LINGUIST List 12.913

Sun Apr 1 2001

Disc: The Role of Lecturers in Universities

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Mary S. Erbaugh, Lecturer level posts
  2. Mark Lovas, On the role of lecturers in Universities
  3. Roger Lass, Re: 12.903, Disc: The Role of Lecturers in Universities

Message 1: Lecturer level posts

Date: Sun, 01 Apr 2001 16:22:08 +0800
From: Mary S. Erbaugh <>
Subject: Lecturer level posts

Hiring lecturers, with PhD's for short-term contracts with poor pay
and no benefits has been a major trend in US universities for the past
20 years. Now almost 50% of classes are taught by such
non-tenure-track staff. And the University of California system
fought a disgraceful 20 year battle against legally considering
teaching assistants as "employees", in order the avoid following
contractual labor laws. (The university lost in court last year. But
given current politics, they may win in the long run.) Economic
"reforms" in higher ed in Britain and Australia, particularly, imitate
the worst aspects of the US model.

Creating a two class system for faculty pushes us even farther toward
"Kentucky Fried Education". It is bad for teachers, bad for research,
and bad for students. The students, of course, are often left out of
the discussion entirely.

There are some good publications on this. There is a special website
for adjunct faculty at They are affiliated with
the journal (and organizing group) Adujunct Advocate. (They offer
health insurance also.)

The magazine Lingua Franca often has good articles (though it was
better before it got bought out by a journal for university
administrators!) One of the best discussions of gypsy scholars and
the broader issues is historian Zachary Karabell's What's College For?
The Struggle to Define American Higher Education (Basic Books 1998).

Discrimination against part time faculty often overlaps with gender
(and race) issues. Women 'language teaching slaves' have notoriously
bad working conditions.

One of the very best books about gender issues in the professoriate
(and other professions) is by our fellow linguist, Virginia Valian--Why
so slow? The advancement of women. (MIT 1998). It also contains the
best summary I have seen on research on gender schemas, and on child

Shame is a barrier to enlightenment & organizing for better
conditions. Open discussion, as on this list, is indispensible.

Mary S. Erbaugh
Department of Chinese, Translation, and Linguistics
City University of Hong Kong
Tat Chee Avenue
Kowloon, HONG KONG

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Message 2: On the role of lecturers in Universities

Date: Sun, 01 Apr 2001 08:42:50
From: Mark Lovas <>
Subject: On the role of lecturers in Universities

Dear Linguist List,

I've read a few contributions about the "role of Lecturers in
Universities" and there are a few important points which I've missed
in the contributions I've read.

First of all, there is a rather literal-minded complaint which was
long ago made in the United States by "Miss Manners" that when a
person with a Ph.D. insists upon using the title "Doctor", this lends
confusion to the language.

Plainly a sociolinguist can provide a better explanation than I can,
but if a Ph.D. wishes to be addressed in a manner which acknowledges
their training and professionalism, I sincerely doubt whether the
English language will thereby suffer a critical blow to its integrity
or vitality. (I am sure that a professional linguists can supply
richer argumentation than I am now doing.)

Secondly, the significance of one's cultural locus cannot be

As an American with a Ph.D. earned in the United States, but operating
for several years in Central Europe (Bratislava) I have learned the
hard way that continuing the informality which was natural in the
United States carries a price. It would appear that in Central Europe
there is a tradition of using titles dating back to the times of the
Hapsburg Monarchy.
 One striking instance of this was the time I received a letter from a 
local bookstore specializing in English language books. It was addressed to 
me with the prefix, "Titul". As the author of the letter did not know my 
official title, and presumably did not wish to offend me, they had inserted 
this variable name.

My experience has been that if I allow students to address me by my
first name, it is simply confusing for them. I imagine that they
identify me as another American, and the local opinion of Americans
seems to be that they are informal to a bizarre extreme. And my
experience has been that being placed in that category is neither
beneficial to my own self-respect nor to my ability to maintain a
professional relationship with students.

On the other hand, insofar as one wants students to feel a certain
freedom to express themselves, using a title is unattractive. I have
not found a solution to this problem.

One final thought.

When I was in the States, I remember a friend who was then teaching at
a small college in the American Midwest telling me that if he did not
insist he be addressed as "Doctor", people drew the conclusion that he
did not have a Ph.D. But, since he did have a Ph.D., he resorted to
the title to avoid that assumption.

Plainly, at a first-rate research university, the title is redundant.
But for those who operate in a more austere environment, the title may
have a point.

Mark Lovas, Ph.D.
Philosophy Lecturer,
NOTE: this is my self-identification, nicely ambiguous (I think/hope) 
between the actuality of my under-paid status-- which would be picked out by 
local uses of 'Lecturer' or 'Lektor'-- and the use of the term within the 
British system. My American employer refers to me as an "Instructor"--which 
really means: just another easily replaceable component of the system.....

City University Bratislava
External Member,
Institute for European Studies (Comenius University)

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Message 3: Re: 12.903, Disc: The Role of Lecturers in Universities

Date: Sun, 01 Apr 2001 12:07:10 +0200
From: Roger Lass <>
Subject: Re: 12.903, Disc: The Role of Lecturers in Universities

I'd like to add a fcouple of dcomments. Here in South Africa the
situation is rather similar, and as a Senior Professor I find it
appalling. What we are tending to do is hire 'assistant lecturers' on
no-benefit contract posts, and then dump them at the end. ('Lecturer'
here = Assistant Prof in the US, and is legally defined as a
tenure-track post.)

One thing that people have not mentioned, which is preety disgusting,
but partly understandable, is the motivation for much of this rather
nasty treatment of the young: and that is simply money. If a
university is 'being businesslike' (one of the slogans these days),
and is really drastically short of money, the chapest way to get
bodies is to hire on contract, because this is a much snmaller
investment (no pension for one thing, and at our university pensions
are noncontributory, so the university pays all), and no obligation to
move the employee up the scale. This is cynical and destructivce of
academia as a career--I have known plenty of disgruntled junior
lecureres in their 40s who haven't a bean, because they've never been
able to put anything away on their pitiful salaries.

On the other hand, at least at our institution we have no
research/teaching distinction: it's assumed that research is half at
least of everybody's responsibility, including the contract lecturers,
who unfortunately are usually so overburdened with teaching (up to
14-20 hour a week in some departments) that they have no time to do
the research that might get them off contract and onto a tenure
track. A lovely Catch-22, and it doesn't look as if, in the current
finanical situation, there's ,much to be done about it, if we're
ghoing to have the minimal body-count to handle undergraduate

But I couldn't have more sympathy for the lectuers' position, since as
a PhD supervisor I've often been in the position of having to rack my
brains to find ways for these younger people to make enough of a
living to finish their PhDs and get a full-time post with
benefits. But the good ones usually do: and I've found that the most
important thing, given the shortage of tenurable posts and the huge
competition, is this: Publish Early. We normally would not hire even a
contract lecturer without some publication, and we encourage our 4th
year studnets ('Honours', technically postgrads,m since we have a
3-year degree) to publish. And those who do usually end up with
permanent posts, even if not in the countries they want.

Roger Lass
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