California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday signed legislation  that raises the limit on how much individual part-time faculty members can work at any one community college from 60 percent to 67 percent of a full-time professor's load.
While the increase of seven percentage points may seem relatively minor, it will have a significant impact on many adjuncts. Those who teach 5-unit courses (a common circumstance for those in languages and some other fields, and one third of a standard 15-credit load) have been unable to teach more than one course at a college. Those wanting a full-time load have to teach at three or more institutions.
The legislation has been discussed in recent weeks in the context of the rapid increase in gas prices, which has been disastrous for many California part-timers who find their pay disappearing as they navigate the state's infamously crowded highways.
But tensions over the cap predate the current gas inflation and reflect differing views on how best to help part-time faculty members. The cap was originally put into law as part of an effort to pressure community colleges to hire more full-time faculty members. But opposition to the cap and the push to raise (or even eliminate it) has come from adjuncts, who say the idea hasn't worked.
"The original idea was to assure that we had no non-tenure track, full-time positions," said Marty Hittelman, president of the California Federation of Teachers, who teaches mathematics at Los Angeles Valley College. The problem, he said, is that "it wasn't advancing the number of full-time positions. Districts were hiring for 60 percent and then people had to teach somewhere else."
While some have argued for going higher than 67 percent or even eliminating the cap, Hittelman said some limit is needed. "We feel that the full-time, non-tenure track position is exploitation," he said.
David Milroy, chair of the executive council of the California Part-Time Faculty Association, said he would have preferred 80 percent as the cap, but that his group agreed to 67 percent to assure broad support from other faculty groups. Milroy said that for 99 percent of adjuncts, just about any increase in the cap is a good thing. A French instructor, Milroy said that the new law will allow him to teach more than one section at the same college for the first time in 20 years.
If colleges permit non-tenure-track faculty in the same fields to trade sections, the impact of the new law could be great, Milroy said. He cited the example of two such faculty members teaching "in Chico and Shasta -- 75 miles one way -- who teach the same subject/courses and could trade and stay on their closer campus instead of passing each other on the freeway just to make a living."