The Lecturer’s Tale

The writer and teacher of creative writing James Hynes wrote a novel called The Lecturer’s Tale, a sardonic look at the life and absurdities of university teaching at the proletarian level. As a lecturer myself (at the University of Hawai’i, Manoa), I’ve been hesitant to cast my hat into the debate over the state of adjuncts – I appreciate the position I have, enjoy my department (the Institute of Peace) and feel valued there. This position also works with my schedule and the rest of my life. I teach in the evenings, online and in the summer and it allows me to keep a university affiliation that I otherwise would not have – this is important for publishing, conferences and other academic activities. They also pay me well as lecturing goes. For some the lecturership makes sense.

But the outcry is getting louder that something needs to be done about the two-tier system within academia. Seventy percent of college teaching faculty are now lecturers, which seems to signal a decline in the desire of universities to have research-producing faculty. Some lecturers soldier on and produce research seemingly against all odds.

A particularly poignant article in the New York Times depicted a lecturer who died destitute after a promising beginning to her career – she landed Visiting Assistant Professor positions, which are all too often carrots that dangle with nothing beyond them. Some are asking how the tenured and tenure-track faculty can sit by and watch the situation go on. Others say don’t blame tenured and TT faculty for the plight of adjuncts, blame admin. Fair enough. But the two-tier nature of the university system seems to ignore the fact t

writing notes idea class

Photo by Startup Stock Photos on

hat most lecturers have the same degrees as the tenured professorate, and if they aren’t, or cannot develop into, senior members of the academic community, it is precisely because they have become the epitome of the “overworked and underpaid” cliche. As one lecturer put it: “how can I inspire my students if I’m not making it myself?”

I originally wrote this piece for my new website – Letters: The Life of the Mind – check it out!




Filed under Education

2 responses to “The Lecturer’s Tale

  1. Katherine Kama’ema’e Smith

    Thank you for this book recommendation and your personal remarks. I am not in education, and often hear tuition-burdened parents complaining that their young adults graduate without ever being taught by a full professor. They imply that students are getting shorted, but your post points out that “lecturers” can be fully engaged and qualified teachers who are not being promoted within the empire of higher education.

    Lecturers have a difficult job. A recent article in Honolulu Magazine ranks the outcomes of Hawai’i high school education, showing most of our are students on a low achievement curve. I wonder how can they perform in college without a solid foundation?

    I believe that Hawai’i taxpayers, teachers and voters are all focused on the right goals. However, in the 27 years I have lived here, we seem to be no closer to improving student outcomes. The last two governors were elected to fix Hawai’i public education. Aka, ‘o ia mau no!

    I think how administrators treat university lecturers puts an additional spotlight on the accountable source of education troubles in Hawai’i. As a wise businessperson once taught me, “follow the money.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. umi

    Those parents may be pointing to their daughters and sons being taught by graduate students. As for the low achievement levels in Hawai’i schools, I’ve long said that it’s because of the lack of an “intellectual culture” – which is why I just started a new site – Letters: The Life of the Mind – check it out!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s