Letters to the Editor do not reflect the editorial opinion of The Daily Free Press. They are solely the opinion of the author.
Looking over the syllabi for my history courses on Western Civilization and the Russian and Chinese Revolutions at Boston University, I feel a great deal of excitement about the place where I teach. As one of the first universities to admit female students on an equal basis, and the alma mater of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Boston University has a tradition of overturning prejudice and complacency and challenging its students, faculty and community to continually strive to make the world a better place.
For that reason, beyond the beauty of its setting and the excellence of its educational resources, Boston University is a wonderful place to teach. I always look forward to the frenzy of activity at the beginning of the fall semester — prepping syllabi, planning readings and meeting new students. However, in addition to the usual butterflies that come with the beginning of a new academic year, this fall I feel a much deeper sense of anxiety — and I know many of my lecturer and instructor colleagues do too.
Although lecturers like me constitute a large portion of BU faculty, we are denied fair pay, reliable contracts and basic job security. As a lecturer who has taught at Boston University for well over a decade, I share the serious concerns of most faculty regarding cost of living, promotion and basic transparency — and I see how these issues impact the students we teach. For over a year, we have been negotiating in good faith with BU to improve our basic working conditions. This fall brings heightened anxiety for lecturers, as management’s intransigence at the bargaining table has left us frustrated, and with no choice but to take further action.
For example, BU management still holds the authoritarian position that it should be able to deny lecturers re-appointment without offering any recourse to outside arbitration in the event of punitive or capricious non-renewal of contract. This policy is corrosive not only to morale, but also to basic academic freedom.
As has already been reported by The Boston Globe, most lecturers are compelled to work “side gigs,” in addition to teaching, publishing and mentoring students in order to support their families and pay off their student debt. Putting the majority of BU faculty in this position is no way to run this great university, but it is a sure-fire way to ruin it.
That is why we are prepared to strike this semester, in order protect the dignity of our profession and the best traditions of our university. Even though I would rather be in the classroom talking to my students about Tsar Nicholas II, the Boxer Rebellion or the Magna Carta, I am more than prepared to be out on the Commonwealth Avenue this October, marching with my fellow lecturers for a fair and decent contract.
R.S. Deese is the author of “Surf Music” and “We Are Amphibians: Julian and Aldous Huxley on the Future of Our Species.” An alumnus of Boston University (GRS 1995, 2007), he teaches history and social science for Metropolitan College and the College of General Studies at Boston University.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article included a grammatical error — using the phrase “over a large portion,” instead of simply saying “a large portion.” The current version of the article reflects this change.
It is also worth putting Sam’s wonderful editorial into context. After adjusting for cost of living, the pay of BU’s lecturers ranks 31 out of 33 R1 private universities in US. Furthermore, according to Chronicle of Higher Education data about average faculty salaries in Massachusetts, BU lecturers earn below the average while tenure-line faculty earn well above the average.
Student learning should be the focus of teaching faculty. By paying teaching faculty less than it costs to afford living in the Boston area, BU is compromising student learning. A world-class institution should be able to do better.
I’m grateful to the editors of The Daily Free Press for printing this letter, though readers should know that the letter was significantly abridged and edited by the Daily Free Press before it was published.
The original letter I sent included a section on where BU ranks among private R1 universities in terms of faculty compensation (thanks to my colleague Jessica Bozek for raising that issue in the comment thread!), and it also included a section on the ratio of BU faculty who have been classed by the administration as non-tenure track.
In its growing reliance on non-tenure track faculty, the administration of BU is following a national trend. According the the American Union of University Professors, “Non-tenure-track positions of all types now account for over 70 percent of all instructional staff appointments in American higher education.” https://www.aaup.org/issues/contingency/background-facts
This trend has had, and will have, a serious impact on the education that students receive. I encourage readers to take a look at publicly available data to learn more about these important issues.