Ceiling or Incentive?
Faculty groups in California are divided over legislation that would set a limit on how many overtime courses full-time faculty members can teach at community colleges. Adjuncts and full-timers are divided on whether a cap would help or hurt part-timers -- and students.
“We think that teaching overloads – or overtime, as we call it – is a perk and it’s dysfunctional and it’s not good for student success,” said John Martin, an adjunct professor of history at Butte and Shasta Colleges and chair of the California Part-Time Faculty Association, an advocacy group representing 46,000 community college adjuncts. “And once it’s codified in state law, they’ll never be able to get it out.”
Assembly Bill 950 would prohibit full-time faculty from taking on extra course assignments exceeding 50 percent of their full-time semester or quarter workload, starting in January. The proposed law is designed to prevent full-time faculty from teaching too many courses, ensuring educational quality, according to the office of its sponsor, Ed Chau, an Assembly member.
The California Federation of Teachers, a union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers that represents both full-time faculty and adjuncts, supports the bill – and helped write it – for the same reasons. In a letter to California legislators, it calls the proposed cap a “reasonable ceiling” that ultimately could save the state money by leading to the hiring of more adjuncts, who, in many cases, are paid less per course than their full-time counterparts.
But Martin said the bill, if passed, could have the opposite effect by instituting a kind of “new normal” that encourages more full-time faculty to teach overloads, up to the proposed limit -- leaving less work for adjuncts. For example, he said, local bargaining units with smaller percentage cap contract clauses could renegotiate for a 50 percent cap.
The California Federation of Teachers disagrees. “Actually, this bill would limit full-time faculties' use of overload, requiring the districts to either employ more part-time faculty or hire more full-time faculty,” Joshua Pechthalt, its president, said in an e-mail. “We do not see this as a detriment to part-time faculty.”
Formally, the California Part-Time Faculty Association has taken a “watch” position on the bill. The University Professional and Technical Employees, union affiliated with the Communications Workers of America, which represents some adjuncts, opposes the bill, calling it “state-mandated overtime” that threatens to compromise student success. The California Community College Independents, a group of independent bargaining agents representing adjuncts and tenured and tenure-track faculty at numerous institutions, oppose the bill because it upends local control. Additional faculty groups have taken “watch” positions for various reasons.
Currently, California has no law regulating overload for full-time community college faculty. Some colleges require individual assignments to be approved by department deans while others have negotiated districtwide caps that range from one course to 67 percent of full-time load.
California’s education code currently caps adjuncts course loads at 67 percent of full-time, however.
According to a recent survey by the California Community College Chancellor’s Office included in a bill analysis, 13 of 44 responding colleges said they have a policy or bargaining unit allowing full-time faculty to have more than a 50 percent overload.
Few community college professors exceed that level. In 2011, 172 out of 14,489 – or 1.2 percent -- of tenured or tenure-track faculty members had an overload exceeding 50 percent of their regular course loads (that data excludes the Los Angeles Community College District, which accounts for 8 percent of enrollment). But many more faculty members teach one or two courses beyond their regular course loads.
Overload is historically contentious among part-time and full-time faculty. A debate over the practice has been simmering for years in Washington State, where some full-time faculty members welcome extra work for extra pay. Part-time faculty advocates have argued, however, that overload ultimately results in the hiring of fewer adjuncts – for whom the guarantee of work already is uncertain and enables colleges to avoid creating new full-time positions. A report on overload pay in Iowa in 2011 also revealed tensions between tenured and tenure-track faculty and adjuncts over the matter, and adjuncts at Wisconsin's Madison Area Technical College filed suit to stop overloads in 2010.
Jack Longmate, adjunct professor of English at Olympic College in Washington State, described full-time faculty taking on overloads as "double-dipping" in a pay pool meant for adjuncts, too.
In an interview, Longmate called AB 950, like all overload policies, a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” one that gives professors a state-protected “license” to teach overload up to the cap. And it’s not necessarily a financial incentive for colleges to hire adjuncts, he said, as doing so may involve extending them benefits that full-time professors already have.
It’s unclear whether overload caps result in the hiring of more or fewer adjuncts. The American Association of University Professors doesn’t track such trends, as most overload policies are localized and hard to study as a whole.
Maria Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority, a national adjunct advocacy group, said the group opposes overload in general because it could deny adjuncts jobs and doesn't contribute to student success. “Exploitative employment structures never advance quality,” she said.
Calling it a “divide and conquer” strategy, the New Faculty Majority offered its interpretation of the manufacturing industry as case study: widespread hiring of part-time workers drove down full-time wages, encouraging full-timers to seek overtime and compete with part-timers for available work.
Instead of the 50 percent overload cap, the California Part-Time Faculty Association has suggested several alternatives, including that legislators prohibit faculty from working more than their regular course loads, given the time demands of their additional responsibilities on campus.
It also has suggested that the legislature lift the 67 percent full-load course cap on part-time faculty if California moves forward with a 50 percent overload cap for full-time faculty.
“Basically, we want equality,” said Martin. “If it’s good enough for them, why is it not good enough for us? But the full-timers don’t like that. They see it as a threat to tenure.”
The bill has passed the California Assembly. A Senate vote is tentatively scheduled for the end of the month. However, the measure was referred Monday to the Senate Appropriations Committee's Suspense File for further review of its fiscal impact. A similar bill died in that file during the last legislative session.
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