The dedicated instructor sacrificing the financial security and benefits their training and education could afford them in other jobs for the satisfaction of educating students is a persistent stereotype. It's a noble image, but the degree to which it's true doesn't always work in favor of those pursuing this vocation.
Within the teaching ranks of U.S. institutions of higher education, an upsurge in activism addresses the consequences of what has been termed an “over-reliance,” and even “abuse,” of part-time faculty (also referred to, in some systems, as lecturers). Administrative financial constraints combined with lingering remnants of academia's traditional elitism and faculty caste system have created a “sub-class” of teachers treated like temp workers.
Past tradition in higher education, which in California comprises the California Community College, University of California and California State University systems, dictated that part-time, temporary assignments be used primarily for noncredit, adult education-stand-alone courses, not part of the school's core program-while full-time, tenured professors taught credit courses.
Starting more than 30 years ago, legislative changes in California led to increasingly higher percentages of part-timers teaching in core areas, particularly mathematics, social sciences and English and the humanities. Although conditions vary in the different areas of California's three-part system, there are many shared issues regarding part-time faculty use, including equal pay for equal work, academic freedom and the provision of benefits.
While part-time teachers must, in general, have the same qualifications as their full-time colleagues to teach credit courses-usually, at minimum, a master's degree-part-timers usually earn significantly lower compensation, lack job security and often harbor feelings of being treated as second-class citizens compared with full-timers. In many cases, part-timers, even those who have worked for many consecutive years at the same school, get no health care benefits.
Part-timers are often not provided with office space, making it hard to hold regular office hours. Many, working at more than one school in more than one district to make ends meet, travel hundreds of miles every week, dashing from site to site to get to their next class. This has led to the moniker commonly used for part-timers in Southern California: “Freeway Flyers.”
And as for the notion that if one perseveres in this manner for a few years in the hopes of getting a full-time job, the real chances of that happening, depending on the system and/or district involved, vary from nearly impossible to slim. It's even been speculated that the longer a teacher works as a part-timer, the less chance that person has of advancing to a full-time, tenured position in academia.
Changes in the system
Chris Storer, who currently teaches philosophy at De Anza College, began his career teaching in 1968, taught for a few years, took an 18-year break from the profession and then came back to it. “I left an educational situation where 100 percent of faculty were full-time tenured; I returned to one where 55 percent were part-time and temporary, and there were no full-time jobs,” he said. “The whole system is falling apart-not just California, but nationwide.” Storer is also legislative analyst for the California Part-Time Faculty Association (CPFA) and was recently appointed to the American Association of University Professors' Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure.
There have been advances: Since legislation was passed about five years ago, some colleges have negotiated health care for part-timers. But such improvements are made possible solely through the perseverance of activists like Storer, who noted that it's vital for part-timers to confidently insist on being part of their academic communities.
On Oct. 14 and 15, more than 1,000 lecturers refused to teach classes at the UC Riverside, Irvine, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Davis campuses. According to the University of California Council of the American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT), the walkout was held to “protest the University administration's unfair labor practices at the bargaining table and on most of the campuses. ... more than 4,000 UC lecturers across the state have worked without a contract during more than two years of talks.”
Fred Lonidier a professor in the UC San Diego Visual Arts department and president of the UC/AFT Local 2034, explained why UCSD lecturers didn't strike: “It takes quite a while to organize for a strike, and both the Coalition of University Employees and my local at UCSD have been without staff.” The union did, however, have an informational picket at the UCSD campus on Oct. 15.
While the statewide UC strike didn't focus on a number of the aforementioned substantive issues, it serves as a prime example of the growing mobilization of part-time faculty, demanding that their grievances be heard.
“Nationwide, there's a class divide between lecturers and tenure-track professors,” said Sandra Baringer, director of publications for CPFA, who left the community college system after working at Palomar College as a part-time faculty member for eight years and now teaches at UC Riverside. “It's not all something that can be addressed at the bargaining table.”
At an Oct. 8 board meeting of the Palomar Faculty Federation Co-President Mary Millet pointed out, “Over 215,000 hours of teaching were done by adjunct faculty in the fiscal year 2001-2002.” But despite this reliance on adjuncts, she said, the Palomar District administration “has repeatedly refused to consider the workplace conditions... adjuncts want and need most.”
Millet alleges the district lags far behind other southern California community college districts in providing its part-timers with a number of “essential working conditions because the administration doesn't care. They treat us the way they do because they believe they can.”
The price of quality teaching
One consequence of situations like these is valuable teachers end up leaving a profession they love, seeking greater job security in other fields. Most importantly, students don't get the benefit of a teacher who has been integrated into the academic community to the same degree as a tenured faculty member.
Storer estimated the average pay of a California Community College, part-timer-by class load-is about one-third that of a full-time teacher. It's true the latter group has professional responsibilities that take up about twice as much time outside of class as in class. “But most part-time teachers don't just come into class and leave,” he said. “They have all the same professional expectations on them a full-time faculty member has... they're just not getting paid for it.”
In California community colleges, Storer said, part-timers, whose first assignments are often made as “emergency hires,” are used in roughly 60 to 70 percent of such core credit courses as English, math, biology and history. “The institutions claim that something like 65 to 70 percent of the courses are taught by full-time faculty. That's just flat wrong,” he said.
Storer strongly believes in changing the education code so part-timers used on a regular basis would no longer be temporary but tenured. “It would force things like health care, job security, stability of program, proper evaluations, proper hiring procedures-all those things that are just happening haphazardly at this point,” he said.
As for the use of lecturers in the UC system, Baringer believes conditions aren't dramatically different from the community college part-timers. For example, the difference in pay between UC lecturers and tenured professors is significant. “There's no real pay scale whatsoever for lecturers,” she said. “It's just all over the map.
“The education industry in this country relies a lot on foreign students because we have the reputation of having the best higher-education system in the world,” Baringer continued. “That's not going to last if the top administration... keep acting the way they do. You can't pay lip service to quality teaching and put all of your money into research and think tanks.”
Storer concluded, “In most respects, California is actually way ahead of the rest of the country, [which] is very much watching what we do.”
However, he added, “the use of non-tenure-track faculty is undermining the quality of the whole American higher-education system. If we don't fix it before this generation of faculty retires and leaves, nobody's going to remember what it could've been.”