November 2017 Advocate: Part-time faculty highlight inequities


Part-time faculty highlight inequities as they are squeezed by high housing costs, long commutes

by Katharine Harer, AFT 1493 Co-Vice President & Michelle Kern, CSM Chapter Chair

Every year, colleges and universities across the nation observe Campus Equity Week, highlighting the inequities in the working lives of part time faculty in higher education. This year, AFT 1493 organizers decided to highlight the experiences of our “freeway fliers,” using our data to identify and inform students about the experiences of part time faculty members, who make up more than 65 percent of the instructors in our district.
Due to the record-high costs of housing in the Bay Area, many part-time faculty members can’t afford to live near the schools where they teach. Their long commute hours impinge on the amount of time they can spend with students, develop curriculum, read and grade student work and carry out other teaching-related tasks. These constraints on time are compounded by the lack of offices for part-timers at both the Skyline and Cañada campuses.

[in photo above: l. to r. Katharine Harer, David Leitner, Michelle Kern & Doniella Maher]

Students & adjuncts face same problems

Our students also suffer from a lack of affordable housing and many also commute to school from long distances, which can have a negative impact on the time they have for studying and completing assignments. In the recent annual poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California on state residents’ attitudes toward their system of higher education, 75 percent of the respondents agreed that students often cannot graduate from college because of lack of access to housing near campus.

AFT organizers Michelle Kern, Katharine Harer, David Leitner and Jessica Silver-Sharp were moved by this critical issue that impacts both our students and our part time faculty, and we came up with a plan to illustrate just how serious this problem is by presenting it in a visual, interactive format. We created a large-scale map of the greater Bay Area, to display at Cañada College on October 31st, National Part Time Equity Day. Our first step was to find out where our part time faculty actually live and how many miles they drive to come to work. Using our database, and a little blood, sweat, and Google Maps, we created a list of cities, recorded how far away they are from San Mateo County, and how many of our part-time faculty live in each city. We set up a table in the quad at Cañada during their Halloween celebration, and using color-coded map pins, we asked faculty and students to pin their locations on the map. Seeing the problem in a visual medium created a striking portrait of the time and long distances traveled that eat into the lives of both our students and our part time faculty.













AFT also created an informational flyer (click here to see flyer) that graphed the travel distances of part-time faculty. We found that approximately 46 percent of adjunct faculty members live outside of San Mateo and San Francisco Counties. Nineteen percent travel from San Francisco, while only 35 percent live in San Mateo County. 231 part-time faculty travel between 20 to 30 miles to work in our District, 54 travel 30 to 40 miles, and 48 travel 40 to 100 miles. Some of these cities, such as Antioch, Sonoma and Davis, were not even located on our map of the greater Bay Area, and we created post-it notes with the names of their cities to display around the map to represent them.























Students shocked to hear about numbers and commute distances of part-time faculty

In carrying out this event, we had the opportunity to talk to a great many students who all claimed they had no idea how many of their teachers were part-time. They were shocked to hear that their teachers had to travel so far to come to their campus. Students stuck pins into the map to show where they lived, and then stuck a second pin to represent a part time faculty member. We also spoke to a number of full-time faculty members who were supportive of the project and stuck a pin in a city where one of their part time colleagues live. It was difficult to find part-timers who were available to participate, which was no surprise. Part time faculty members are either teaching, meeting with students, attending meetings, or driving to their next gig. Maybe next time we’ll add in the cost of tires, gas, car repair and Tylenol.

Part-time Faculty Voices

Two adjunct faculty members share slices of their lives:

“Which of Stella’s camp registrations can we cancel this summer?” That was the first question I asked my wife last spring after I got a call from the dean letting me know my only summer session class was canceled. It was the end of May, about 3 weeks before the start of summer classes, and I was still grading final exams. Money is tight in the summer even when I do have a class to teach.  I usually only teach one class and the paychecks are spread out in such a way that the bulk of the money doesn’t arrive until July 31. But we’re used to scrimping and juggling accounts in June and July. This, however, was the second summer in a row that my class had been cancelled due to low enrollment. We were looking again at the gaping maw of three months without a paycheck.  I signed up for unemployment, which helped, but we had to cut back. We cancelled the trip to Washington to see one of my closest and oldest friends get married. We cancelled several of my daughter’s summer camps to save on childcare. I got really good at making things like PB&J and canned vegetables for dinner. We survived, and frankly I’m thankful for the resources we had at our disposal. That made it a little less jarring when I got another call over the summer. There wouldn’t be enough classes to offer me an assignment in the spring. “Well,” I thought, “at least I got some warning this time.”
– David Leitner (in photo above in red shirt), part-time anthropology instructor, Cañada College

“Honey, we need new tires again. But I can transfer the front tires to the rear and then we’ll only need two!” My husband’s message wasn’t a surprise, since for the past year I’ve been working a 25 hour week as a part-time librarian between two college districts, each about 19 miles from home or 33 miles from one to the other. At 760 miles/month, my commute is moderate compared to some. However, rising Bay Area gas and maintenance costs pose a truly creative challenge on part-time salary. And that’s without considering daily activities of driving our 12 year old, medical appointments, union, committee and task force meetings, professional development training and volunteer work. 
– Jessica Silver-Sharp (in photo above) , part-time librarian, Skyline College

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