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Essay on the many ways higher education holds back those off the tenure track

Adjunct Inequities
October 15, 2013

For the layperson, the solution to the problem of low wages for part-time workers might be simple: a full-time job. But for part-time professors in U.S. postsecondary education, the hopes of landing a full-time job can be about as remote as winning the lottery -- especially in disciplines where part-timers outnumber their tenured full-time colleagues.

The layperson might also assume that full-time professors and their unions naturally favor equal pay since their jobs could be undercut by cheaper part-timers. But in the case of tenured faculty, their full-time jobs are guaranteed by tenure and thus they have little to gain from equal pay for part-timers. The fact that full-time faculty are tenured and are paid more per course has given rise to the elitist notion that full-time faculty are superior and more deserving.

And that in turn affects consideration of proposed legislation like California’s AB 950 (which was proposed this year), which would protect the ability of full-timers to teach up to 150 percent of full-time while depriving part-timers of the chance to teach those sections. Often seen as an entitlement by the full-timers, faculty overtime has caused disputes; in Wisconsin, an American Federation of Teachers part-time union challenged its AFT full-time counterpart. But inequities go far beyond overtime pay. For faculty and administration, it may take exposure to the egalitarianism of a system like Vancouver Community College’s in British Columbia -- where part-timers have equal pay, equal work, and job security -- to realize how internalized notions of full-time faculty elitism are manifest in U.S. higher education:

Disguised Low Pay

Not only are professors off the tenure track paid at a much lower rate -- in violation of the principle of equal pay for equal work -- their low wages are rarely disclosed in a forthright manner. The Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, for example, has long reported "part-time" faculty salaries as a percentage of what "full-time" faculty earn, as 60 percent of the average full-time faculty salary of $58,000, or $34,500 a year, which to the layman would seem a reasonably handsome average income for “part-time” work.

But a note in the same board report explains that $34,500 is not actual but hypothetical earnings -- what a part-timer would earn if he or she taught full-time. A more realistic average part-time faculty workload would be half-time, which would yield $17,400 a year, which is below the 2013 federal poverty level of $19,530 for a family of three. Indeed, since part-time faculty are not allowed to work full-time, reporting their income as if they were full-time is misleading.

Lack of Raises for Experience and Professional Development

Many full-time faculty are granted automatic step raises in recognition of experience/promotion in rank and professional development, but not most part-timers. In Washington State, from 1999 to 2004, 90 percent of all appropriations for salary step increments went to the full-timers (who represented only one-third of the faculty), which contributed to the state’s current biennial disparity of over $115 million between part-time and full-time faculty salaries.

Smaller Raises and Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs)

Bargained pay raises and cost of living adjustments are routinely calculated on an equal percentage basis for the part-time and full-time faculty. But since part-time salaries are lower, their pay raises and COLAs are lower too, which also contributes to increasing the pay disparity.

Workload Limitations or Caps

Few people are aware of the limitation on non-tenured faculty workload, often called “caps,” which prohibit non-tenured faculty from working full-time and from qualifying for tenure.

Rather than pressuring institutions to create more full-time positions, caps have encouraged an "easy come, easy go" approach to using cheaper contingents who can be hired or laid off at will and who have become the majority of faculty.

In California, a part-time faculty member’s workload within a community college district is now capped at only 67 percent of full-time; this restriction is set by state law, section 87482.5 of the California Ed. Code. But whether 60 percent, 67 percent, or some other percentage short of full-time, this limited workload means hardship for many of California’s 38,000 part-time professors who teach in the state’s 72 college districts, especially given the discounted part-time rate of pay.

Overtime for Full-Time Faculty

The cap, however, does not apply to the system’s 14,000 full-time faculty. Full-timers not only have a guaranteed full-time teaching load, they have the right to teach overtime if they desire. Full-time faculty are allowed to select their classes, including overtime assignments, before the remaining classes are offered to part-time faculty.

In Washington State, these “overloads” make up 13 percent of all full-time instruction in community colleges, and over the last five years, the “moonlighting” of full-timers has increased by 8 percent in Washington (page 58 of this report).

California Bill AB 950

This year California legislators considered but didn't pass (though it could come back next year) AB 950, for which the California Federation of Teachers (CFT), the state’s affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, provided backing. AB 950 would have instituted a new state regulation on full-time faculty workload, not by prohibiting overtime, but formally allowing full-time faculty to work overtime, up to 150 percent of full-time.

The bill is frequently pitched as benefiting part-time faculty, and some of California's 38,000 part-timers support it: limiting full-time faculty overtime (overloads) to no more than 150 percent of full-time would seem to protect the jobs of part-time faculty. Also, since the bill is sponsored by the CFT, some part-timers who are union members feel it is a show of good faith to stand in solidarity with their union to support the bill.

But the bill would NOT benefit part-time faculty. Of the roughly 14,000 full-time faculty in the California community college system, only 172 have accepted workloads in excess of 150 percent.

What the bill would do, however, would be to write full-time faculty overtime into state law, giving sanction to all 14,000 to teach up to 50 percent more, that is, up to 150 percent of a full-time load. The bill could result in more full-time faculty overtime and thus undermine part-time faculty jobs.

One consequence of enactment would be to doom appropriations in future years for faculty pay increases too -- if some full-time instructors are customarily teaching 125 or 150 percent of full-time, it makes it very difficult to claim that all full-time instructors are overworked and deserving of higher pay.

Also, since the general public surely expects full-time tenured professors to be working full-time, establishing the voluntary option of full-time faculty overtime in state law would seem tobe a terrific public relations liability, especially at this moment, as many federal civil servants are taking forced furloughs and could resent the unfairness of tenured faculty working overtime for additional pay at will.

The practice of allowing full-time faculty to teach overtime whenever they wish reflects a failure of full-time faculty to self-regulate, since the workloads of full-time instructors’ non-teaching duties — campus governance, research, curriculum development, etc. — are fundamentally self-directed and are the primary justification often offered for the pay differential between full-time and part-time faculty.

Whenever a full-time faculty member elects to teach more than a full-time load, he or she displaces a part-time faculty member’s job. If AB 950 passes in some future year, and a higher percentage of the 14,000 full-time faculty members feel empowered to teach course overloads, fewer classes will be left for part-timer faculty to teach. In this way, AB 950, presented as a means to limit full-time faculty who abuse their ability to teach course overloads, could actually end up taking away part-time faculty jobs and thus should be seen as a wolf hiding in sheep's clothing.

At a time when U.S. higher education is seen as a job prerequisite and is the subject of reform from the highest levels of public policy discourse, it is very long past time for non-tenured faculty to be respected as professionals, not as casual workers without job security, job protection or equal pay, whose jobs can be raided at will. The true solution would be to move toward the Vancouver model, where full-time faculty may teach full-time, and no more, which then permits part-time faculty to have job security, and to allow part-time faculty to work up to full-time.

Bio

Jack Longmate and Keith Hoeller are members of the Washington Part-Time Faculty Association. Longmate teaches English at Olympic College and Hoeller teaches philosophy at Green River Community College. Both are contributors to Equality for Contingent Faculty: Overcoming the Two-Tier System, edited by Keith Hoeller, forthcoming with Vanderbilt University Press (January, 2014).

 

 

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