All community college faculty should be entitled to work full-time

When discussing part-time employment within the public sector, the common belief is often that it may serve as a gateway to full-time positions, pays less due to reduced hours, is voluntary, and is intended to supplement a family’s income.

The reality for California’s 36,000 part-time community college instructors challenges these assumptions.

Part-time college instructors, unlike other professionals, do not have a pathway to full-time roles solely based on their length of service or performance quality. Unless they secure a rare full-time tenure track position, part-time instructors, many of whom work off the tenure track for extended periods, are essentially stuck as “apprentices to nowhere.”

Over the past five decades, colleges have favored part-time instructors for their flexibility in employing them on semester-length contracts without the obligation to rehire, along with their cost-effectiveness. While full-time instructors enjoy state-sponsored health insurance, only approximately 10% (3,742) of California’s part-time faculty members do.

The salary structure for part-time instructors differs from the prorated full-time rate; they receive about 50-60% of a full-time instructor’s pay rate. This does not equate to 50-60% of a full-time instructor’s income due to California law capping part-time faculty workload at 67% of full-time. As such, the average part-time instructor teaching at 60% of full-time receives around $20,000 annually, while full-time instructors earn over $100,000 per year.

Surveys conducted in 2020 and 2022 by the American Federation of Teachers revealed that approximately 25% of part-time community college faculty across the country fall below the federal poverty line.

With no clear path from part-time to full-time roles, this dual-tier system exhibits caste-like features, especially considering that both full-time and part-time instructors meet the same credential requirements, assign grades and credits of equal value, and have courses charged at the same tuition rates.

Despite being represented by faculty unions in California, primarily the California Federation of Teachers or the California Teachers Association, the focus of these unions leans heavily toward tenured faculty based on disparities in collectively bargained working conditions.

In the realm of workload, while part-time instructors are prevented from teaching full-time, full-time instructors may choose to undertake additional courses, known as course overloads, for extra income. This practice displaces part-time positions whenever full-time instructors opt for overloads. In most cases, full-time instructors select their courses, including overloads, before part-time instructors are assigned any.

Currently under consideration in the California Legislature is Assembly Bill 2277. This bill aims to raise the current part-time workload restriction from 67% to 85% of full-time, potentially allowing some part-timers to teach more classes and earn increased income. However, the passage of AB 2277 alone would not fully resolve the challenges faced by part-time instructors.

To bring about more meaningful change, AB 2277 could undergo two amendments that would not impact the state budget:

  • Removing the artificial workload cap entirely would empower part-time instructors to work up to 100% of full-time when opportunities arise.
  • Enforcing a ban on full-time tenure-track instructors from undertaking overtime teaching (overloads).

Resistance to these proposed changes may arise from California’s faculty unions, dominated by full-time staff. While they have supported past efforts to raise the cap to 85%, none have demonstrated a willingness to eliminate the cap or restrict full-time overloads.

Back in 2008, AB 591 raised the cap from 60% to the current 67%, but the initial bill had sought complete elimination of the cap, similar to the recommended amendment, which faced opposition from the CFT as documented in the April 16, 2007 legislative digest and the California Part-Time Faculty Association (CPFA) report.

An additional challenge could stem from full-time instructors accustomed to overloads, as they may resist losing this option. This dynamic underscores the conflict of interest in a dual-tier system where gains for one tier result in losses for the other.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, in his October 8, 2021 veto of AB 375 due to budgetary concerns, recognized the importance of part-time faculty in community colleges who do not receive equivalent salary or benefits compared to full-time colleagues. The fear of sudden qualification for healthcare by the state’s 36,000 part-time instructors led to an increase in the state’s contribution to the Part-time Faculty Health Insurance Program from $490,000 to $200 million annually. However, part-time faculty remain restricted from full-time work.

Faculty unions and legislators should take steps to eliminate California’s restriction on involuntary part-time work for faculty by allowing them to work full-time and safeguarding their roles. An amended version of AB 2277 presents a cost-effective solution.

•••

Alexis Moore taught visual art at colleges and universities for over three decades and was part of the executive board of the Pasadena City College Faculty Association of the California Community College Independents (CCCI).

Jack Longmate has been a member of the Steering Committee of the Washington Part-Time Faculty Association for an extended period and taught at Olympic College in Bremerton, Washington, for over 28 years, earning around $20,000 annually for teaching 55% of a full-time teaching load.

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