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October 05, 2002

Truth in Advertising


The L.A. Times on October 5 published some letters from non-tenure track lecturers that showcase the low priority the modern university places on its teaching staff and on the education of students generally. From Nick Tingle of Goleta:

I have taught as a lecturer in the UC [Univeristy of California] system for 22 years. I do not want the ‘respect [or] rewards of tenure.’ I want the respect that the University of California, considered by many the greatest publicly funded university in the world, should accord its teaching faculty. Lecturers are the teachers of the UC system. However, lecturers have less job security than K-12 teaches and make less money, at the entry level and in terms of years of service, than their colleagues at community colleges…Clearly, the UC does not respect its teaching faculty and, by extension, its state-mandated educational mission.

From Aneil Rallin, Assistant Professor of Literature, Writing Studies at Cal State San Marcos:

…administrators at most universities across the country think of lecturers as ‘cheap labor,’ but I am made much more distraught by my colleagues who often collude with administrators …[to] treat lecturers as second class citizens.

Perhaps an even more telling letter came from May Akabogu-Collins, who happily left a full-time, tenure-track position as an assistant professor of economics to serve as a lecturer, enabling her to make more money by writing freelance articles in her now plentiful spare time:

…I don’t mind at all the mindless teaching of lower-division economics courses, which requires little or no preparation.

Gee, did you ever wonder why most college classes were so boring, uninformative, needlessly confusing and eminently forgettable?

Remember Those Exciting College Lectures?

Did it ever dawn on you how much information could really be communicated in the amount of time an average college class absorbs? Imagine if the instruction was designed not by some underpaid junior academic who is happy that teaching you requires "little or no preparation"(!), but by a staff of professionals utilizing modern multi-media technology? And particularly by a staff that was incentivized, say, with financial bonuses based on the amount of material retained by students two years down the line? I have said it before, and I say it again, the actual instruction at modern universities is a joke, and a wildly out-of-date joke at that.

If universities had a truth-in-advertising law, this notice would appended to all university recruiting materials:

On the advice of counsel we make the following declaration: The purpose of the university degree which we may or may not award you is solely to certify to future employers or graduate schools that you are a reasonably bright, hard working individual. In return for this certification we demand four years of tuition, and the right to solicit you endlessly for donations. This certification will be accomplished based on two methods: we will examine your standardized test scores and high school record to ascertain your intellectual horsepower, and make a decision on whether or not to admit you. (We reserve the right to fudge this decision for a number of reasons of our own, but, what the heck, we promise not to inform employers and grad schools.) We will then throw a whole lot of essentially random busy work at you for four years to ascertain that you are motivated enough to get through the program. We make no representations that you will learn anything on any subject, useful or otherwise; or, if by chance you do, that you will retain it for any period of time in the future; or that the grades you receive are in any way indicative of much of anything. Have a nice day.



posted by Friedrich at October 5, 2002


Dear Blowhards:

I fear I must agree that, if the university had to adhere to a code of truth in advertising, the statement would have to read much as you have written it. When I hear administrators talking of students as so much "through-put" I have to wonder what has happened to education (as "educare" the leading forth of the individual).

But I must distance myself from the adjunct who describes his or her teaching as mindless. I have not spent much of my "free" time over the past 3.5 years writing a book on how to teach writing because because I think my work is mindless. I have put in the time because I think the opposite. Teaching at the university level can be a very meaningful activity. I say this in spite of the fact that my working situation is horribble and in spite of the fact that the administrators of the university do not apparently share my views. I say it because I believe in education and am very saddening that today's students are not being educated.

Nick Tingle

Posted by: Nick Tingle on October 12, 2002 3:06 PM

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