By Jon Fox

Reprinted from FA News, Foothill De-Anza Faculty Association

One of my roles in FA is serving on the Board of Governors for the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, where I have learned a lot about important statewide conversations on a range of issues, so this report, and the next one, will focus on what I’ve learned in this process. In the past few years there has been a new conversation regarding the status of part-time faculty. For many years the conversation has circled around reducing inequities in pay and benefits (“equal pay for equal work”) and professional respect in the form of academic freedom and tenure. We all know the inequities part-time faculty experience in their jobs, and I know of no faculty member, at any college, who says that part-time faculty are treated fairly. There is a broad feeling across the state that attempts to correct the inequities piece-by-piece have failed, so a new approach is needed to work for systemic change. Across California, many faculty are working toward eliminating the two-tier system, in which some faculty are paid more, afforded more resources, and have more power than part-time faculty. In a one-tier system, these inequities would be leveled so the only difference between full-time and part-time faculty is the number of hours worked. “One Faculty” is the motto that most resonates with me. 

Attempts at reforms have been mixed at best. Professional organizations and unions have advocated for pay parity, medical benefits, the lift of the 67% load cap, access to resources to better serve students, and professional development. While there is progress, there is a growing belief that these goals cannot be attained in a two-tier system. Furthermore, state law reinforces this two-tier system. For example, AB 1725, a landmark bill that I have lauded elsewhere, establishes the goal of at least 75% of credit instruction be taught by full-time faculty (this has become known as “75/25’) but John Govsky from Cabrillo College observes that this change is not sufficient when he says, “Even if we could get to 75/25, adding more teachers into the upper tier means having fewer exploited workers, and this is not a bad thing…. [B]ut is this really the best long-term vision for the future? A better goal would be having no exploited workers at all.” [emphasis in original]. The 67% load cap also enshrines the two-tier system into California law. 

There is reason to believe that the elimination of the two-tier system would benefit all faculty. Those who are now part-time would become invested in their colleges and districts, which would lead to more participation in shared governance. According to the State Chancellor’s Office, in Fall 2022 there were 36,306 part-time faculty, compared to 17,727 tenured/tenure-track faculty. Because they would be fully integrated into the system and wouldn’t have fly across freeways or otherwise participate in the gig economy, part-time faculty would have the time to participate in shared governance. Furthermore, current part-time faculty active in part-time faculty issues would be free to advocate for all faculty. 

A one-tier system may also benefit students. In a recent report, the State Auditor cited research saying, verbatim, that:

  • Part-time instructors are less likely to use high-impact educational practices—which are more likely to engage students—such as referrals to tutoring services
  • Part-time instructors are less likely to have a designated office space, making it more difficult to meet with students outside of class.
  • Part-time instructors are less able to dedicate the same amount of time to advising students.
  • Part-time instructors may not know their instructional assignments until shortly before the term begins, which may limit their time to prepare course materials.

These disadvantages have nothing to do with the abilities or talent of part-time instructors, but rather the support afforded to part-time faculty in serving students. For example, if a student needs to speak to me after class regarding a personal issue, I can bring them to my office where we can speak privately. However, my part-time counterparts are not afforded that luxury so their ability to tend to students’ needs are greatly reduced. As the saying goes, “faculty working conditions are student learning conditions.” 

While most full-time faculty I speak to agree that part-time faculty are treated unfairly, when I ask many of them about eliminating the two-tier system, they are uncomfortable. Usually the response is “how are you going to…” address all the problems that will arise from transitioning to a one-tier system. Honestly, I don’t have all the answers—but there are people working on it. The Faculty Association for California Community Colleges (FACCC) are having these conversations, and the California Federation of Teachers passed a resolution last year and organized a task force to “Develop a Strategic Plan to End the Two-Tier System in Community College.” 

And—it’s been done! Our neighbors to the north at Vancouver Community College succeeded in establishing a one-tier system. Commonly referred to as the Vancouver Model, according to Frank Cosco, 

[T]he part-time or full-time distinction is not the crucial one. Nor is rank the crucial distinction—there is only one rank, instructor, and all instructors are on the same eleven-step salary scale. Pay equity is absolute: 30 percent and 60 percent instructors respectively make exactly 30 percent and 60 percent of full-time salary at the same salary step over the same period of time. The most important distinction between instructors is between term and regular status; that is, between probationary, time-limited employment and nonprobationary, continuing employment.

The process of regularization, the key to establishing the one-tier system, took 20 years to accomplish and is documented in Jack Longmate and Frank Cosco’s Program for Change. California’s process would probably look a little different but the end goal would be very similar. The Program for Change has 35 items addressed, broken down into four categories:

  • One cost, or incidental one-time cost: Such as one hiring process for all and protection from layoffs;
  • Cost issues: Working toward one salary scale and a fully pro-rata workload;
  • Union and Association Rights and Support: Including the right to strike.
  • Legislation: Fully pro-rata inclusion in pensions

As I said, I don’t have all the answers and I don’t think anyone does—yet—but the Vancouver Model is a solid starting point. Two-tier systems are demoralizing for the lower tier and is not healthy for an organization. Part-time faculty suffer the most, but full-time faculty are also overburdened, and students end up getting shorted. While some faculty might think working toward this goal is futile, I agree with James Baldwin:

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can change until it is faced.”

James Baldwin

Taking a close look at the Vancouver Model and the Program for Change and engaging in the conversation is facing the issue and may lead to a day (hopefully in less than twenty years) when we are truly “One Faculty.”

About the Author: John Fox is a full-time Sociology instructor at Foothill College and serves as Vice-President of the Faculty Association. He also serves on the Board of Governors for the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges. Previous to his full-time employment he worked part-time at several colleges, including De Anza College, Diablo Valley College, Solano Community College, and Holyoke Community College in Holyoke, MA.

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