Middle East studies in the News
Language Lecturers Look to Define Career Path [incl. Taoufik Ben-Amor]
by Scott Levi
One of the first lessons taught in an elementary language course is how to properly address the instructor. But while students might be able to nail this skill in several tongues, these titles may turn out to be "false friends."
In Columbia's ranking system, most language teachers are recognized not as tenure-track professors, but as lecturers on a separate trajectory for advancement. Employed for their teaching skills, lecturers spend the majority of their time working on pedagogy and can ascend the ranks without the pressure to do research. Talk about this group has recently become a hot item on agendas in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. While many lecturers seem content with their jobs, their complaints about intradepartmental dynamics, security, and pay—all of which have come with the position since its inception over 20 years ago—sound the alarm on the problems of academic ranking.
Lecturers in language departments are quick to clarify their positions, distinguishing them from those held by instructors in the non-language departments who share the same title.
"The lecturer's job is not one of lecturing," said Richard Korb, a senior lecturer in Germanic languages and director of the German Language Program, explaining that the lecturers found in economics, chemistry, and English compose a different demographic. Korb's election as a lecturer representative on the Executive Committee of the Faculty of the Arts and Sciences, which communicates with administrative higher-ups on matters in the arts, humanities, and sciences, signals renewed debate about his constituency.
The lecturer post emerged in 1987 in response to the call for more qualified instructors of less commonly taught languages. Because it is rare to find someone with a PhD in certain languages, Columbia removed the doctoral requirement and put all lecturers on the non-tenure track. The post expanded nine years later to include instructors in all language departments, and starting four years ago, the University began rewarding several lecturers with tenure-like security. There are currently 87 language lecturers, 12 lecturers in the American Language Program, and 53 lecturers in the sciences and humanities at Columbia, according to Korb.
"We have enhanced career possibilities for [language] lecturers," University Provost Alan Brinkley said, adding that the senior lectureship, which often goes to lecturers of longstanding excellence, is "the counterpart to tenured faculty." In evaluating lecturers, committees look more at pedagogy and student performance than at books published.
Yet lecturers worry about the way that the administration considers their input, and they have an often-complicated relationship with the professors teaching literature and culture in their departments. These concerns surfaced at a meeting last semester and will be discussed in upcoming forums this spring.
"It's a two-tier hierarchy," said Taoufik Ben-Amor, senior lecturer in the department of Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Cultures and director of the Arabic Language Program. Ben-Amor insists that lecturers are divorced from other faculty, that a senior lecturer could be fired "even after 30 years," and that the "inequalities are embedded in the idea of hiring non-tenured faculty."
Despite this emphasis on employment, Korb appears more concerned about the lack of guidelines for lecturers. "The review process [for assessing lecturers] is a protective mechanism," he said, but he raised points about a common faculty split.
"It's 'us vs. them,' language courses that are required for all and literature and culture courses that are selected for the major," Korb said. Also indicative of this rivalry is the tendency to encourage graduate students to admire professors rather than lecturers, Ben-Amor said.
Pascale Hubert-Leibler, head of the French Language Program and a senior lecturer in French, said she strives to rectify this division by encouraging lecturers to incorporate their research expertise into language classes. Cautioning that the circumstances vary with department, she said that "lecturers [in French] bring their own sensitivity and knowledge to courses" and cited "the collaborative atmosphere of the department."
"We want people to teach well, use new technology, and address the needs of their students. Lecturers should be good pedagogues and continuously train themselves," Hubert-Leibler said, by attending conferences and staying up to date with the field.
As engaged as lecturers may be in the intellectual projects of certain departments, a major discrepancy could be financial. Typically, lecturers have lower salaries than professors and are given little research money to begin with.
"Our research money is $1000," said Ben-Amor. "How can I find the money to work on a textbook or go to a workshop in another country?"Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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