AB 420: A Shaky Beginning, or a Dismal Conclusion?
While many issues regarding the use of part-time faculty need attention, the funding of office hours is among the most pressing. Students have the right to expect access to their professors, regardless of the employment status of the person assigned to teach the particular course section in which they enroll. Assembly Bill 420 (Wildman), recently signed by Governor Davis, addresses that need. Now faculty who teach even one course are eligible for reimbursement for holding office hours. But, this is locally negotiable. Similarly, while health benefits for part-time faculty are now addressed and extended in the legislation, these, too, are to be locally bargained. Without a significant infusion of funds to make the legislation possible, health benefits will remain a chimera for many.
As passed, AB 420 addresses significant issues, but is a shadow of its original self. The initial bill was more sweeping; it aimed to address the systemic inequities of part-time faculty employment through instituting seniority in rehiring preferences and pro rata pay, along with benefits and office hours. The bill was sponsored and/or supported by all major faculty groups including the unions (CCA/CTA, CCC/CFT, and the independents), the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, and the California Parttime Faculty Association. The Academic Senate endorsed the educational concepts embodied in the bill at the Spring 1999 Plenary Session. The bill engendered a firestorm of opposition from admin-istrative groups, most particularly the Community College League of California (representing the trustees and CEOs) and other administrative organizations. The Chancellor and the Board of Governors initially took an "opposed" position, though softened that to "neutral" when the employment provisions related to rehiring and equal pay were removed from the bill. The final version of the bill requires the California Post Secondary Education Commission to conduct an extensive study of parttime faculty employment in the community colleges and report its findings to the Legislature by late Spring 2000.
In the meantime, the Chancellor and League both indicate that instituting rolling contracts is an option they want to explore. Such rollover contracts, where part-time faculty are hired on a two- or three-year basis, could provide some employment stability, but at the risk of undermining rather than extending tenure, and institutionalizing a second tier of academic employees whose employment conditions keep them vulnerable to fears of retaliation. This is what our leaders are proposing as an alternative to the move toward pro rata pay originally in AB 420. Far from shoring up our institutions and our profession, such approaches would further fracture our teaching community. Rather than improving the educational climate, such approaches further jeopardize the right of students to an educational environment of open academic inquiry and sound professional assessment of their work. A far sounder educational approach would be to reach the 75/25 ratio of full- to part-time faculty (as a percent of instruction) at all of our colleges, while improving the overall professional conditions of part-time faculty, would be a far sounder educational approach.
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