Wednesday, March 23, 2022

What is going on at UCLA?

Undoubtedly, you've seen this posting from the UCLA chemistry department: 
The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UCLA seeks applications for an Assistant Adjunct Professor on a without salary basis. Applicants must understand there will be no compensation for this position.

Responsibilities will include: teaching according to the instructional needs of the department. Qualified candidates will have a Ph.D. in chemistry, biochemistry, or equivalent discipline and have significant experience and strong record in teaching chemistry or biochemistry at the college level.

(The original ad has been deleted, but it's still up at Inside Higher Ed.) If you followed over social media, there was the seemingly explanatory tweet from the dean of the UCLA Division of Physical Sciences, Miguel García-Garibay: 

Dear Friends, Unfortunate wording in a recent add widely circulated in social media resulted in some concern among many members of our community.  I apologize for that.  I am sharing a statement that summarizes the facts.

UCLA is committed to providing fair compensation to faculty across the institution. We recognize the language in this particular advertisement could have benefitted from additional context and we are committed to doing better in the future. In the spirit of providing additional context arrangements such as these are common in academia and, in cases where formal classroom teaching is a component, compensation for these services is provided commensurate to experience and with an eye to equity within the unit. Some positions may be without salary when individuals are compensated by other sources and a formal affiliation with UCL [sic] is necessary, which may be needed to apply for or maintain a grant or conduct research. 

Finally, there is this statement from a UCLA spokesperson in Michael Hiltzik's column in the Los Angeles Times: 

A UCLA spokesman says the original posting “contained errors” and a new one, “correctly written,” will be posted. The spokesman, Bill Kisliuk, assured me that at UCLA, “We always offer compensation for classroom teaching.”

Kisliuk also rejected online speculation that the job posting was aimed at some specific person — some even conjectured that it might have been tailored for a scientist fleeing Ukraine but bringing along his or her compensation from another source: “Our positions are open to all applicants.”

So what is going on here? For the record, I initially believed, and still do, that this was some kind of pro forma job posting for either someone deciding to take a visiting position at UCLA Chemistry with outside funding from a different source. That is officially rejected by Mr. Kisliuk. It seems that either Dean García-Garibay's inferences ('compensated by other sources', etc) do not match the situation, or Mr. Kisliuk's assertion that the search is open to all applicants is not true. (To add fat to the fire, UC Berkeley biology professor Michael Eisen states that "at UCs such appointments are explicitly exempt from search requirements.")

It seems to me there are a couple of possibilities here: 

  • There is some kind of innocent explanation here - UCLA chemistry is bringing in some kind of visiting scholar, and this was a pro forma posting, and the spokesperson and Professor Eisen are wrong, or
  • There is some kind of nefarious doing here, and the UCLA union representatives who have been very angry about this are correct, and this is a union-busting move of some kind, or
  • There is some other option we haven't considered yet? 
I remain confused, and would like to understand this situation better. Readers? 


  1. I once got an adjunct position at no pay so that I could finish up an undergraduate research project for a few months after graduating while still being covered by the university insurance/liability policy. This was during a hiring freeze, so they couldn't take me on in any paid position, and the administration was not happy about the precedent it set (which I understand better now that I've seen the backlash UCLA is getting!) but my professor and I convinced them to create the position for me. I had no teaching responsibilities and did not have a PhD, so my position was very different from the advertised UCLA job, but is it possible that this is a holding pattern for a grad student who defended their thesis, then had their next position fall through unexpectedly? Should still be compensated...

  2. My guess is basically, both (1) and (2) from you CJ.

    My sense is that there is part-truth in what everyone has said (e.g. adjuncts being outside of search requirements are not uncommon), and that the unspoken words or untruths are a mix of oopsies and naughties (probably an agenda). If I'm going to be explicit about a guess, it will be that it is indeed a pro forma notice (perhaps with a bit of urgency e.g. an expected vacancy on short notice, say, due to family or poor health) but unnecessarily so (no real search required usually), and that they already have at least one candidate in mind.

    *my thinking below*

    To me the root of the confusion rightly came from the two "no-monies" statements, because they are not equivalent with each other. "No salary" is that, plain simple, but leaves the possibility of "allowances" (c.f. salary vs allowances for Ph.Ds and scholarships). "No compensation" is (to me) much broader and really means, 0 dollars 0 cents, but the hidden implication is that there may be beneficial terms behind the final contract or agreement.

    Was there a need for two such consecutive statements on the original job posting? I lean towards "no" although there is always merit for *clear* clarification (else it's not called clarification!). Because it is a widely-known (but perhaps not universally known) fact that adjunct positions get very little to no money, and the purpose of adjuncts is not superficially for the money. (Whether this is a moral or fair trade is another topic altogether).

    In that sense, the UCLA dean is letting (widely-known) facts do its own explanation, but then the statement "We always offer compensation..." accidentally added an obvious wrinkle while trying to smoothen things out because it is too absolute. I really don't think UCLA (or adjunct positions) is being openly malicious here. It's just that the "agenda" is the unknown unknown here.


  3. Even in their clarification, it clear how little they value instructional staff. Using an adjunct position that requires college teaching experience demonstrates how they'll use these positions as a temporary holding space for researchers as grants come in, rather than actually valuing, recruiting, and retaining highly qualified teaching faculty.

    The rush to brand this as "not malicious" feels myopic because this is indicative of larger issues (such as union busting, the exploitative system for adjuncts, or the devaluation of teaching and learning). It's okay to say that UCLA was acting in bad faith, they still have billions of dollars to comfort themselves as the bad press blows over

  4. I know of a situation where a university placed a pro forma ad for a tenured professor position in the local newspaper (in a rural area) to minimize the chance anyone would actually apply!


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20