by Dennis Selder
If you read the seamless articles geared for the select group of community college administrators who portray themselves as “leaders” and “educational innovators” of the community college system, you will find a history of ongoing concern for students–especially lower-income and economically disadvantaged students to the exclusion of all else. This is their “lobbying club,” so to speak, the invocation of the interests of students.
Take the most recent example of how community colleges would deal with the Affordable Care Act. Suddenly, community colleges might be on the hook for healthcare for part-time faculty. In response they argued, successfully, as it turns out, that judging the actual time part-time faculty spend outside the classroom should be based on the most conservative estimate possible: essentially each credit, which normally corresponds to some amount of time in the classroom, should be granted another hour outside the classroom. Why did they say this? Because, they claimed, otherwise, community colleges would have to raise student tuition to pay for healthcare.
After having successfully pushed for this definition before the IRS through its lobbying and formal statements and briefs, the American Association of Community Colleges made the following press release to its members. Below is a direct quote:
The IRS regulations directly address the complex and contentious issue of how to measure adjunct faculty effort. The IRS decision largely reflects positions taken by AACC in its formal comments to the IRS, informal conversations with Treasury officials, and related advocacy. It is our belief that this regulation is constructed such that in the clear majority of circumstances, colleges will not have to limit the hours of adjuncts to avoid having to assume the financial obligation of providing health care insurance (link to AACC press release)
In this statement, the AACC acknowledges that they directly opposed providing healthcare. And if you go to their “formal comments,” you will read about how the students would suffer were the accounting of hours to be made more liberally.
This is their history. As they promote it, it’s a history of successful management of a worker population in the face of decreasing public investment in education, all the while they, like white knights, implement new technologies of assessment, evaluation, measurement, and teaching to prove publicly that students are learning, that the decreasing investment is justified.
Part-timers have a different history to write. Like administrators, we care about our students. But we see them in a different way. Instead of demographic categories, we see Magdelena, Tyrone, and Conner. We know how well the research goes from the iphone, how successful the online math lab was, how many times someone attempted to get through a MOOC. And we also know when the game is not being played fairly. Would the AACC be making the same argument if its members didn’t already have Cadillac health care plans themselves? Administrators don’t make much noise about the fact that the students are already paying for their healthcare. In this context, their sudden concern for students when it comes to part-time faculty healthcare can only be read as disingenuous.
So what do we do? We need to start telling our own history. I can tell you that of the sixty students I am teaching this semester, two of them might be able to improve their writing through a MOOC. The rest wouldn’t last an hour sitting passively in front of a computer screen. Better to head off to the hookah lounge or take the bus from Bonita Plaza to the gambling casino.
More history: students have complained this semester about the online math instruction that basically teaches them to follow an endless series of algorithms that might make them suitable to work in the maquiladora industry that begins a ten-minute drive from my campus. Lost on these students is the rich history of Italians backstabbing each other for the answers to quadratic equations or tales of how legendary teachers such as Polya found clever ways to help students think creatively about the subject.
As for myself, I now am paying an extra $152.00/ month for healthcare because the community college where I teach would not extend a healthcare plan that would cover anyone but myself. I am grateful to have coverage, but given that the insurance is mandated, and I already wasn’t making enough money, I feel additional stress to make ends meet. This doesn’t make me a better teacher, though it may make me a more “docile body,” from an administrative perspective. My daughter, it turns out, under the new system qualifies for MediCal. The more aware I become of this system of exploitation of which I have become a part, the more determined I am to resist it. I am hoping the rest of you will do the same: tell us your history. Find a blog or add to this one. Don’t let a two-tiered union system stop you from participating. Look critically at what is happening in your classroom and write about that. Otherwise, the only history that’s going to get written is the one that’s already in print, sandwiched between shiny advertisements for 3D printers and the latest new tablet.
You can follow Dennis Selder on twitter at @erasmusonline