Op-Ed, Opinion

OP-ED: Is BU a profit-driven corporation or an institution of higher education?

Op-Eds do not reflect the editorial opinion of The Daily Free Press. They are solely the opinion of the author(s).

Verónica Rodríguez Ballesteros is a Senior Lecturer in Spanish at Boston University.

Hessann Farooqi (CAS ‘22) is the Student Body Vice President at Boston University.

Recently, the Boston University Student Government voted to support demands made by Service Employees International Union Local 509, the union that represents all non-tenure track faculty on campus. But the faculty has been stuck in a bargaining contract standstill for months, with the University refusing to budge on basic workplace issues: job security, better access to technology and equitable pay for lecturers.

Bargaining with SEIU 509 comes at a particularly prosperous time for Boston University — when BU Administration has publicly touted its financial surplus and shared its success in an open letter to the campus community.

Yvonne Tang / DFP Staff

“Our endowment performance this past year was spectacular,” Boston University President Robert A. Brown wrote in his “State of the University” letter in October. President Brown continued, sharing that BU’s estimated investment return was 41% for the year 2020, pushing the University’s endowment to $3.35 billion.

Yet, these tremendous financial gains aren’t benefiting the educators that make Boston University the world-class institution it is today. While university rankings and endowments continue to break records, students are paying more in tuition than ever before. The financial bottom line is clear, but the very people who contribute to this success are being left behind.

That’s why it’s incredibly fitting that faculty and students have come together to tell Boston University to invest in a future that benefits everyone. During the most difficult times of the pandemic, committed lecturers rose to the challenge of pivoting to remote teaching mid-semester and kept the next academic year afloat with their hard work and dedication to their students. Yet, Boston University isn’t keeping up their end of the bargain in union negotiations or as an employer.

While University IT recommends faculty upgrade their technology every four years, there is no formal policy for financial support to tackle these recommended upgrades. Students have lent their laptops to professors just so the class can continue. During the pandemic, lecturers had to purchase equipment to teach remotely, and the University hasn’t reimbursed them for this expense and still refuses to commit to investing in “tech refresh” for its workers.

What seems like a small proposal has serious implications on the quality of education students at BU receive. We cannot be a 21st-century hub of trailblazing innovation if BU doesn’t invest in its faculty. BU can and must do better to make one of its most valuable assets feel financially secure and safe in the jobs they hold.

To make matters worse, faculty are currently discouraged from recording lectures or teaching on Zoom to help students — or lecturers, themselves — in quarantine. When a student is isolated, faculty must re-teach content during office hours or by appointment. This is not only an additional time commitment on the part of both lecturer and student, it also fails to capture any discussion or questioning that may have taken place in a given class. Certainly, we all agree that a fully in-person lecture experience is optimal. While students continue to find themselves in quarantine or isolation, unable to safely attend class, we must take every step to create an inclusive learning environment for them.

Though faculty continue to pivot and adapt, BU non-tenure track faculty are still some of the lowest paid in a city teeming with higher education institutions. Job security protections are virtually non-existent — creating insecurity for faculty, their families and the students who rely on them. Faculty and students develop meaningful partnerships — with many students seeking out faculty year after year. Lecturers provide mentorship, guidance and support. They develop a nurturing relationship that allows students to realize their potential to the fullest and thrive in the world.

Many faculty have expressed one clear message throughout bargaining sessions: “This is about recognition and dignity.” With Boston University costing students and their families more than$55,000 a year, the University community deserves better. Boston University’s success and leadership as a global institution for higher learning are because of the people it employs and the students it accepts. We can make Boston University an even better school by ensuring that educators have what they need to make every student’s learning experience exceptional. And by making sure that educators feel supported, respected and paid equitably.

Putting lecturers in a position to succeed isn’t just beneficial for them: it benefits the entire BU community. When lecturers are supported, they can do their best work teaching and researching.

This bolsters the groundbreaking scholarly work coming out of Boston University. But it’s not just about research. Paying lecturers well helps BU recruit and retain the best educators, providing students with a world-class education. It is time BU recognized the most important asset of an institution of higher education: its people.

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One Comment

  1. Thank you for this powerful op ed piece, Verónica and Hessan! There is so much truth here, as I also testify to as a fellow lecturer. I will add that the SEIU509 does not AS YET represent ALL NTT faculty on campus, though it certainly should. There is more organizing power and moral common cause together in creating a Better BU, and I encourage all NTT faculty to join! We can bargain for the common good more effectively when we witness to our strength in numbers. I also encourage our fellow tenure and tenure track allies to join in the effort of calling in BU to Be Better for the many issues of equity and inclusion facing higher education today, inclusive of issues of race, class, gender, and ability – and intertwining with all of these, student debt. These are deeply moral issues of justice facing not only BU but also all institutions of higher education across the country. BU has an opportunity to be a leader if we all come together in strength rather splitting through fear.