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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  1. C.J. 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    California law does not limit part-time faculty to 67% (two-thirds) of a full-time teaching load. It limits colleges from treating those working more than 67% as second class faculty.

    This bill does nothing for contingent faculty. Faculty are quitting, schools are less able to find people willing to teach twice as hard for half the compensation.

    This bill is for those schools. It enables them to work existing contingent faculty more hours—while still paying them half the rate of other faculty.

  2. Chris Stampolis 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    As a Community College Trustee for 8 years, I repeatedly experienced the Faculty Union offering to restrict compensation of part-time faculty in exchange for better compensation for FT faculty. When I objected to the injustice, staff and many Trustees would blame part-timers for not being strong enough to manipulate/influence/crush full-timers. It was all about blame and laugh at the victims.

  3. Cynthia Mahabir 1 month ago1 month ago

    I am very encouraged by the argument of the three authors for fair employment for community college faculty members in California through the establishment of a one-tier faculty. Indeed, it makes visible a critical aspect of the much-touted equity that is parroted in educational reform circles without follow-up in concrete action. I am happy to see this information reach the wider public whose support for community colleges tends to be strong and whose intervention can … Read More

    I am very encouraged by the argument of the three authors for fair employment for community college faculty members in California through the establishment of a one-tier faculty. Indeed, it makes visible a critical aspect of the much-touted equity that is parroted in educational reform circles without follow-up in concrete action.

    I am happy to see this information reach the wider public whose support for community colleges tends to be strong and whose intervention can make fairness in faculty employment prevail.

  4. Cynthia Mahabir 1 month ago1 month ago

    I am encouraged to see this excellent argument by the authors for a fair employment system in California Community Colleges by reshaping the current, extremely unequal faculty two-tier structure into a single-tier category.

    I think members of the public are hardly aware of this form of professional inequality in our community colleges. Now they would know. Thanks to Ed Source for providing this forum for public information on this deep imbalance in the community college system.

    Replies

    • Jim 1 month ago1 month ago

      You can say that again.

  5. John Martin 1 month ago1 month ago

    The authors wrote that "The California Legislature should not modify the 67% workload cap to 85%, as AB 1856 proposes, but remove it altogether." With my long experiences in Sacramento, to amend the bill now will not work. And so, if this doesn't happen, will they still advocate that the bill be denied passage as written? That is, should the senators vote down this bill? It seems so. While I, and other part-time faculty throughout the … Read More

    The authors wrote that “The California Legislature should not modify the 67% workload cap to 85%, as AB 1856 proposes, but remove it altogether.” With my long experiences in Sacramento, to amend the bill now will not work. And so, if this doesn’t happen, will they still advocate that the bill be denied passage as written? That is, should the senators vote down this bill? It seems so.

    While I, and other part-time faculty throughout the CC system and the California Part-time Faculty Association (CPFA), strongly support the excellent sentiments as laid out here, such a position at this point in time, during the last stages of this current legislative cycle, is not a stance to take.

    Replies

    • Alexis Moore 1 month ago1 month ago

      John, We have seen over some decades where you have adopted the slow, incremental approach like the unions. Piecemeal, for decades. Consider, if part-time faculty already had nearly everything they need, or if they were in control and had strong, aggressive unions working for them, then this approach might make sense, but as you know...we do not have these unions, the unions are top down run by FT faculty and those same faculty control collective bargaining … Read More

      John,

      We have seen over some decades where you have adopted the slow, incremental approach like the unions. Piecemeal, for decades.

      Consider, if part-time faculty already had nearly everything they need, or if they were in control and had strong, aggressive unions working for them, then this approach might make sense, but as you know…we do not have these unions, the unions are top down run by FT faculty and those same faculty control collective bargaining and also supervise adjuncts. (2 tiered system).

      Regardless, if the bill passes the Senate part-timers will have to beg the unions– again – to lift this cap again, and again…and beg for health insurance, pay and job security – again, and again.

  6. CKM 1 month ago1 month ago

    The solution is to hire more full-time faculty and fund colleges so that they can afford them.