A more equitable approach to lecturer career progression

A post from the FAUW Lecturers Committee.

A slow path to policy development

Policy 76 – Faculty Appointments refers to continuing lecturers as “unusual.” This might have been justified in 2011, when the policy was last updated, but we now have two-and-a-half times the number of lecturers we did then. Lecturers are a critical component of the Waterloo faculty, and we need an updated policy to ensure lecturer career progression and allow lecturers to reach their full potential as valued members of the UW community.

In order to better understand the strengths of the current system of career progression for lecturers, as well as the problems that lecturers face when working to achieve their professional potential, we looked at some current statistics about this group of faculty and interviewed three lecturers who succeeded in moving from definite-term to continuing status in three faculties: Arts, Environment, and Mathematics. Their experience highlights the need to develop clear formal procedures for lecturer career progression.

Inconsistent procedures

As a result of insufficient guidance from university policy, until recently, none of the faculties have had official documents outlining the steps for lectures to take, materials to prepare, and timelines to follow in the process of transitioning from a definite-term lecturer (DTL) position to that of a continuing lecturer (CL). Consequently, different CL candidates experience the transition to this position in different ways.

Some were required to submit only their updated Curriculum Vitae; others also needed to add a statement of their teaching philosophy, host class observations, participate in meetings to discuss their teaching practice, or demonstrate their work on personal brand development through their service engagement outside of the university.

Currently, faculties and departments seem to be taking steps toward a more consistent approach to guiding lecturers in their prospective progression to CLs. More departments now have informal guidelines, including requiring a teaching dossier and peer teaching review, paralleling the tenure application process. However, the only faculty with written guidelines for both applicants and administrators is the Faculty of Mathematics.

Different career progression paths

Inconsistent faculty- and department- level procedures have led to noticeable discrepancies in lecturer career paths. One of the interviewed lecturers reached the first milestone in their career—becoming a DTL—upon their hire, while the other two strived as sessional instructors for two and eleven years, respectively, to achieve the same objective. The lecturers’ personal goals and their faculty’s needs played a role in this difference. The university limits the number of years that someone can be in the same staff role on a contract basis before the role becomes permanent; perhaps it’s time we see the university do the same for instructors and establish clear guidelines for the maximum amount of time a sessional instructor should be serving in this role on consecutive sessional contracts before they become DTLs.

The next stage—earning continuing status—differed for those lecturers as well. The process took one of the interviewed lecturers three years (one definite-term lecturer contract, which is the minimum requirement in Policy 76). To get to the same juncture in their career, the other two worked five years (with two or three DTL contracts signed over this period). It seems that in the these cases, the period leading to permanent employment was comparable to that of professors working towards tenure. However, 16% of lecturers currently represented by FAUW have been on repeated definite-term contracts for more than six years, and slightly more than 5% of them have been DTLs for ten years or longer. Overall, this indicates a need for more consistent and equitable guidelines for lecturer career progression, which a revised version of Policy 76 should provide.

Available supports

Despite the lack of officially documented lecturer career progression procedures, the lecturers we interviewed had positive experiences transitioning to the CL position. The instrumental factor in this process was the support they received from their chair, the associate dean and/or the dean themselves. These lecturers also appreciated pedagogical support from the Centre for Teaching Excellence, Information Services and Technology, and the Centre for Extended Learning.

Some lecturers experienced unique types of support. One has had the opportunity to take a non-teaching term for professional development without needing to make up for the teaching credits for such a term. Another one was fortunate to have a mentor encouraging them to develop a personal brand to support the process of transitioning to a CL position. Popularizing these kinds of support would likely benefit newly hired lecturers in all faculties.

Challenges in professional development

Although the CL position is appreciated by lecturers, reaching it does not seem to encourage further academic and pedagogical advancement. Unlike at the University of Toronto or McMaster, where lecturers can reach and progress through teaching professor ranks, at Waterloo there are no further career progression avenues for this group of faculty. Self-driven and motivated CLs may still find opportunities for career advancement. However, the majority of lecturers might benefit from more widely available opportunities and incentives to improve and innovate.

Other challenges include a heavy workload that excludes opportunities for scholarly achievements. Yet many lecturers do engage in scholarship, present at conferences, supervise graduate students, and earn research grants, which contribute to their professional growth and their value to the university. However, because such activities are not always recognized by the university, most lecturers are not incentivized to make such efforts. In terms of service, while plenty of roles on interdepartmental committees do exist, higher-level administrative positions are scarce and often available only to tenured faculty.

The value of continuing lecturers

Continuing lecturers are invaluable faculty, fulfilling a range of teaching and service roles. Based on the accounts of the interviewed CLs, these roles can be widely diverse and include

  • strengthening the university’s teaching capacity by serving on curriculum review committees or as teaching fellows, implementing novel pedagogical approaches to instruction, and directing changes in programs and specializations;
  • providing stability to some core undergraduate courses, which, under the supervision of the assigned CLs, can be systematically maintained and revised; and;
  • enhancing administrative support as an associate program director or as faculty council chair.

A better future for lecturers

While the University of Waterloo does provide some useful pedagogical and administrative supports for lecturers, it does not have clear career progression guidelines for this group and does not offer continuing lecturers opportunities for further advancement. The lecturers I interviewed for this post all contribute to Waterloo’s mission and growth within the current system, but having a policy that fully recognizes the instrumental role of lecturers would allow all lecturers to reach their professional potential and contribute in even more significant and meaningful ways.

The examples of progressive universities such as the University of Toronto and McMaster University, where teaching-stream faculty can progress to professorial ranks, demonstrate that a change in this direction is possible.


Aga Wolczuk is a continuing lecturer in Culture and Language Studies at Renison University College and a member of the FAUW Lecturers Committeee.

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