It seems so simple: Contented instructors equal better teachers equal more-satisfied students. Yet so many colleges don't seem to get it, especially when it comes to the treatment of adjunct faculty members. On top of low pay and lousy benefits, they must often make do without basic work place conveniences like office space, telephones and campus e-mail access.
Until this year, it was catch-as-catch-can for part-time professors at Palomar College, a 30,000 student community college in San Marcos, Calif. Adjuncts, who make up about three-quarters of Palomar's 1,200 or so faculty members, borrowed the offices of full-time professors who were away or caught up with students -- calling the encounters "office hours" would be a misnomer -- in hallways or on sidewalks before or after class.
The treatment of adjuncts was one of many issues on the grievance list that led to the creation of Palomar's first faculty union, in 2001.
And after four years of negotiation, the settlement agreement reached in March between the college and the Palomar Faculty Federation, an affiliate of the California Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers, mandated among other things that Palomar formally set aside working space for its 850-plus adjunct professors.
Monday, Palomar opened its first pass at formal office space for adjuncts. The 950-square-foot building, the former headquarters of its police department, has been renovated to provide 15 computers, fax and copying machines, Internet access, and conference rooms for meetings with students, plus a staff member to keep it running smoothly. The college spent between $50,000 and $75,000 to refurbish the building.
Palomar officials say a larger building will become available next year that will allow them to expand their offerings for adjuncts. (Early reviews from the instructors themselves are very positive -- "They've made very good use of the space," says Julie Ivey, co-president of the Palomar union -- though she and others note that the location is a bit out of the way.) In the meantime, though, the new space is better than the nothing adjuncts had before.
"This is partly a morale issue, because a lot of adjuncts think the college doesn't provide for them, and in some ways we still don't, but we're making a better attempt," says Jack Miyamoto, interim vice president for human resource services at Palomar.
"It's also important to us that students have access to their professors, because they don't really distinguish between full-time or part-time -- they just know it's their professor," Miyamoto says. "We need to let adjuncts know that we recognize that, and that we'll provide them with some decent space to serve students."
Adds Ivey, an instructor of English composition: "It's a good sign of an improved climate, so that adjuncts have the potential to make significant gains."