By John Martin, Chair of CPFA Executive Committee
In a December edition of the Los Angeles Times, the editorial contributor, Charlotte Allen, offers an implausible solution for the nearly forty thousand part-time faculty who teach in the California Community Colleges System: QUIT. She points out that—were it to happen—by dramatically removing the “supply of academic victims” from the faculty equation, CEO’s and unions would be unable to continue “victimizing” us. These actions would then force the teaching market to improve wages and working conditions. For alternative work, Ms. Allen suggests, “if you love to teach, teach high school.” Ms. Allen only offers this solution after considering what she rightly suggests has been a red herring: using unions to solve the inequities of part-timers. She further points out an all too common experience—union negotiations have resulted in salary increases for part-timers amounting to merely “a few hundred dollars more per course.” More importantly, she notes that these same unions have had a strong hand in making part-time faculty into a “permanent second-tier faculty,” an underclass in the system.
While the fanciful notion that ALL part-time faculty should simply quit en masse certainly has its appeal, this “final solution,” is as unrealistic as it might have been to tell black South Africans to just leave their own country in order to solve the problem of apartheid. We could add that, the very few who actually followed this strategy did so leaving apartheid intact. By contrast, there are many among us who recognize that the struggle for a more equitable educational system, as arduous as that might be, is preferable to jumping ship, as well as more realistic. But how?
This is where the California Part-time Faculty Association (CPFA) comes in. Now in its 15th year, CPFA believes that real solutions in addressing our multiple and diverse issues are to be found working with legislators at the state level. Because 73 individual district contracts govern how part-time workers are defined, paid, denied benefits and restricted to teaching just 67% of a full-time load, CPFA recognizes that best place for us is to be working for change and advocating for a system-wide set of solutions. Change the State Education Code that governs all California Community College districts and all of us benefit.
CPFA takes the position that legislators, their aides and consultants need to be apprised of the unfair working conditions of part-timers and how a greater investment in part-time faculty will positively impact student success. If they become aware of our current experiences and those of our students, we feel that system-wide mandates can and will be implemented to make our community colleges live up to the ideals to which they say they are committed and upon which they were founded.
There is already evidence that CPFA has the right strategy for bringing about positive change. In particular, the CPFA was able to move the cap on the part-time workload from sixty to sixty-seven percent. How? By getting on the inside of the legislative process when Peg McCormack and Robert Yoshioka worked closely with Assembly member Mervyn Dymally in 2007 on Assembly Bill 591. While in its original form, AB 591 sought a 100% workload per instructor per district and modest health benefits for those who teach 40% or more, the full effect of the measure was blunted (and eye witnesses stated it was also “shouted down”) when a meeting was held in Dymally’s office with lobbyists from the California Federation of Teachers. CFT lobbyists threatened that the bill should be scaled back or they would pull their support for Dymally’s reelection bid. Though lobbyists were successful in opposing a bigger change than we wanted, there is no reason why this push to increase the cap should not continue. This is the model for change: it worked then and it can work again.
Currently the CPFA—we are hoping you will join us and become part of this effort—is focused on establishing communication with a variety of stakeholders throughout the state. The willingness of stakeholders in the educational arena to listen to us is partly because they are coming to understand the importance of including our perspectives when it comes to improving education. By some estimates, part-timers are doing three-quarters of the teaching at community colleges. They should be listening to us.
Clearly the CPFA has a lot more to accomplish. There is still a two-tier system within the community college system. We still lack offices and time available for our students, job security, academic freedom, and opportunities for career advancement. And the unions, the Chancellor’s Office, institutional organizations and legislators so far continue to support this inequitable arrangement. But in spite of these challenges, it’s important to keep in mind the advantages that the CPFA offers part-time faculty for influencing positive change. As an organization, the CPFA is unique in not being beholden to ANY institutions other than ourselves and, most importantly of all, we are not beholden to full-time faculty. We decide on a strategy, and we then test it in Sacramento. You can expect the CPFA to always be pushing the envelope; that is, we are continually educating and advocating for changes to those who are involved within the California Community College system.
The California Part-time Faculty Association is not alone in these efforts. Other activists are doing hard work on behalf of their part-time colleagues in their own way. They participate as leaders, often in an official capacity, with their respective local bargaining units, their Academic Senates and some work and participate statewide or nationally. That being said, it is up to each of us as an activist to make judgments about where our energies can have the greatest impact, and I would argue that if you are an activist and your time is limited, consider the CPFA. True, there are community colleges that have made strides to improve the campus environment for part-timers. But these are isolated cases. Other districts struggle with chairs who refuse to offer part-timers more than a single class each semester, with campuses that offer teaching awards to full-time faculty only, with departments that don’t include part-timers in meetings. On the other hand, any change the CPFA makes won’t just impact one community college; it will impact all of them.
Regardless of how each of us decides to be an activist something we can all follow is to document our experience at work and how it affects our personal lives, share our experiences, and blog about them. We can all continue to be observant about how we are treated, clarify what we know about our rights and those of our students. We can continue to think about how the current sets of policies affect learning and education. And finally we can share share share. It’s only if the clear light of day comes to shine on the set of misguided policies that are now in effect that positive change will occur.
(For more of my views, see my previous IMHO column in the last spring 2013 edition of the CC Journal: http://www.cpfa.org).