8 myths about UW lecturers

A post from the FAUW Lecturers Committee.

FAUW first started holding events specifically for Waterloo lecturers in 2014, but there have been lecturers on campus since at least the early ‘90s. With a distinct uptick in lecturer hiring over the last decade or two, there are now lecturers in every one of the University’s six faculties and they make up 18% of the FAUW membership. For many chairs, directors, deans—or just faculty colleagues—who are new to dealing with lecturer-rank faculty, there may be some uncertainty about who these people are and how they fit into their departments and schools. To help explain what lecturer faculty are—and aren’t—here are (in no particular order) eight myths about lecturers at Waterloo.

Myth #1: A lecturer is a lecturer is a lecturer

Fact: The term “lecturer” is often indiscriminately applied to everyone from sessional instructors hired by the course or term to permanent teaching faculty. At Waterloo, “lecturer” is one of the four faculty hiring ranks (the others are assistant professor, associate professor, and professor; see Policy 76 – Faculty Appointments). While sessional instructors are also hired at the rank of lecturer, they’re more correctly called adjunct or special lecturers and are administratively very different from the lecturer-rank regular faculty members (just “lecturers” from here on) that we’re talking about in this post.

Lecturers can have “definite term” or “continuing” appointments. Most lecturer-rank faculty are initially hired on definite-term contracts, which can be repeatedly renewed when they expire, although there is never any guarantee of renewal (see myth #7). Continuing lecturers have permanent, ongoing appointments that don’t have expiry dates. FAUW represents both definite-term and continuing lecturers (but not sessional instructors). About 40% of UW’s lecturers have continuing appointments.

Getting the terminology straight is just half the battle. The specifics of lecturer positions—how teaching loads are defined, what kinds of service and administrative tasks they do—can vary widely between faculties, and even between departments in the same faculty. According to our 2015 lecturers survey, about half of UW’s lecturers have an 80/20 teaching/service ratio; the other half reported a broad variety of teaching/research/service weightings.

Myth #2: Lecturers are different from regular faculty and aren’t eligible for the same benefits

Fact: Lecturers are regular faculty members. Most lecturers compete for their jobs in open searches and most hiring decisions go through the University Appointments Review Committee (any appointment two years or longer has to). Except for the few instances currently explicitly stated in policy, lecturers are subject to the same policies and processes, and entitled to the same protections and benefits, as tenure-track and tenured faculty, including various forms of non-sabbatical leave, and participation in the university’s pension and extended health and dental programs (though eligibility is a bit different for contracts less than two years).

Myth #3: There are no professional development funds for lecturers

Fact: Lecturers are entitled to the same professional development (FPER) funds as other regular faculty members. (See myth #2 about lectures being regular faculty.)

Myth #4: Lecturers don’t do research

Fact: Some lecturers have research explicitly included in their activity weightings, but even those who don’t will often engage in some form of scholarship in order to keep their teaching current. Whether the research is discipline-specific or related to pedagogy, lecturers‘ research projects support their effectiveness as teachers. Lecturers are eligible to apply for a variety of external and internal funds to support their research, including the university’s LITE grants.  

Myth #5: Lecturers can’t serve on committees

Fact: Lecturer appointments normally include a service portion, and lecturers should be considered eligible to serve on most committees that are open to other regular faculty at the department, faculty, and university level. In fact, service on committees is an important opportunity for lecturers to participate in shared governance. For more information about committees that lecturers serve on across campus, see the post “Service Opportunities for Lecturers.”

Myth #6: Lecturers don’t get performance evaluations

Fact: Since they are regular faculty, lecturers take part in the annual performance review process. Definite-term lecturers are evaluated every year with pre-tenure faculty, and continuing lecturers are evaluated every two years with tenured faculty. The weightings for lecturer evaluations are based on a lecturer’s individual contract.

Myth #7: Lecturers are automatically eligible for a permanent (continuing) appointment after a certain number of years or contract renewals

Fact: There is no official university-wide process for converting a lecturer from definite term to continuing and practices vary widely between departments and faculties regarding if and when they seek to move a definite term lecturer into a continuing appointment. Some lecturers are invited to apply for a continuing appointment after the minimum three-year term, while others have been teaching on definite-term contracts for decades. Once a department decides to pursue a continuing appointment, the Provost’s office has a “Checklist for Continuing Lecturer Appointments” to guide the process, but the lack of criteria and transparency for initiating it makes long-term planning and institutional investment difficult and stressful for lecturers on definite-term contracts.

Definite-term contract renewals are also not guaranteed, though Policy 76 does ensure that lecturers with contracts one year or longer must be informed about whether or not their contract will be renewed at least six months before the contract end date. Lecturers should consult with FAUW and can consider filing a grievance if that timeline isn’t respected.

Myth #8: Lecturers don’t get any say in what or when they teach

Fact: Lecturers are sometimes hired to teach only specific courses, and some courses may have specific content to serve curriculum requirements, which all instructors would respect. Beyond those instances, though, lecturers are entitled to the same considerations around academic freedom, teaching, and scheduling preferences as other regular faculty. That includes being able to request a final exam early in the exam period to enable lecturers to have vacation time between semesters.

Normally, lecturers teach in all three terms, but they are entitled to take one term in six as a non-teaching term. Unlike a sabbatical, a non-teaching term still requires lecturers to keep up with any service or administrative commitments, but they are not assigned any courses to teach in that term. 

Dorothy Hadfield is a continuing lecturer in the Department of English and a member of the FAUW Lecturers Committee.

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