Credit: Julie Leopo / EdSource

When most people think of part-time (or adjunct) professors, they conjure up the image of someone with a full-time job and benefits in the private sector who chooses to teach an occasional evening class.

Alexis Moore

While this may have been the original intention when this system of community colleges was created more than fifty years ago, it has not been true of the vast majority of adjuncts for many decades now.

Having earned advanced degrees and carrying heavy student loan debt, most are trying to eke out an existence on poverty-level wages and without any meaningful job security from term to term.

Worse, state law has long prevented these professors from working full time, even though their full-time colleagues are allowed to increase their much higher salaries by teaching overtime.

Jack Longmate

Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed Assembly Bill 375 despite the bill having sailed through the California Assembly 77 to 0 and the Senate 37 to 0. The bill could have allowed California’s part-time college professors to teach up to 85% of full time, instead of the current 67%, in a single college district.

Why California has a state law that limits the workload of part-time instructors to less than full time is a good — but unanswered — question. The limit has been used to justify paying part-timers at a much lower rate than the full-timers and keeps them from qualifying for benefits such as health insurance and even tenure.

Keith Hoeller

It is part of a series of laws that have created a two-tiered system of haves and have-nots among college professors.

If the original purpose of the caps was to protect full-time jobs and to ensure that the colleges would not hire lots of part-timers and pay them poverty-level wages, the law has backfired spectacularly: California’s 116 community colleges have continued to increase the numbers of part-time instructors — 37,310 as of this fall — twice as many as the system’s 18,180 full-time instructors.

Newsom’s veto was motivated by the California Community College chancellor’s claim that the bill would result in $440 million in health care expenses under the Affordable Care Act.

But college administrators came up with this figure by assuming that enrollments would skyrocket so that all 37,310 part-time instructors would qualify for health care at once.

In fact, community college enrollments have decreased by nearly 15% with the pandemic.

In his veto message, Newsom explained that he is “committed to considering options” in the “forthcoming January budget proposal.” Primary among those options must be:

  1. Extending state-paid annual health insurance to all California professors who, at a minimum, teach 50% of full-time in an academic year, which is especially warranted during a pandemic.
  2. Including substantial money in his budget solely to increase part-time faculty salaries and related benefits, as Washington state did in every biennial budget from 1996 until 2009 when the Great Recession hit. Though Washington stopped short of full equality for its part-timers, it increased part-time salaries by $50 million.
  3. Amending Section 87482.3 of the California Education Code to eliminate the workload cap imposed upon part-time college instructors.
  4. Abolishing the practice of allowing full-time instructors to teach overtime at will, thereby taking courses and income away from poorly paid part-time instructors.

Newsom acknowledged that California “community colleges could not operate without part-time faculty” who “do not receive the same salary or benefits as their full-time colleagues.” With his veto of AB 375, now is the time to make more substantial improvements for part-time instructors than that modest bill would have done.

•••

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 (CCCI). Jack Longmate and Keith Hoeller have long served on the Steering Committee of the Washington Part-Time Faculty Association and are contributors to Hoeller’s 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 (CFE).

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  1. Joe Berry 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    All three of these authors know personally the conditions of which they speak and all three have contributed mightily over many decades to the building of a movement among the contingent-majority faculty in CA community colleges, and nationally in all sectors as well. In short, they know what they are talking about and should be listened to. To those who say these demands are impossible or would cost too much, they should look at the … Read More

    All three of these authors know personally the conditions of which they speak and all three have contributed mightily over many decades to the building of a movement among the contingent-majority faculty in CA community colleges, and nationally in all sectors as well. In short, they know what they are talking about and should be listened to.

    To those who say these demands are impossible or would cost too much, they should look at the union contracts in the U of CA system for lecturers with UC AFT Council (recently won with a major strike-threat) or in the CA State University system with the CA Faculty Assoc. where many of these demands are reality right now. In fact, a recent book by myself and Helena Worthen (“Power Despite Precarity: Strategies for the contingent faculty movement in higher education” 2021, Pluto Books) tells the 40 year story of how the CSU lecturers have gotten close to equality with their tenure-track colleagues.

    It is the duty of all connected to higher ed in CA and worldwide to support this movement, for the workers and for their students, who need teachers with job security, living wages, and benefits so they can do their best work.

  2. Helena Worthen 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Thanks for this report. Newsom’s veto astonished me. As you point out, the numbers on which he justified his veto were simply nuts; on top of that, to do the veto on that basis (to prevent people from accessing health insurance?) was sheer cruelty. It’s a little-known story of one aspect of the suffering of thousands of California community college faculty.

  3. Tom Meisenhelder 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    It is a real injustice to teachers and students in California that our community colleges so blatantly mistreat part-time faculty. This needs to be fixed. Call the governor and your legislators and demand better.

  4. Susan Meisenhelder 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Great points about a very important issue in higher education! The exploitation of part-time faculty takes a terrible toll on these dedicated teachers and on their students. When faculty are forced to cobble together courses in multiple institutions just to pay the rent, students pay the price in less time with their instructors after class and less one-on-one mentorship than they would receive if these teachers had the time to provide it. We need to … Read More

    Great points about a very important issue in higher education! The exploitation of part-time faculty takes a terrible toll on these dedicated teachers and on their students. When faculty are forced to cobble together courses in multiple institutions just to pay the rent, students pay the price in less time with their instructors after class and less one-on-one mentorship than they would receive if these teachers had the time to provide it.

    We need to change this two-tiered system. Faculty working conditions are student learning conditions!

  5. Rick Baum 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Mighty generous of Newsom to consider extending health coverage to those who teach at least a 50% load. What happens to those who lose their jobs (almost 4,000 or 10% from fall 2019 to fall 2020) or are scheduled to teach less than 50%—the people who may be facing more desperate economic circumstances? What makes this proposal for part-time faculty so nutty is that in such a wealthy state with a massive surplus, … Read More

    Mighty generous of Newsom to consider extending health coverage to those who teach at least a 50% load. What happens to those who lose their jobs (almost 4,000 or 10% from fall 2019 to fall 2020) or are scheduled to teach less than 50%—the people who may be facing more desperate economic circumstances?
    What makes this proposal for part-time faculty so nutty is that in such a wealthy state with a massive surplus, there is absolutely no excuse for all people not to have access to affordable health care.
    When will Newsom and the Democrats finally end private health insurance companies whose focus is on making money, not on providing for peoples’ health needs, and replace the existing system with one that covers everyone?

  6. Vincent Longobardo 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    A well-argued point that the California legislature should pay attention to!

  7. Arnie Schoenberg 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    It’s sad that Newsom seems to care about students but his policies demonstrate contempt for the majority of teachers.