lecturers ... generally lack opportunities for promotion and advancement." Is this because lecturers are predominantly people who have lesser qualifications, less drive and are inferior scholars? Are they people who would never make it into the "big leagues" no matter what opportunities they had? We think not, based on our experience in the Residential College.
Then what is the explanation for this impermeable membrane that prevents even highly-qualified lecturers from gaining tenure-track status? I believe that an important factor is that the research grants (both internal and external), career development awards, lab space, sabbaticals and other perks that are routinely awarded to tenure-track faculty and are essential to their professional development and advancement are often denied to lecturers. The University's official explanation is that lecturers are not eligible for many of these perks because we should just be teaching, and not engage in research or University service. This, in my view, is a classic "Catch-22"---everyone knows that in order for anyone who has been a lecturer for a number of years to be seriously considered for a tenure-track position, that person must have a record of obtaining research grants and awards that prove one's commitment and excellence as a scholar. For career lecturers, this situation constitutes a virtual caste system, rather than a system based on merit. The fact is, a recent Ph.D. who works as a lecturer for one or two years still has a reasonable chance of obtaining a tenure-track position; but the longer one is a lecturer, the slimmer the chance of obtaining a tenure-track position. Although some lecturers do not desire tenure-track positions, it's important that those who do be afforded the opportunity to compete for them on an equal basis.
Within the RC itself we feel valued and supported, although underpaid. But the restrictions we encounter as lecturers in the larger University have an impact on the degree to which we can pursue professional activities. To us, it seems to be an unfortunate underutilization of talented and experienced persons to place a limit on their professional development. In our opinion, access to research funds, awards and career development opportunities should be based strictly on merit and not on the status of the applicant.
Now let us examine my contention that "the lecturer issue is largely a women's issue." The statistics are dramatic: as noted in the 1993 SACUA report, 37 percent of all women faculty are lecturers, whereas only 10 percent of the male faculty are lecturers. In the RC this tendency is further exaggerated: 85 percent of our women faculty are lecturers. In the words of one colleague, we are a "feminized unit," with 57 percent of our total faculty being women. This is the reverse image of the University at large, where women comprise only 27 percent of the total faculty. As noted in the SACUA report, in the decade between 1982 and 1992 women made gains in tenure-track positions, accounting for 57 percent of the net additions; but they made even larger gains in non-tenure track positions, accounting for 72 percent of those net additions. Only 34 percent of the newly added women were in tenure-track positions, vs. 66 percent in non-tenure-track positions.
It is clear that women academics at the University are clustered in lecturer positions, with low salaries, no guarantee of job security and slim chance for advancement. As Prof. Martha West noted in her article, "Women Faculty---Frozen in Time," in the July-August issue of Academe, "when we look at the gap between the percentage of women on our faculties and the percentage of women among American recipients of Ph.D.s, the situation for women is getting worse, not better." She points out that this gap has almost doubled over a 10-year period, from 8 percent to 16 percent; in 1993, women earned 47 percent, or almost half, of the Ph.D.s earned by U.S. citizens, but only 31 percent of tenure-track faculty are women. West asks, "Where are all the women recently earning Ph.D.s going?" Her answer: not into the tenure ranks. In contrast to women, whose "tenure rates have remained nearly static, with a net increase of only 1.5 percent over 20 years, men's rates have increased 8 percent." West concludes that "it should be no surprise that an increasing percentage of women are found in the lower status, less prestigious, and less secure ranks of instructor and lecturer," with the percentage of full-time women lecturers growing "from 47.5 percent in 1983 to 56.5 percent today." These differences are most pronounced at research universities such as ours.
Judith Gappa and David Leslie, in their book, The Invisible Faculty, point out many of the problems that are faced by lecturers. We have less than full citizenship in the academic community, restricted opportunities for advancement and professional development, and substantially lower salaries. This is not an abstract problem of "them vs. us," for as Prof. Terry McDonald, associate dean for academic appointments, recently observed, we are your colleagues, your friends, and your spouses. And we are mostly women, women who completed graduate school with high hopes for the same sort of academic careers that men aspire to. What goes wrong? The answers may be uncomfortable, and may implicate all of us. Do we really care to find the answers?