Humanities, Fine Arts lecturers slowly learn of layoffs

Instructors become a casualty of the department’s tightening budget.

Lecturer Branden Adams and his wife Amanda picket with their newborn son Mark on Oct. 14, 2021. Mark Alfred / Daily Nexus

April 27, 2023 at 12:15 pm

A number of lecturers in UC Santa Barbara’s Humanities and Fine Arts division were informed that they are to be laid off at the end of the quarter in an unexplained series of direct or informal dismissals.

UCSB declined to state the scope of the layoffs or the reasoning behind them as the University Council-American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT) — the union representing lecturers across the University of California — said it intends to push back against the dismissals.

History lecturer Branden Adams suspected he was to be laid off on the first day of Spring Quarter 2023 after discovering a colleague was now set to instruct a class he’d been scheduled to teach the following year. His department chair confirmed the news later that day.

At least three others were officially delivered notices, three people told the Nexus. Others, including global studies lecturer David Moak, heard informally that their dismissals are imminent ahead of official word from the campus.

In an April 14 meeting with members of UC-AFT, campus administrators attributed the layoffs to a long-term financial analysis that demonstrated their necessity but presented few details, according to three people who attended the meeting.

“These lay-offs fly in the face of the job security gains agreed to by the university in 2021,” the union said in an April 26 statement to the Nexus. “The union is committed to pursuing every avenue available to us to push back against austerity.”

“What they’re trying to do is very much resisted and disliked and disapproved of by much [of the] faculty,” Moak said. “And so they’re being fought tooth and nail often, and this has delayed a lot of formal notification.”

Lecturers and professors in the division said they suspect the layoffs are the campus’ solution to the rising costs of employing teaching assistants after graduate students won significant concessions from fall quarter’s UC union strike , which saw 48,000 union members walk off the job.

“The informal message that I’ve gotten, not directly from the administration, but through various departments — faculty who work there — [is] that this is the university scrambling desperately to pay for the contract with their graduate students,” Moak said.

Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts division and history professor Daina Ramey Berry did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The division oversees a significant number of campus departments including arts, classics, English, film, history, writing, philosophy, religious studies, music and Spanish, among others.

“I think it’s a complete failure on the part of the university to plan for how they’re going to pay for the wage increases that [graduate students] were justifiably granted,” history professor Nelson Lichtenstein said.

UCSB, in a statement delivered by spokesperson Kiki Reyes, promised to maintain current levels of TA employment through the end of the 2024 academic year and said funding for increased salaries will be covered centrally.

“Individual academic departments and deans, however, regularly assess their course needs based on the availability of faculty and graduate student instructors and enrollment numbers,” Reyes said in the statement to the Nexus. “Departments, consistent with our contracts with the union, make teaching assignments based on these factors, as well as annual budget considerations.”

Reyes declined to share the scope of the lecturer layoffs or their specific cause.

With the campus obliged to give lecturers a 60-day heads up for any notices of dismissal and the first paychecks for instructors teaching Fall Quarter 2024 — which are set to be delivered at the beginning of July 2023 — lecturers expect to know by May 1 whether they are a part of this round of layoffs.

“The University is sending multiple people into either full or partial unemployment, and doing this in violation of the spirit of our current contract which is multi-year employment, two years minimum basically,” Moak said. “Many of the folks who are facing these layoffs are in the middle of a two-year contract.”

Though he suspects fall’s UC union strike prompted his dismissal, Adams emphasized that it doesn’t affect his support for graduate students.

“They deserve every cent that they got,” he said. “[The university’s] model works on cheap labor, and when the cheapest labor — the TAs — said ‘We’re tired of this,’ they don’t have a plan for another business model.”

“The administration wants to fund the TA contract without asking for larger appropriations from the state, and that’s their goal, which is a crazy goal,” he continued. “This is the outcome.”

Moak warned that the layoffs will further exacerbate students’ struggles to get the classes they need.

“This is not a decision that is just about a handful of people and those people losing their jobs, in violation of the spirit of their contracts,” Moak said. “This is about a decision that is going to make the lives of undergraduate students much more difficult, and that is going to lead our university to struggle seriously to fulfill its mission in the near term.”

“How many of them have struggled tooth and nail, have fought to get into the classes that they need, whether they be [general education] or classes that are kind of gateway courses for the major that they’re in. These courses are habitually, chronically over enrolled.”

Adams also cautioned that the university will need to fund further concessions won by graduate students, set to take effect next year, that could prompt another round of layoffs if the campus doesn’t find funding elsewhere.

“The cost of TAs go up this summer, but they go up more next summer … we don’t reach the big pay raise until fall 2024, which means that if they don’t have another plan to meet that, then there will be presumably other means of austerity, including additional layoffs.”

Adams, now set to depart the campus at the quarter’s end because of the layoffs, doesn’t expect to return to teaching.

“I can just say that I’m done with academia,” Adams said. “My academic career is over.”

A version of this article appeared on p. 1 of the April 27, 2023 print edition of the Daily Nexus.


Mark Alfred
Mark Alfred (he/him) was the University News Editor for the 2022-23 school year.