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U of T introduces new teaching stream professorial ranks

Titles reflect importance of undergraduate education

Students watch as award-winning teacher and computer science lecturer Paul Gries (right) teams up with U of T President Meric Gertler to play the student-designed video game Pitfall Planet at the Research in Action showcase (photo by Jacklyn Atlas)

Paul Gries has been teaching computer science at the University of Toronto since 1999. After 16 years, the senior lecturer is used to students mistakenly calling him professor, but thanks to a recent change in university policy, he won’t have to make the correction any longer.

As of July 1, the titles of lecturer and senior lecturer have been replaced by four new titles – assistant professor (conditional), teaching stream; assistant professor, teaching stream; associate professor, teaching stream; and professor, teaching stream. The new titles, along with protocols and timetables for promotion, were approved by U of T’s Governing Council on June 25.

The new ranks reflect U of T’s emphasis on the importance of teaching and learning, said Cheryl Regehr, vice-president and provost, and come about after several months of collegial discussions between the university and the University of Toronto Faculty Association.

More than 300 full-time continuing lecturers and senior lecturers are affected. Between July 1 and December 31 they have the opportunity to elect to be covered by the new policy. 

“For the first time, teaching stream faculty will now hold professorial ranks and titles,” Regehr said. “Signifying the centrality of teaching and learning to our mission here at the University, this designation honours our talented teaching stream faculty and all that they do to significantly enhance our students’ experience and education here at U of T.”

An award-winning lecturer renowned for his innovative approaches to teaching, Gries said the new titles provide him and his colleagues with legitimacy. “The ‘lecturer’ title has several different meanings around the world, and many people in North America view it as a lesser, temporary position. At conferences, the title is a source of confusion, and I've had to explain many times that I am a full-fledged faculty member, an equal to the research ranks.”

Greis said the new titles will lessen confusion among students. “It will be a bit of a relief to be able to say “I'm a professor in the teaching stream’ in conversations, rather than having to say ‘I'm a lecturer, and here's what that means’.”

The new titles will also help U of T with faculty recruiting, Gries said. “Other universities are moving in this direction as well. UBC, for example, introduced the rank of "Professor of Teaching" for their teaching stream in 2011. We will be better able to compete with them and other forward-thinking universities for the best of the best with our new titles.”

Graduate students will also benefit, he said. “I know several graduate students in computer science who are familiar with what we lecturers do, and who are working on improving the teaching portion of their CVs in order to be better able to apply for a teaching stream position. The ones who don't know what ‘lecturer’ means don't even know that this kind of job is a career option, and the new titles will, I believe, make many more graduate students both here and elsewhere aware that the UofT considers the teaching stream to be vital members of their faculty.”

Regehr noted that U of T was one of the first universities in North America to hire teaching stream faculty. “This innovation is a demonstration of our commitment to teaching excellence and the student experience. Teaching stream faculty provide superlative teaching skills, creative educational leadership, and innovations in teaching.”