At the foot of the ladder

When one lecturer in a humanities department first arrived at Yale, he was fresh out of graduate school and hired to teach a seminar. He kept long hours, working until 10:30 p.m., and came into the office on weekends as well. Despite his efforts, he felt unnoticed by senior faculty in the department, who he said see lecturers as “just passing through.” That lack of permanency leaves him feeling vulnerable.

“I felt like nobody knew how hard I was working,” said the lecturer, who asked to remain anonymous to protect his job.

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For a host of reasons — from economic efficiency to the need for full-time teachers for introductory classes — Yale has been hiring non-permanent teaching faculty at a higher rate than it has been hiring tenured and term professors over the past several years. This nationwide trend, known as “casualization,” has drawn criticism from many in the academic world, who point to the lack of job security in these positions and argue that it lowers the quality of education.

At the same time, lecturers and lectors at Yale face what they describe as insufficient professional development opportunities and a lack of integration with the Yale community. This group is by no means an insignificant population: Non-ladder faculty — which includes part-time adjunct professors of varying rank, lecturers, senior lecturers, lectors, senior lectors and senior lectors II — make up more than a quarter of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

These faculty members, hired specifically to teach, lead lives dramatically divergent from the ladder faculty, whose research determines their professional success and whose status at the University is much clearer. Though some of the differences between ladder and non-ladder faculty are to be expected, for many non-ladder faculty, certain University policies and the attitudes of some of their peers still lead to condescending treatment and feelings of alienation.

‘ECONOMICALLY EFFICIENT’

Although both faculty and administrators said they believe Yale has managed to resist excessive casualization, the proportion of non-ladder faculty has increased over the last decade.

Since the 1998-’99 academic year, the number of non-ladder faculty in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences has increased by 20 percent, while the number of tenured and term faculty has increased by about 14 percent. The trend, administrators explained, has likely resulted from a combination of hiring practices and cultural shifts.

When enrollments rise temporarily, administrators said, hiring non-ladder faculty can be cheaper and more pragmatic than hiring ladder faculty — whom the University must keep on for several years.

“It’s economically efficient,” Frances Rosenbluth, deputy provost for faculty development, said. “We can’t just balloon the faculty [when there is enrollment pressure].”

At the same time, even some part-time non-ladder faculty positions may be eliminated as the University tightens its belt, Provost Peter Salovey said, particularly short-term appointments that replace professors on leave.

The casualization trend is also due in part to a change in the cultural practices of certain departments, Salovey said. Many professors do not want to teach introductory courses, he said, and the University has responded to this shift by hiring more non-ladder faculty in those subjects. Yale may have also increased the number of lecturer positions offered to the spouses of scholars they hope to hire as tenure-track professors, Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said, adding that this is common practice at many universities.

Yale College Dean Mary Miller offered a different explanation, pointing to the 2003 report published by the Committee on Yale College Education. This report revamped Yale’s distributional requirements, mandating that students take courses in three disciplines and two skills — quantitative reasoning and writing — as well as a foreign language, which rely heavily on lectors and lecturers. Expanding enrollments could have led to a corresponding increase in hiring, she said.

UNSTABLE FOOTING

The body of non-ladder faculty may be larger, but its members from year to year are never the same. Because one of the conditions of most lecturers’ contracts is that they are rehired each year — unless they are promoted to a longer-term contract — the lack of job security puts them in a precarious position at the University.

“I don’t really know where I stand ever,” the humanities lecturer said. He described the hiring process as “opaque,” adding that he is never entirely certain how he will be evaluated. Although he currently has a multi-year contract, his future at Yale after it expires remains unclear.

In response, he said, each year several of his colleagues go on the job market for tenure-track positions elsewhere in order to gain leverage in the rehiring process.

In some departments, particularly those of languages, lectors and lecturers are hired and let go on an as-needed basis, filling instructional holes when current faculty cannot meet enrollment pressure.

Edwin Duval, director of undergraduate studies for the French Department, said the lectors who are hired in such situations are generally well aware of their temporary status. Rosenbluth argued that short-term contracts allow non-ladder faculty to eventually pursue other opportunities, including tenure-track jobs, instead of creating a permanent or semi-permanent group of second-class faculty.

“We want to make sure that people who come here as non-ladder faculty are making good career moves and have the opportunity to develop their own scholarship as well,” Rosenbluth said.

NO FREE LUNCH

On a day-to-day level, other differences between ladder and non-ladder faculty can make life at Yale occasionally difficult, nearly all of the nine lecturers and 11 ladder faculty interviewed said.

The anonymous humanities lecturer advises 10 students. Meeting with them in his office feels a bit too formal, but coffee does not seem official enough. Lunch with a student would be ideal — but he is only able to do this about once a semester.

According to a Provost’s Office policy, ladder faculty receive an unlimited number of free lunches in the dining halls. In contrast, non-ladder faculty receive only three per year.

“The kinds of classes we teach are the seminars with small groups of students,” the humanities lecturer said. “It doesn’t make much pedagogical sense to not allow that group of people — arguably the most involved with students — to have the free lunches.”

Emily Bakemeier, deputy provost for the humanities, said her office has tried to associate each lecturer and lector with a residential college in order to offer them free or reduced-price meals. Still, the lecturers interviewed appeared not to be part of this program.

And for lecturers who are new parents, there are other disparities. Tenure-track faculty and graduate students each receive a semester of teaching relief for child-rearing, during which their clock — to attain tenure or receive the degree — stops. Non-ladder faculty receive eight weeks, just like research faculty. But until the policy was changed last spring, Bakemeier said, non-ladder faculty received only three weeks for maternity leave.

‘JUST PASSING THROUGH’

Even worse than the smaller annoyances — from the full-price lunches to the shortened leaves — is the feeling of separation and condescension from their ladder counterparts, some non-ladder faculty said.

On one occasion, having already taught at Yale for two years, as the humanities lecturer was checking his mail, a senior professor walked up to him and asked curtly: “Can I help you?”

“I think it’s very telling of the culture,” the lecturer said. “To a lot of senior faculty, junior people are just passing through.”

The academic role of lecturers and lectors varies widely across departments — they teach language courses, laboratory courses, lectures and seminars. Similarly, the relationship between non-ladder faculty and ladder faculty also varies, professors said.

Chairmen of several language and literature departments said lectors play a crucial role in the department, developing curricula and preparing students for higher-level work. Bettyann Kevles, a lecturer in the History Department, pointed to numerous benefits of being a part of the Yale faculty, including extensive resources and the scholarly community.

But the English department’s mailboxes are color-coded, distinguishing ladder faculty from non-ladder faculty. And in one science department, a lecturer was not included in the annual departmental report until recently and is not listed in the description for a laboratory course for which she is the primary instructor.

“The administration of positions varies from chair to chair,” said the science lecturer, who wished to remain anonymous. “Yale should have some policies and not allow departments to handle things the way they want.”

In 2007, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted to allow lecturers and lectors to attend and vote at full faculty meetings. And in Yale’s recent self-study report, produced as part of this year’s reaccreditation process, the subsection on ladder faculty recommends the “codification of non-ladder faculty roles within the department.”

Still, the science and humanities lecturers both said they rarely interact with the senior faculty in their department.

Classics professor Victor Bers said he believes a degree of snobbery is involved in this separation, but other professors attributed a lack of interaction to differences in personalities and academic interests, rather than an institutional hierarchy.

“Full-time professors and lecturers are teaching different subjects and courses,” Paul Turner, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, said. “I don’t feel that they’re treated as second-class citizens, but they’re understood to be different types of employees.”

‘TEACHING THE LOWER LEVEL’

The casualization of faculty has been criticized by organizations including the American Association of University Professors and the Graduate Employees and Students Organization. In 2003, GESO published a report entitled “Casual in Blue,” decrying casualization at Yale. The report claimed that the phenomenon “undermines the quality of education … diminishes faculty governance and hampers research; and … creates a crisis in the job market for those who wish to become faculty.”

Some faculty said being immersed in research and scholarly inquiry is crucial to one’s ability to teach well, but noted a flip side: Because lecturers do not have to do research, they can focus more time on teaching.

“A university like Yale wants to have its faculty on the forefront of research,” Rosenbluth said. “But the frontier is so far out from what undergraduates know that it’s good to have people who want to teach the lower level.”

For example, the Economics Department employs three full-time lecturers to teach introductory seminars for students who prefer them to a large lecture course. The Mathematics Department hires two-year Gibbs instructors and three-year Gibbs assistant professors to teach lower-level courses, including calculus.

According to raw data from the reaccreditation self-study, non-ladder faculty receive higher teaching evaluations than ladder faculty. After controlling for variables that could interfere with the results, the evaluation averages are roughly equal.

But regardless of the quality of their teaching, part-timers will likely be the first let go when economic times are tough.

“It’s unfortunate because they do the most excellent work and are the most vulnerable,” said Leslie Brisman, a tenured English professor. “It is a little crazy that the way to save money is to shrink the population of people who are paid the poorest.”

Rather than spending hiring funds on hiring full professors — who are considered the equivalent of two junior faculty — Brisman suggested that departments “cut from the top” and hire associate professors instead of full professors. The savings could be used to hire more lecturers, he said.

“Neither the students nor the quality of the intellectual community as a whole would suffer,” Brisman said. “We can save money for all the wonderful teachers that we need at the lecturer level.”

REVAMPING POLICIES

In response to the concerns about professional development opportunities, Yale has moved in recent years to re-examine administrative policies toward lecturers.

Despite their focus on teaching, many lecturers, including Italian lector Michael Farina and the humanities lecturer, continue to conduct independent research. For those who want teaching relief to do so, the Provost’s Office introduced in 2008 a professional development leave program for non-ladder faculty. The program is by application, and a committee must approve the specific project, but lecturers said they believe the program is a positive step.

And in the reaccreditation self-study, committee members made a series of recommendations to improve the quality of professional life for non-ladder faculty at Yale. These included measures to create a cohesive professional development plan with yearly orientation sessions, annual evaluation meetings between non-ladder faculty and their chairmen, more available conference and professional development opportunities from outside Yale, and consistent guidelines for conference funding.

Though several lectors in language departments reported that their salaries are lower than the standard of living, Bakemeier said lectors at Yale are paid well relative to the market salary. Still, Yale has been systematically increasing salaries, and Bakemeier said the University expects to continue doing so “if the economy allows.”

The 2008-’09 Committee on the Economic Status of the Faculty, which convenes every two years, has lectors on it for the first time and will be critically examining the salaries for non-ladder faculty as a whole, Bakemeier said.

But all of the non-ladder faculty interviewed said they enjoy their jobs, despite the institutional roadblocks.

“I get to concentrate on what I love,” Farina said. “And that’s teaching.”

Comments

  • alum ’04

    “Casual in Blue” came out in ’98 or ’99, i think – much earlier than 2003. GESO did publish a bunch of reports in 2003, including Casual in Blue’s sequel, “Too casual, too blue,” “blackboard blues,” on casualization and teaching, a report on childcare for graduate employee families, and another one I’m forgetting… Anyway, this needs to be corrected…

  • :)

    Michael Farina is a much better teacher than many of the professors I have had at Yale. Ti vogliamo molto bene, Michael.

  • Peter Dobkin Hall

    Excellent piece!

    But the real problem of “casualization” for aspiring academics is the lack of paid leaves and lack of research support. Without these, casual teaching becomes a treadmill that leaves little time for the research and publishing essential to securing ladder appointments. The effect is the creation of a permanent academic underclass.

  • GSAS Alum

    Thanks for this article. This is one of the biggest issues in contemporary university life. As a member of another institution’s non-ladder faculty, I am heartened to see the YDN examining these matters in such detail. Keep up the good work.

  • David Huyssen, GRD ’10

    Thank you, Divya Subrahmanyam, for writing so thoughtfully on an issue that affects nearly all levels of academic experience — undergraduate, graduate, and faculty of all stripes. Here are a few additional numbers from Yale’s own Office of Institutional Research worth throwing into the mix:

    From 1975 to 2005, the number of junior ladder faculty lines in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences actually decreased by 96, while the number of full-time, non-ladder faculty increased by 100. From 1982 to 2006, tenured faculty ranks in Yale’s FAS increased by 33, while the number of post-doctoral fellows (who both teach and research in many instances, but similar to non-ladder faculty have little job security) increased by 209. From 1976 to 2009 enrollment for graduate students seeking doctorates in the humanities and social sciences at Yale increased by 598, more than doubling, while undergraduate enrollment has only increased by 159. With rare exceptions, graduate employee teaching is a practical and professional necessity for every one of those graduate students. These numbers give a clear indication that Yale’s teaching corps is trending rapidly toward a temporary, expendable, more “economically efficient” — that is, cheaper — alternative.

    Yale is not the exception to casualization, but the model of it.

  • Jane Kyle

    With respect to the pay for non-ladder faculty, you quote a source that claims the salaries are at market level. This tells us nothing, unless you know, as I do that salaries nationwide for adjunct faculty at market level are shockingly low. A ladder faculty member may receives as much as tens of thousands of dollars more for teaching a class than an adjunct. Adjunct faculty who teach multiple classes up to what is considered a normal load are hard pressed to approach the poverty level with a composite wage. It behooves your paper to put these salaries in print so that paying customers can see for themselves. A parent who pays $50,000 per year to send a child to Yale might be shocked to know that introductory required courses are being taught by people earning slave wages. I do not exaggerate.

  • KMD

    Left out of this debate is the fact that Yalies receive many many hours of their instruction from grad students like me. The bloated PhD programs here exist only to provide inexpensive teaching hours. One job in academia comes open for every ten PhDs minted. At liberal arts colleges and at state school honors colleges students can go four years without being taught by a non-professor. Why is Yale skimping and how will this alter its reputation for excellence in the coming years?