Sharmin Khan is the educator and colleague you want on your side.
Whether it’s facilitating career pathways, helping students overcome hardships, or advocating for lecturer rights, Khan is always ready to be the change maker.
The San José State University linguistics and language development lecturer is shy, but that melts away when she’s on the educator platform or fighting for social justice.
“Teaching is more of a vocation than a mere profession. It’s a calling that urges us to give of ourselves, not because of the money or the status, but because we can effect change and touch lives. When I walk into that classroom and engage with my students, I feel that I am contributing in some small way to transforming their lives,” Khan said.
Khan is fortunate to have found her calling, but she recognizes obstacles are still ever present in academia. Many university educators like to think that they are teaching and modeling the values of equity, fairness, and inclusion to the next generation, she said.
“However, this is all theoretical and, at best, aspirational. In practice, an entrenched hierarchical system perpetuates the reality that lecturer faculty are expendable and, thus, easily marginalized. So often, I have encountered microaggressions, been overlooked and undervalued, and had even my status as faculty questioned,” said Khan, who’s been a lecturer at San José State since 1996.
Khan senses opinions and perceptions changing at San José State because more and more lecturers are getting involved in campus activism.
Without realizing it at the time, Khan helped organize lecturers during Fall 2017. Demoralized by lower compensation than tenure-line colleagues and no path to permanency, campus lecturers were looking for help on a faculty forum. They decided to call a meeting of lecturers and lecturer allies. The 90-minute meeting was well attended and a real eye-opener, Khan said. So many spoke passionately about their struggles, their sense of anxiety, and isolation.
Members continued meeting, eventually evolving into the CFA San José Lecturers’ Council and affiliating with CFA San José, with Khan as its founding chair.
The mission of the council is to: form a community of lecturers; provide a safe platform for them to voice their concerns; promote lecturer rights and social justice, and thereby fight systematic workplace challenges and inequalities; inform lecturers of their rights under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, university policies, and human resources practices; update administration and tenure-line faculty on lecturer issues; and build coalitions with other entities on campus and across the CSU system.
The council has been successful in two ways: spotlighting lecturer concerns and their many contributions to the university, and commissioning a formal “Climate Study for Lecturer Equity and Inclusion” in Spring 2019.
“Sharmin has been a CFA member and one of our top leaders for many, many years. She is tireless in her work supporting lecturer rights on our campus,” said Nikos Mourtos, CFA San José chapter president. “Throughout our pandemic she never missed an opportunity to advocate for better safety measures on our campus, better assignment options, and better stipends for all the additional training our lecturers had to go through to prepare for online teaching. She has been a true champion for lecturers and faculty rights.”
Khan and other lecturer leaders and their contributions are integral to CFA San José.
“Sharmin exemplifies the concept that CFA is not embodied by one person, but is a collective effort. Sharmin is providing eight lecturer workshops every semester. She also continues as an Academic Senator on campus, and never fails to ask questions that need to be asked. She is the real deal,” said Jonathan Karpf, longtime CFA San José activist.
CFA leaders and Khan want to continue to ensure lecturer perspectives, concerns, and input are present in CFA’s work. This unification includes targeting direct outreach to lecturers, providing spaces for lecturers to be heard, and, just as importantly, giving lecturers a sense of hope, Khan said. Lecturer faculty can also connect with lecturer representatives on their respective campuses for ways to get involved.
“In an inherently hierarchical institutional setting where non-tenure-line faculty are placed in the lowest category, CFA is the only place where there is little to no distinction between tenure-track and lecturer faculty,” Khan said.