by Jack Longmate

At the Higher Ed Labor United (HELU) conference of July 20, 2023, a number of the non-tenure-track (NTT) speakers underscored the importance of collaboration with tenure-track (TT) faculty.  Not as avidly expressed was the position that TT faculty and the unions they dominate are actually the problem, the substandard pay and working conditions of NTT being the product of collective bargaining.

Sociodynamics complicate the TT to NTT instructor relationship.  TT carry out a host of supervisory/managerial functions that include involvement in initial NTT hiring and rehiring, performance evaluations, at times assigning schedules and classes, etc.  This unequal relationship makes many NTT feel an impetus to stay on the good side of TT.  Keith Hoeller asks: “If supervisors ran your union, would you stand up to them and oppose them?

Unions work best when there is a community of interests, but in a two-tier system with finite resources, more for one tier means less for the other. 

An example of a conflict of interest is workload.  TT instructors are not only guaranteed full-time work but are also allowed to teach additional classes, displacing NTT instructors.  At the same time, NTT instructors have little to no job security and commonly are restricted from working full-time.

Given the absence of improvement from either collective bargaining or legislation, most NTT instructors see a tenure-track job as their lone career salvation, impelling many, like those involved in HELU, to support initiatives for more tenure-track positions, such as the College for All Act of 2021.  It which proposed 75 percent of the instruction be delivered by TT faculty with 25 percent by NTT.  This “75/25 ratio,” was also part of California’s AB 1725 enacted in 1988 but never implemented.  

By headcount, NTT faculty outnumber the TT by at least a 2 to 1 margin—in California, about 18,000 TT to 38,000 NTT.  One doesn’t need an advanced degree in mathematics to realize that adding more TT positions is not a solution for NTT instructors.  If all TT instructors were suddenly to resign their 18,000 jobs and be replaced by NTT instructors, about 20,000 NTT instructors would be left behind.   

Creating new TT jobs does not improve substandard working conditions of NTT.  On the contrary, since new TT positions come about by eliminating existing NTT positions, it begs the question: “What kind of union seeks to jettison its lowest paid and most vulnerable members to create more jobs for higher paid members?

The true solution is the one-tier system along the lines of that established at Vancouver Community College.  After completing a probationary period, instructors are no longer contingent but regularized.  Regularization is civil-servant-type job security based on seniority with due process protection.  The Vancouver Model avoids wage discrimination by adopting a single salary schedule and workload, pro-rated for part-time instructors.  Faculty are faculty and not divided into two caste-like tiers.  

A one-tier workplace does not mean abolishing tenure (see section 3 of the Program for Change), but it does mean rejecting the unrealistic notion of “tenure for all.”  Not only does the slogan reflect the same type of moral logic as providing 500 life preservers for 1,500 passengers, it constitutes a step backward “by deflecting attention away from what could be concrete and achievable gains” for all, such as regularization.  

NTT faculty need friends who support “job security for all” while the “friendship” of TT faculty and faculty unions who mouth “tenure for all” without a plan to achieve it should be questioned.  

Jack Longmate

About the Author:

Jack Longmate served as an adjunct English instructor at Olympic College from 1992 until 2020; he is a former officer with the NEA-affiliated union and an active member of the Washington Part-Time Faculty Association.
With Frank Cosco, he co-authored the
Program for Change: Real Transformation over Two Decades.

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