California has long prided itself on its community college system, with some 73 districts serving over 400,000 students each year. In recent decades, the state has seen two-year colleges as a means to balance the unequal distribution of income in our society. Study after study shows that students who attend college earn more than those who do not, both annually and over their lifetimes.
With equity in mind, California’s Legislature passed the Student Success and Support Program (SB 1456) in 2012. Its focus on increasing student graduation success and associate degrees is a good start, but it completely failed to address the inequities amongst college faculty.
Much like trends in the tech industry, our community colleges have been operating a two-tiered system of employment for faculty. Just 18,180 (33%) college instructors are tenured or on tenure tracks, receiving an average annual salary of $105,000, while 38,000 (67%) are “part time,” which disqualifies them from yearlong contracts, health benefits and limits them to 60-67% of a tenure-track workload. Even if part-time faculty manage to work the equivalent of a full-time load teaching at multiple districts, they are lucky to average 50% of a full-time salary.
Part-time faculty are involuntarily “part time.” Since the 1970s, the state’s Education Code has limited their ability to teach a full-time load at any one district, effectively forcing part-time faculty to either become “freeway fliers,” a term that’s come to describe those teaching at multiple districts, or take on a second job outside teaching. When this limit was raised to 67% in 2008 by Assembly Bill 591, enabling many part-time faculty to increase their teaching load at a single district, this led to increased time they were available to their students at no added cost to districts because they are able to spend less time commuting and more time on campus.
With bipartisan support, the Legislature recently passed Assembly Bill 375, which seeks to expand districts’ rights by permitting them to “commence negotiations” with local bargaining units, which could result in an increase of the part-time cap up to 80-85% of a full-time load. Far from a guarantee, the proposed legislative language merely gives each district the leeway to negotiate new workload standards.
While the Community College Chancellor’s Office argues that any raise to the workload cap would trigger health care benefits and lead to additional costs amounting to $440 million, this bill’s language is specifically designed to not do this. Office hours, preparation and grading time are excluded from this bill. Furthermore, health insurance would also have to be put through the negotiation process at the local level, which makes the risk of new costs grossly overstated.
Since AB 375 does not actually require anything of districts except “good faith” bargaining with local unions, this is a zero-cost bill, as was the case for its predecessor, AB 591. What it would do is give an individual district the option to “allow contingent faculty to spend more time teaching and less time on the freeway between jobs,” as noted by John Govsky, co-chair of the part-time faculty committee of the California Federation of Teachers.
In order to “build back better,” we need tools to address the sources of inequity in our education system at all levels. AB 375 is just one more tool for districts to use in this time of need. As Keith Hoeller, a well-known higher education part-time advocate puts it: “Before the Democrats spend tax money on free tuition and paying off student loans, they need to acknowledge the income disparity among the professoriate and make solving it an equal priority.”
Join me in writing to Gov. Gavin Newsom; he needs to know that equity for community college students in the classroom also must be applied to part-time instructors.
John Martin teaches history at Butte and Shasta Colleges and chairs the California Part-Time Faculty Association, which represents nearly 40,000 part-time faculty employed in the California community colleges.