From the Part-Timer’s Perspective – March 2011

The New Faculty Majority and SB 114

by Margaret Hanzimanolis,
AFT 1493 Part-time Faculty Organizer

Ed. note: This is the inaugural installment of “From the Part-Timers’ Perspective,” which will be a regular Advocate column by Margaret Hanzimanolis, AFT 1493’s new Part-time Faculty Organizer.

The numbers are striking: Over half a million contingent faculty nationwide, tipping into the majority four or five years ago. In one of the wealthiest college districts in America, the numbers are, if anything, even more surprising: SMCCD is at a historic high point in its reliance on part-time faculty: 758 part-time faculty are currently teaching alongside 293 full-time faculty. While around 72% of the faculty in the district are employed on a part-time basis, a smaller proportion of classes are taught by part-time faculty members, currently 37%.

In what other sector do part-time workers constitute the majority? No other public sector of the economy is so heavily staffed by temporary, part-time workers. You won’t find the first half of a 9th grader’s class taught by one part-time faculty and the second half by another. Your bus drivers, IRS personnel, Department of Motor Vehicles employees and college administrators are rarely temporary and virtually never part-time. To try to understand this labor anomaly, one must imagine college classes as “piece work”—and accept that what happens, what is meant to happen, inside the college classroom led by a part-time faculty member is, in some crucial ways, split off from the rest of the institution.

This sort of fragmentation is deeply damaging. When faculty members have weak institutional connections, when their class is a “piece” of work that is bounded by the start and the end of a class period, the educational transaction is damaged. Building strong cohorts of students, who are involved in and supportive of one another’s success, and led by faculty members whose institutional roots are deep, and who are fully integrated into all of the readiness and success support programs, is the best way to ensure high student completion rates. We need faculty to be strongly invested in the entire sweep of a student’s educational experience—from first contact to successful transfer or associate’s degree—not just in a semester-long set of discipline-specific outcomes.

This shift —from a faculty with strong institutional and student body connections to a faculty with weak institutional connections —has happened for obvious reasons: it’s cheaper and it’s more convenient for administrators to deal with a weakened faculty. Part-time faculty typically work on more than one campus or have other work jobs or family responsibilities, and usually can’t involve themselves in campus or departmental committee work, curriculum revision, technological innovation, advising and the informal contact students so urgently need, and a growing burden of administrative tasks overwork full-time faculty so that their institutional influence in program innovation, revision, and curriculum is flattened out.

But is it really cheaper? No, actually not. The administrative frictions of the constant turnover of part-time faculty, the keys and contracts, and last-minute schedule changes are costly. The low completion rates that are strongly correlated with reliance on an enormous, largely un-integrated faculty cadre, will emerge (once someone finally begins to track and analyze these kinds of data sets) as the most costly downside to the practice of the casualizing of academic labor at community colleges.

If community colleges are going to be funded, as many suggest will happen, on the basis of completion rates, the existence of these very weak connections between the large and growing part-time faculty cadre and the institution that has kept this enormous group of people at a deliberate distance from its core mission, will work strongly against those districts, campuses, departments and divisions that rely most on part-time faculty, and will most severely affect those institutions whose part-time faculty are most marginalized, most unfairly-compensated and most demoralized.

What hope is on the horizon? If we accept that the full integration of part-time faculty into the community college institutional culture is the key component to boosting completion rates, the most important initiative on the table now is SB 114, introduced by Senator Leland Yee, which would require parity in salary between full-time and part-time faculty and regularize the pension calculation formula, which currently disadvantages part-time faculty members working at more than one campus. (See article on next page.) This single initiative would go a long way towards fostering more meaningful institutional integration of part-time workers, the single largest drawback to this antiquated, unworkable two-tier system. More on SB 114, part-time professional development, national part-time and contingent faculty news, highlights of part-time contract provisions, re-employment preference lists, overload practices, opportunities for union involvement, SDI, unemployment compensation, health coverage in the coming months!