By Jack Longmate
A bill in the Washington state legislature that Keith Hoeller and I have been opposing, E2SSB 5194, proposes the creation of 200 new full-time positions (it initially proposed 1,000) in the 34 Washington State community and technical colleges. It has cleared both the state’s senate and, as of yesterday, the state’s house. The bill does not increase part-time faculty pay. It now awaits signature by the governor.
E2SSB 5194 is the current version of this bill that has been strongly supported by both the AFT and NEA state affiliates for years. One Democratic legislator explained his support of the bill by saying, “For years I have heard from adjunct professors in our community college systems who have complained about their struggle to cobble together a living wage by teaching classes at multiple colleges….” But since E2SSB 5194 makes no pretense about improving the adjunct wages, his reasoning does not stand up to logic. He further said, “Our professors deserve to be able to make a living wage,” which is a sentiment that we can all agree with, but the current bill is silent on adjunct wages.
The bill, and previous bills like it, have also been supported by many of our part-time faculty colleagues who believe that, with the creation of new full-time instructors, they just might be among those selected for those new positions. But that amounts to a false promise because the bill converts part-time positions, not individuals, and since part-timers outnumber full-timers, even if every single full-time instructor in the state would resign, those new openings would not be enough to accommodate all part-timers.
During the House floor vote, courageous Representative Jacobsen, a former adjunct herself, proposed two amendments, one being a change in the language of the bill such that current part-time faculty would be first offered the new full-time positions. (View the Bill) But all Democrats opposed that amendment to first offer new full-time positions to current part-timers. Those part-timers who support new full-time positions, naively believing that they’re destined to get one should take heed.
The solution is not to sustain the two-tiered system by creating new full-time jobs while leaving the substandard working conditions of current part-timers intact. The solution is to establish equality, as is in place at Vancouver Community College in British Columbia, where all faculty are paid according to a common multi-step salary schedule, where all faculty, once established as capable educators, are granted job security so that they have reasonable confidence that they can count on their job continuing, and that seniority is respected. While equality in pay will make a budget impact, job security and seniority do not have to.
I believe that we supporters of non-tenure-track faculty should collectively and explicitly oppose initiatives to create new tenure-track lines until our working conditions are measurably improved and ideally equalized.
Jack Longmate, M.Ed, served as an adjunct English instructor at Olympic College (Bremerton, WA) from 1992 until 2020. He is a former union officer with the NEA-affiliated faculty union at Olympic College. He is an active member with the Washington Part-Time Faculty Association. With Frank Cosco, of the Vancouver Community College Faculty Association, Longmate co-authored the Program for Change, a strategic plan dealing with how the two-tiered faculty labor system can be converted into a single tier based on the Vancouver Model.