Calbright College, a fully online institution serving a tiny student body, is the California community colleges’ newest entity.
The Faculty Association of California Community Colleges (FACCC), a statewide professional association representing 9,000 faculty members at 114 colleges, has long contended that Calbright violates state law by duplicating programs already offered by other community colleges and therefore has neither added to nor enhanced the services provided by the community college system.
Now that the 114 accredited community colleges have gone fully online, I believe the state has no need for Calbright.
The community college system should divert the remainder of Calbright’s $100 million startup funding, in addition to the $20 million ongoing monies, into health benefits for part-time faculty. During this public health crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, the colleges must prioritize health benefits for the faculty upon whom the system relies. By diverting the funding, the system would be making a fiscally smart and ethical investment in the 2.1 million students attending the other 114 community colleges.
Calbright has enrolled around 40 students in one of its three programs, while a few hundred students are enrolled in what are called “essential courses.” Of those, 35 percent have a bachelor’s or associate degree, which is not Calbright’s intended targeted population. Calbright was intended to reach a population of workers with a high school diploma in need of courses that would help them advance in their careers; this is the population served by all 114 community colleges.
Not only has Calbright not fulfilled its purpose, but it is the only community college without its own academic senate, which by state law is responsible for consulting with the administration on all academic and professional matters. Its faculty are not represented by a union. (Faculty members at the other colleges are represented by one of three unions.) Calbright’s board of trustees is the only governing board not elected by the community it serves. Instead, its board is the community college system’s Board of Governors, whose members are appointed by the governor. Finally, Calbright is not accredited — and still has a long way to go to fully get off the ground. Calbright is an experiment that has unfortunately gone awry and is now obsolete.
Continuing to invest taxpayer dollars in Calbright is unconscionable. Investing in faculty health benefits will ensure that the faculty remain healthy and able to continue teaching the courses students need to meet their educational goals.
Although the California Education Code deems part-time faculty to be temporary employees, part-time faculty are not only permanent but have comprised 70% of all community college faculty for well over two decades. The pandemic illuminates the inequities suffered by these part-time faculty members who are essential for keeping the college doors open. Most part-time faculty do not have access to health benefits; those who do are now in the position of losing their benefits because of the changing work environment caused by the pandemic.
Just as the coronavirus crisis magnifies systemic inequities in societies across the globe, it also magnifies systemic absurdities. Now the absurdity of pouring taxpayer dollars into Calbright, a project that is fiscally wasteful, is impossible to ignore. As taxpayers who love and benefit from the community colleges, we have an opportunity to address such absurd spending. When people’s lives are in jeopardy, this kind of spending should be called out and redirected into educationally and ethically sound investments.
The time is now for the community colleges to lead the way in implementing best practices for part-time faculty health care. As the community colleges re-envision education through the lens of equity and social justice during and after this public health crisis, the system should implement best practices for faculty support, which will ensure student learning, engagement, growth and success.
Debbie Klein is the 2019-2021 president of the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges and a professor of anthropology at Gavilan College in Gilroy. FACCC is a professional membership association that advocates for California Community College faculty.
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