The fight for increased job security is nothing new for UC lecturers. About 1,600 lecturers lose their jobs every year. Amid COVID-19, UCOP announced there would be no layoffs through June 30. But unless the UC makes these protections more permanent, lecturers will be left with the same job precarity they had before the virus.
For UC Santa Cruz lecturer Roxi Power, working from home means competing with her teenage daughter for limited broadband access and living space.
It also means her workload has almost tripled. She spent her entire spring break trying to build a virtual curriculum for her two Writing 2 seminars.
“I’m personally redesigning all of my curriculum in a way that probably would have required at least one whole quarter worth of preparation, crunched into about a week,” Power said.
Her situation isn’t unique. Lecturers across the UC system spent spring break scrambling to transition their courses online with almost no advance notice. And many of them are parents who now find themselves juggling childcare and teaching at the same time.
During a Zoom press conference on April 10 with lecturers and librarians represented by the UC-American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT), three lecturers on the call held their children while answering questions from reporters. For UC San Diego pre-continuing lecturer Alison Black, the erosion of a work-home divide was almost too much to handle.
“These times just make us feel really alone, even though we know everyone else is going through this too,” Black said during the press conference. “[…] It’s so much that I actually considered taking unpaid leave for the whole quarter. I was about ready to throw my hands up and be like, ‘this is impossible. Who in the world thinks this is possible?’”
In response to COVID-19, the UC Office of the President (UCOP) announced on April 2 there would be no pandemic-related layoffs for all career employees through June 30. However, UC-AFT President Mia McIver wondered whether this policy applied to lecturers and librarians as well — a group excluded from the career employee classification, which only applies to staff who are not represented by a union.
After trying to get clarification from UCOP, and after the union pressured the UC to amend its policy to include lecturers and librarians, McIver received notice on April 6 that all UC-AFT faculty and librarians would be protected from spring 2020 layoffs.
According to UCOP Associate Director of Media Relations Andrew Gordon, lecturers and librarians were included in the initial April 2 no-layoffs policy, and no revision was made.
But the April 2 announcement didn’t mention academic employees.
“This is a very, very important and dramatic shift in UCOP’s typical stance,” McIver said in an email, in response to Gordon’s statement. “They usually insist that we are merely part-time, short-term contractors who exist to provide the UC with flexibility […] UC-AFT has been fighting for decades to have lecturers recognized as career employees who need a teaching-focused career path at the UC. Our current contract campaign is largely focused on this issue. It would be wonderful to know that UCOP agrees with us on the importance of supporting teaching faculty, whether it’s during a public health emergency or not.”
While most UC-AFT members are relieved to know they’ll be able to continue working through June, their contract is precarious regardless of a public health emergency. Their latest contract expired on Jan. 31, but until a new one is negotiated, the old contract stands.
Some campuses, like UCLA, have turnover rates as high as 45 percent each year.
“Rather than my experience and my ability being assets, they’re actually a liability,” said UCLA pre-continuing lecturer John Branstetter during a press conference. “Because I’ve been around longer, I’m more likely to get kicked out.”
The job precarity lecturers have faced for years, combined with the rapid transition toward online courses, has emphasized the need for greater protections, McIver said. She added that the union proposed to UCOP that all courses taught in-person before COVID-19 should again be taught in-person after COVID-19, but UCOP rejected the proposal.
If online teaching were to become the new normal for the UC post-COVID-19, both students and teachers would suffer, said UCSC continuing lecturer Roxi Power.
“There’s a lot of people who have been talking about using this as an opportunity to decrease the amount of labor that we’re willing to give at any given time. And then there’s others who are basically articulating it as a time to develop new strategies to protect our jobs,” Power said. “So basically, we’re just demonstrating to our other colleagues that we’re willing to be [on] call, at will and do anything at any time. And that’s a dangerous precedent.”