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A Shop Divided

A Shop Divided
February 10, 2011

A part-time instructor and faculty union officer at Olympic College in Washington may be stripped of his leadership post for breaking with the union to speak out against the interests of full-time faculty -- and in favor of adjuncts.

Jack Longmate, an instructor of English at Olympic, also serves as secretary of the campus chapter of the Association for Higher Education, which is affiliated with the National Education Association. The dispute centers on Longmate's public stand against state legislation, backed by the union, regarding faculty pay raises. But, more deeply, it touches on a widening fissure between adjunct and tenured faculty, leading some to question whether both categories of the professoriate can truly co-exist in unions because their interests collide more than they cohere.

The conflict between Longmate and his fellow union officers started last week, after he testified in front of the House Education Committee of the Washington State House of Representatives. He appeared as one of several speakers weighing in against House Bill 1631, which would establish a way for the state to pay for salary increases for faculty members in the state's 34 community and technical colleges. For tenured and tenure-track faculty, much of the money for salary increases is determined by what are known as increments. Like step increases, increments are automatic annual pay raises that are based on a faculty member's years of service and, in some cases, his or her level of education. For adjuncts, while raises may come, they are not determined according to increments.

The bill is endorsed by the union, which sees it as a way to identify a permanent funding stream for increments. The lack of a reliable or predictable source of money for increment increases has proven to be a long-standing and troubling problem for full-time faculty in recent years. The union also argues that the bill would help fund increases for part-time faculty, even though increments are not available to them on all campuses.

Longmate said he opposes the bill because the unequal application of increments remains in place -- and raises are not awarded to adjuncts in as systematic a way as is provided through increments. (In Washington, adjuncts are commonly referred to as part-timers, even if some of them work full-time when all of their courses at various campuses are added together. Tenured and tenure-track professors are full-time.)

"I'm an active member of our union; however, I'm not representing our union," Longmate told the education committee, as shown in a webcast of his testimony (his remarks start at 1:15:19). "Our union does support this bill. I’m opposing it because of what it does not do for the majority of individuals teaching in our community college system: the part-time and adjunct faculty."

About two-thirds of the people serving as faculty members of the state's community and technical colleges are part-time, according to the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges. Of the courses on these campuses, however, 55 percent are taught by full-timers, and 45 percent by part-timers (caps can be placed on the number of credits that part-time faculty are allowed to teach, but they vary by campus).

Longmate added that the premise of the bill -- that faculty members' morale and willingness to invest in their own professional development are boosted by the sorts of consistent and predictable salary increases that are provided by the increments -- should apply equally to full-time and part-time faculty.

Word of his opposition to the union's position quickly got back to the campus in Bremerton, where it caused a stir. "While Mr. Longmate has the undeniable freedom to speak his opinions anywhere, I feel this intentional effort to thwart our political agenda in pursuit of his own ends is unprofessional and unconscionable," Charles Barker, psychology professor and head negotiator for the chapter, wrote in an e-mail to the executive committee, including Longmate, the next morning.

Barker also suggested that the council hold a no confidence vote in Longmate at its next regular meeting. A minute later, Barker sent an e-mail to Longmate and asked him to resign. "I respect your prerogative to take a separatist position on policy but not to be dishonest by using your position with the union to seek a platform for [expressing] those ideas," wrote Barker, who did not respond to requests for comment.

Longmate said he finds the accusation puzzling because his position has been well-known. He says that he spoke to the legislature as a citizen and not as a union officer, even though he acknowledged his union connection. "I’m not being dishonest," he told Inside Higher Ed. "I’ve testified a number of times against faculty bills and increment bills in the interests of part-time faculty." Longmate also questioned what he saw as the implicit assumption underlying the criticism: that, as a union officer, he should forgo the right to speak against the organization's agreed-upon platform.

Rich Wood, spokesman for the Washington Education Association, said that issues related to speaking publicly on positions of interest to the union are best left to the individual chapters. "We have 82,000 members and not all of them agree on every issue," he said in an e-mail. The bylaws and constitution for Olympic's chapter make no mention of acceptable speech or advocacy. The requirements of the secretary, which is Longmate's position, are that he keep and distribute the minutes and be responsible for the financial audit.

Longmate believes it was his comments that came later in his testimony -- the gist of which also appeared in December in an op-ed in the News Tribune of Tacoma -- that really incurred the wrath of his colleagues. In both forums, Longmate drew attention to the practice of full-time faculty members teaching classes beyond their full-time load, which he referred to as "overloading" and "moonlighting."

Citing the state board's data, Longmate said full-time faculty taught course overloads in 2009-10 that were equivalent to 452 positions. In other words, roughly 11 percent of classes delivered by tenured faculty statewide were overloads, he said. "When full-time faculty members teach course overloads, it’s hard to argue that they are not taking jobs from part-time faculty," Longmate told Inside Higher Ed. The same tension has arisen elsewhere -- at Wisconsin's Madison Area Technical College, for instance, adjuncts filed suit to stop overloads.

More troubling to adjuncts in Washington, much of the money that pays full-time faculty to teach overloads comes from the pool of funds that is dedicated to incremental increases for part-time faculty members. "They’re essentially double-dipping," Longmate said, using the same language in his remarks to the legislature. "It’s a diversion of the intended use of those funds."

Moonlighting is one factor among many that have led to a two-tiered system of compensation, said Longmate. At Olympic, part-time faculty members earn an average of $27,833 on an annualized basis -- a number that is an estimate of how much they would earn if they taught a full load; in reality they earn less. Full-time faculty members receive $55,797, according to the state board. The same dynamic applies across Washington's community and technical colleges. Keith Hoeller, an adjunct in philosophy at Green River Community College, and a fellow activist, said that increments are "the driving force behind the huge salary disparity in Washington state."

Hoeller added that the dispute involving Longmate is the latest example of a deepening rift between full-time and adjunct faculty, both in Washington and nationwide. In 2003, Doug Collins, an adjunct in Seattle, was voted out of his union post for favoring an increments bill that benefited full- and part-time faculty equally, said Hoeller. Five years ago, Teresa Knudsen, an adjunct at Spokane Community College for 17 years, says she was dismissed after writing an op-ed with Hoeller in which they argued that "part-time faculty in the two-year colleges may very well be the state’s most mistreated and exploited employees." The college's administration denied any retaliation.

Part of the issue, said Hoeller, is structural. Some unions can find themselves in difficult positions when they represent both tenured and adjunct faculty members and whose interests and circumstances do not overlap. Adjunct professors do not enjoy job security, and Hoeller said it made little sense to ask them to be in the same union as tenured faculty, who serve as their de facto supervisors. Department chairs are the same people who hire, evaluate or choose not to rehire adjuncts. "While there are some 'community of interests' between the two groups," he wrote in an e-mail, "there are many more 'conflicts of interest."

Similarly, adjuncts bristled when the American Federation of Teachers launched a drive to hire more full-time tenure-track faculty members across the country. The AFT's campaign also called for sustained efforts to improve pay and working conditions for adjuncts. Nonetheless, adjuncts feared that departments would hire newly minted Ph.D.'s instead of those who have been teaching there for years. The conflict involving Longmate is the latest example of these sometimes divergent purposes and perspectives, he said. "When we speak up for equality, we find our unions on the opposite side," Hoeller said.

Wood of the WEA said state rules in Washington place faculty of all categories in the same bargaining unit. "Many of our locals, whether K-12 or higher ed, represent both full-time and part-time educators and effectively advocate for the collective interests of all their members," he said.

Ted Baldwin, professor of chemistry and president of the Olympic chapter, struck a philosophical tone. "In all faculty unions there are times when not all members agree how to proceed," Baldwin said in an e-mail. "The Olympic College Association of Higher Ed will continue to pursue the best working conditions for all academic employees to serve the needs of the students in Kitsap and Mason counties."

 

 

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