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Following Covid Money in Education

California community college adjuncts are pushing to get paid for time-consuming pandemic switch to online

Above: Kwesi Wilson, an adjunct professor at both the Peralta and Chabot-Los Positas community college districts, transitioned six public speaking classes to online.

Uneven pattern of colleges paying adjuncts

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In the stressful days of early 2020 as the global pandemic shut down California, thousands of community college faculty members scrambled to shift to online teaching, reworking curriculums, rewriting lessons and learning new software so they could keep classes going and students learning.

Most of them were part-time instructors, commonly called adjuncts. Many like Kwesi Wilson work at multiple colleges, where they are paid only for time spent teaching. When Covid-19 hit, Wilson had to revamp six public speaking classes spread over two East Bay colleges, much of it on his own time.

“The enormity of the work was overwhelming,” Wilson said. Nearly a year and a half later, he’s still waiting to get paid for some of it. The Oakland-based Peralta district eventually gave adjuncts $1,000 for each class they moved online. The Hayward-based Chabot-Las Positas district has tentatively agreed to a deal that would pay adjuncts $1,500.

But how much, and even if, adjuncts got paid for the extra work is a district-by-district crazy quilt of haves and have-nots, EdSource has found. That pay ranged from more than $3,000 to as little as $300 depending on the college. Similar disparities were found on payments for training on how to teach online.

Part-time academics like Wilson carry a heavy teaching load for the 73 local districts that comprise California’s community colleges, the nation’s largest higher-education system with about 2 million students.

Temporary part-timers made up just over two-thirds of the faculty across the 73 districts in the fall of 2019, the most recent data shows. Of the 60,723 faculty members, just 18,471 were tenured/tenure-track and 42,252 were temporary. The data, reported by the system’s website, does not specify how many part-timers taught in multiple districts. A spokesman for the chancellor’s office said that information was not readily available.

“It is widely understood that the majority of faculty positions at the community colleges are held by part-timers,” said Evan Hawkins, executive director of the Faculty Association of the California Community Colleges, a statewide advocacy group.

Of the $9.5 billion headed to California colleges in Covid aid — the most of any state, the community college system is getting the most money — $4.2 billion.

Even as community colleges are awash in that unprecedented federal money, some districts have been slow to reach deals with local unions on extra pay more than a year after the work was done, while others said no to such compensation. The adjuncts who did get paid, their advocates and labor leaders said, didn’t get enough money for the work they put in.

“Thousands of part-time faculty did work they were not compensated for,” said Eric Kaljumägi, president of the Community College Association, a union representing full and part-time faculty members at 42 districts. “Asking underpaid people to work for free is a slight.”

There is no requirement that the college districts use their Covid relief funds to pay adjuncts for their extra work. But such payments are allowed since the federal aid was aimed at emergency grants to students, helping colleges recoup lost revenue and cover the extra expenses of the pandemic including switching instruction to online.

Local district boards decide pay

The issue highlights a reality of the 116-college system: The schools are run by the 73 locally elected district boards, not its central office and chancellor.

While she supports “the work of part-time faculty,” compensation matters “are local district decisions,” said acting Chancellor Daisy Gonzales through spokesman Rafael Chavez.

Her office offered no guidance to college districts on how to spend their Covid relief dollars other than to follow broad federal guidelines, said spokesman Paul Feist.

“There is a lack of consistency,” said Jeff Freitas, president of the California Federation of Teachers, which represents part- and full-time faculty members at 28 college districts. The transitioning of classes “was a brand-new thing for everybody. We know that,” he said. “But there are part-time (faculty members) who aren’t getting (paid) enough for it.”

Unlike full-time professors who are paid for 40-hour weeks that include work outside the courses they teach, adjuncts are “compensated almost exclusively on the hours they are in the classroom,” said Wendy Brill-Wynkoop, president of the faculty association. When the pandemic hit, faculty members had to “completely change everything they were doing. It takes a lot of time.”

That time was outside the classroom, or what became, as the pandemic worsened, a Zoom screen, she said.

Adjuncts’ pay varies by district. A California Federation of Teachers analysis found the statewide hourly average in 2020 was $69.11 for a first-year part-timer.  The union found the average pay for an adjunct teaching three courses was $622 weekly for a 17-week semester. That’s a little more than $3,500 per class. Like full-time faculty members, adjuncts must have at least a master’s degree to teach at a community college.

Many adjuncts, like Wilson, teach at more than one college to make ends meet. He declined to say how much he grossed last year. Peralta and Chabot salary data for 2019 show he grossed a little more than $70,000 combined. He’s taught at Peralta since 2015 and Chabot since 2018.

A separate analysis by the federation on the pay of full-time faculty members found the average starting salary across the state in 2020 was just below $62,000, which rose to an average of $74,000 after five years and $93,000 after 10 years.

Andrew Aleman was teaching a class at both the Rancho Santiago Community College District in Orange County and the Los Angeles Community College District when the pandemic struck.

The Los Angeles district eventually agreed to give all part- and full-time faculty members $1,000 for extra work, an amount Aleman said was fair for him. But Rancho Santiago has paid nothing and no negotiations are ongoing, he said.

Cosmetology online

Curley Wikkeling-Miller has taught cosmetology for years at both Solano Community College in Fairfield and at Peralta.

Switching from hands-on beauty training to online “was a disaster,” she said. She had two classes at each college and spent “probably 200 hours” learning remote teaching and finding ways to make her curriculum work online “I’d always taught face to face. We were just trying to make it.”

Wikkeling-Miller got $1,000 from Peralta, she said. Solano paid adjuncts up to $500 for the extra work depending on their teaching load, a district spokesperson said.

“It wasn’t very much,” Wikkeling-Miller said.

She said she will keep some changes, including videoed hair-styling demonstrations, which students can watch repeatedly. “I’d never thought I’d have a YouTube channel,” she said.

The head of the Peralta Federation of Teachers, Jennifer Shanoski, said the district at first balked at paying anything for the transitioning class. But the union filed a grievance based on language in its contract that Shanoski said required payment for such work.

“We were lucky we had that language,” she said. The sides eventually compromised at payments of $1,000 to both full- and part-time faculty members for each course they moved online. “On a case-by-case basis, it doesn’t adequately compensate faculty for the time required to do the work.” But at the time it was unclear how much federal money the four-college district would receive. “We wanted to be sure that everyone was compensated at least something for the work they were doing,” she said.

Asked if the Peralta district considered that compensation fair, its spokesman, Mark Johnson wrote in an email, “We value all our employees and the adaptations they made during the extraordinary situation of educating students during a global pandemic.”

Mixed bag

A sampling of districts around the state shows the discrepancies in how adjuncts were compensated.

Part-timers at Mt. San Antonio College in Los Angeles County were paid as much as $3,000 for the work.

At the Siskiyou Joint Community College District in Weed, near the Oregon border, part-time faculty members received nothing, the college’s interim president, Char Perlas, said, faulting the local faculty union for not negotiating on the matter. The union president, Michael Tischler, said the bargaining unit was at an impasse with the district when the pandemic hit and was concentrating efforts on negotiating a long-term contract. The district, he wrote in an email, “was not receptive” to paying for the extra work, and the union was concentrated on winning raises for the part- and full-time faculty, which it did.

Perlas said the district administration is open to stipends, but added, “It is difficult to determine the amount of work actually done” in transitioning.

In Fremont in Alameda County, 353 part-timers got a lump-sum payment of $673 each while 114 full-timers were given $1,000, the district said in a statement.

At Stockton’s San Joaquin Delta Community College District, part-timers have not been paid and a recent vote to give them stipends of $700, while full-timers were to receive $1,400, failed. Trustees voted 3-3, with one abstention. A second attempt to pass the stipends at a special meeting failed when the motion was tabled.

Trustee Teresa Brown, noting that both full- and part-time faculty members got 4% raises in recent contract negotiations, said they didn’t need any more money.

“I don’t see the purpose of giving more money on top of those raises,” Brown said before the vote, according to a recording of the meeting. “Our employees are not underpaid. No one has lost their jobs. No one has been laid off. We have done our best for our employees. It sounds as if they don’t appreciate what they have gotten.”

Trustee Kathleen Garcia, voted for the payments, calling the work that academics did to switch over classes “astounding. I give them kudos. We were far ahead of any other community colleges to do that. I believe (the payments) are long overdue,” she said.

In an interview with EdSource, Brown, who teaches online courses at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, said educators should be willing to work whatever time is needed on behalf of students without asking for extra compensation. “In my experience, that is what good teachers do,” she said.

Negotiations are continuing on the payments, local union President Elizabeth Maloney said. “This stipend is truly only a token for the time and personal expense” that adjuncts spent to “support students and keeping the college running,” Maloney told Edsource

A district spokesperson declined to comment, citing the ongoing negotiations.

“It’s really a mixed bag throughout the state of how part-time faculty have been compensated for the additional work,” Brill-Wynkoop said. “There was a lot of work that was just not compensated for that came with the transition. Part-time faculty basically had to do it for free.”

Raymond Brennan was teaching at both Foothill-De Anza Community College District and at San Jose City College when the pandemic struck. De Anza paid $2,300 for transitional work after five months of negotiations.

“The money took forever,” Brennan said of the Foothill-De Anza payment. “A lot of people struggled with getting (online teaching) up and running.” The San Jose-Evergreen district paid most part-timers $400, according to district records.

Loose accounting

The federal relief, which will continue to flow into 2023, came with few restrictions on how colleges can spend it. As much as half has to go to students. It cannot fund the salaries of top administrators or go for bonuses. Beyond that, few strings are attached, and the reporting categories are broad.

Another area where there were broad differences in the spending of federal money was on training professors how to teach remotely. Of the 115 brick-and-mortar community colleges that make up the districts, 73 spent a total of about $23 million on such training last year, according to an EdSource analysis of 2020 annual reports to the U.S. Department of Education. The remaining 39 colleges reported no spending on training.

Spokespersons for several colleges said the totals of what was spent on stipends to revamp courses for online was lumped into the training category.   But other colleges accounted for stipends differently, listing them in other categories along with additional, unrelated spending, officials told EdSource.

Among the districts that paid faculty members (both adjuncts and full-time) for training, the amounts were low.

Tracy Bois is an adjunct who took training through Pasadena City College, one of two schools where she teaches. The course lasted eight weeks. She was paid $250 for her time, she said.

“Two-hundred-and-fifty dollars was an insult,” Bois said. “They pay teachers criminally low.”

Kendrick Kim, who teaches real estate and business in the South Orange and Cerritos community college districts, spent her own money on extra training to become more proficient at teaching online, paying $900 for classes even after receiving district training.

“It’s not easy teaching online. I had to practice a lot and I made a few mistakes,” Kim said. “But I noticed that students were forgiving when I was upfront in the beginning of class, telling them that I’m not an online instructor and I’m learning as much as they are.”

As the federal dollars continue to flow, union leaders said they will keep pushing for a share of it for the adjuncts.

“A college is not a bunch of buildings,” said Kaljumägi, president of the Community College Association. “A college is students working with faculty to learn things. I can’t think of a better place (for the federal relief money) than in the pockets of the underpaid people who were actually allowing colleges to continue during the pandemic. There is still time for the districts to do the right thing.”

•••

EdSource data journalist Daniel J. Willis and web designer Justin Allen contributed to this story.

Bella Arnold and Iman Palm contributed to this story. They were reporting fellows this spring with EdSource’s California Student Journalism Corps. Arnold is a sophomore at California State University, Long Beach. Palm is a recent graduate from California State University, Long Beach.

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