Like most part-time faculty, Long Beach City College adjunct professor Karen Roberts applies for unemployment benefits at the end of every semester. Even after 20 years teaching art history at colleges throughout Southern California, Roberts relies on the state’s social safety net when colleges are closed for break.
“This will get me through the winter,” says Roberts, past president of Long Beach City College Certificated Hourly Instructors.
“Every semester, we have to educate our members about unemployment.”
The lack of certainty about work is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the disparities endured by part-time faculty in community colleges across the state. Part-time faculty are paid less than their full-time colleagues, receive fewer benefits, often need to purchase their own supplies, and even have to fight for office space on campus. Roberts says her contract stipulates that the college provide shared office space to all part-time faculty “when feasible,” though there is usually not enough for everyone.
Approximately 70 percent of community college courses are taught by part-time faculty, who often split their time at multiple colleges to make ends meet due to course caps. John Sullivan has been teaching English composition at two community colleges for 23 years, adding in work at a third college or university to earn enough to live.
“I teach on average five to six classes a semester to try to cobble together enough work to pay the bills,” says Sullivan, CCA secretary and a Riverside CCD Faculty Association member.
While part-time faculty are capped at 67 percent of a full-time workload, they are only paid for the time they spend teaching courses — not the time needed to prep, grade or help students outside of class. Part-time faculty are not always paid for office hours or provided space to provide such assistance. Sullivan says that parity for part-time faculty means equal pay for equal work.
“Workload parity means that part-time faculty who are teaching nine units (three three-unit courses) should be reported as teaching 21 hours per week: nine hours teaching, nine hours prep/ grading, and three hours office hours,” Sullivan says. “Pay parity means that we are paid the same for doing the same work, since we are expected to teach students according to the same standards as our full-time counterparts, we are required to have the same degrees, and we are expected to serve our students in the same exact way as our fulltime colleagues, because to do otherwise would be discriminating against the students of part-time faculty.”
The disparity has lasting impacts on part-time faculty. In addition to making substantially less for doing the same work with the same qualifications, the pay gap means seasoned part-time faculty like Sullivan earn far less in retirement benefits. Sullivan says the lack of workload parity has also impacted his ability to obtain health insurance that he may need as he gets older.
Roberts says these inequities wear away at her self-esteem. “I think, ‘Wait, I went to graduate school for this,’” she says. “It’s demoralizing.”
Roberts says about a third of LBCC’s 700 part-time faculty turn over annually. This impacts not only the college, which is on a constant mission to find instructors to meet the need, but also the local part-time faculty association, which needs to devote time and resources to maintain and build power while losing members every year.
“The system is a form of union busting,” Roberts says. “We constantly have to be organizing new members. We can’t stop building membership.”
CCA Vice President Randa Wahbe says many community college districts take advantage of the situation, balancing budgets on the backs of part-time faculty and using limited resources to divide and conquer full-time and part-time faculty. She says CCA is currently developing legislation that would close the parity gap for part-time faculty and end this ongoing inequity.
Sullivan is hopeful after working on the parity issue for the past 20 years, adding that CCA’s success thus far has been mixed despite a commitment to improving the working conditions of part-time faculty.
“We have lobbied for pay parity, rehire rights, office hours and seniority, but we keep nibbling around the edges of the issue: the need to replace this discriminatory, inequitable faculty employment system with one that eliminates the gap between part-time and full-time faculty status while ensuring those who want to teach part-time are treated as equals,” Sullivan says. “CCA has been committed to that. The challenge has been in bringing the various faculty organizations and fighting the forces in this state and country that throw the word ‘flexibility’ around as if it is the air they breathe while claiming poverty at the colleges despite the inexhaustible creation of new administrative positions along with their high salaries, benefits and support staff.”
Look in coming issues of the Advocate for more about the part-time parity issue and CCA’s legislative solutions.