Part-time faculty teach the majority of courses in California’s community colleges; without them, the largest community college system in America would grind to a halt. But lack of health care and other benefits, lower pay and artificial limitations on how many courses they teach condemns far too many part-time community college instructors to below-poverty line incomes.
It’s time for this to change.
Currently, California law limits part-time faculty workload in a single community college district to no more than 67%, or two-thirds, of a full-time teaching load. Moreover, the average part-time instructor pay rate across the state’s 73 districts is about 50% of that of full-time instructors. Their discounted wages along with the artificial limitations on their workload can result in an income below the poverty line, which characterizes up to 25% of part-time instructors per one American Federation of Teachers survey.
Assembly Bill 1856 proposes to raise the cap on how many courses part-time faculty can teach, from 67% to 85%, but is still dependent on campus-by-campus bargaining. While some may see this bill as a way to improve part-time faculty salaries by allowing a few part-time professors to teach more courses, it falls far short of what is necessary to provide part-timers with a living wage.
State legislation might seem an inappropriate means to regulate workload or wages established through collective bargaining, but for the state’s part-time instructors over the last 50 years, collective bargaining has produced little meaningful improvement, much less equal pay and benefits.
Collective bargaining works best for workers who share a community of interests but tends to fail in a two-tiered workplace with finite resources where more for the dominant upper tier of full-timers routinely means less for the part-timers. For example, while part-time faculty are restricted from working more than two-thirds of full-time, full-time faculty may increase their much higher salaries by choosing to teach overtime, displacing part-time faculty jobs whenever they do.
The premium pay, great benefits, and lifetime job security afforded full-time community college instructors is often justified by unions themselves with the odd assertion that since part-time instructors don’t perform exactly equal work, they don’t deserve truly equal pay. This argument is blind to the fact that the full-timers also receive benefits like health insurance, four months of paid vacation and tenure denied the part-timers.
No credible research findings suggest that part-time instructors are only 50% as effective as full-time instructors, as their discounted rate of pay would suggest. On the contrary, several national studies show that students do better with professors who teach off the tenure track.
Full- and part-time instructors satisfy the same credential requirements, award grades and credits that have the same value and are evaluated by the same criteria. Yet, for one instructor to receive an annual income of $87,000, with full benefits and tenure protections, while another earns a mere $20,000 without benefits and no job security is indefensible by any objective standard of fairness.
This year’s AB 1856 is a recycled version of last year’s AB 375, which was vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on the grounds that expanded workload could result in unanticipated health insurance expenditures. This year’s current budget has placed $200 million in the community college Part-Time Faculty Health Insurance Program, which has been in existence since 1996. To date, only about half of the college districts have participated in this program, which has covered only about 10% of the state’s part-time instructors. Because its implementation is dependent upon local collective bargaining, the kind of health insurance bargained for part-timers could differ in each of the state’s 73 college districts.
California part-time faculty would be premature in celebrating either the prospect of health insurance or being able to work more if AB 1856 passes, since it does not mandate that part-time instructors be allowed to work up to 85% of full-time. It would only allow each community college district the option to collectively bargain that provision.
And since colleges remain responsible for 50% of the costs of part-time faculty health insurance, colleges may be reluctant to bargain the higher workload cap to avoid that encumbrance. And, even if part-time instructors are contractually allowed to teach up to 85%, they must first be assigned that work. As such, the bill promises far more than it is likely to deliver any time soon.
But, unless the purpose of the workload cap is to disqualify part-time instructors from benefits like health insurance, there would seem to be no justification to impose limitations on workers who need work. The California Legislature should not modify the 67% workload cap to 85%, as AB 1856 proposes, but remove it altogether. There is still time to amend the bill on the Senate floor.
As for health insurance, the Legislature should treat part-time instructors like all other part-time state employees and extend annual health insurance to those who are employed at 50% of full-time. That should be law, and not subject to collective bargaining on each campus.
In his veto of last year’s AB 375, Governor Newsom acknowledged that the state’s part-time instructors are integral, saying, “Our system of community colleges could not operate without part-time faculty.” Not only do the state’s 38,000 part-time instructors outnumber the 18,000 full-time instructors, they teach 59% of all courses. State law should help them, not bar them from working full-time.
Jack Longmate is the author of “Proposed ‘College for All’ Would Be a Disaster for Adjunct Professors.” Alexis Moore taught visual art at colleges and universities for over three decades and served on the executive board of the Pasadena City College Faculty Association of the California Community College Independents. Keith Hoeller is co-founder of the Washington Part-Time Faculty Association and editor of the anthology “Equality for Contingent Faculty: Overcoming the Two-Tier System” (Vanderbilt University Press). All three are founding members of the national Contingent Faculty for Equality.
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