Affirming Our Voice: The 2020 ASCCC Part-Time Institute

ASCCC Part-Time Committee, Solano Community College

The 2020 ASCCC Part-Time Institute was held between January 23 and 25 at the Napa Valley Marriott Hotel and Spa. This institute was the fourth annual event, the last two being co-sponsored by the California Community Colleges’ Success Network (3CSN). Since its inaugural year, the institute has been paid in full for all attendees, the funds for the last two years having been provided by 3CSN. The theme of this year’s institute was “Affirming Our Voice.”

Following the second annual event in the summer of 2018, “Supporting Part-Time Faculty for Student Success,” the institute survey resulted in four areas of focus: onboarding, curricular guidance in content areas, integrating in the college culture, and professional development. Though these areas are extremely important and should continually be addressed throughout the community college system, they all have in common the apparent lack of institutions’ attention to the needs of part-time faculty. More often than not, the collective voice of part-time faculty goes unheard and in extreme cases is completely silent throughout the community college system.

The 2019-20 ASCCC Part-Time Committee felt it needed to address these issues in a far more provocative fashion. Centered on the ASCCC’s three main goals for 2019-20, the committee created a program that was designed not only to educate and inform, but more importantly, to provide spaces for open dialogue among the part-time faculty present. The question was how best to approach this theme. The committee spent a considerable amount of time discussing how to create a safe space in which all the participants would feel free even to have a voice, let alone affirm one. The committee members knew that the topics they were going to develop for the various breakout sessions would be provocative in the sense that many of them could have easily turned negative; therefore, the members were always looking at each session through the lens of building trust among attendees. They asked questions such as how often part-time faculty hold back their voice in collegial situations, how often part-time faculty feel uncomfortable to speak up, and how the Part-Time Institute could help facilitate the ability for these individuals to be able to speak their truth to power. Ultimately, the overall question was how the Part-Time Institute could leave the participants with a sense of validation and belonging. The result was a myriad of dialogues intended to be productive, constructive, meaningful, honest, difficult, vexatious, and above all necessary.

The three general sessions focused on a wide range of topics: “From Job Announcement to Interview – Overview of Resources, Applications, and the Hiring Process” presented by ASCCC, “Finding Your Why” presented by 3CSN, and “Affirming Our Voice: The Dilemma” presented by the ASCCC Part-Time Committee.

The four sets of breakout sessions were grouped according to the following topics: guided pathways, faculty governance, affirming our voice, and faculty diversification. Each session was crafted to address each of the four main themes and broached a myriad of topics with titles such as “Navigating Student Learning Outcomes as a Part Time Faculty Member,” “Segregation of People with Disabilities,” “Developing Proactive Methods to Mentor Minority Students to Enhance Their Learning Experience and Success Via Guided Pathways,” and “Tokenism: Are You the Elephant in the Room?”

As is customary for such an event, the ASCCC sent out an electronic survey to all participants following the completion of the conference. The ultimate goal of the survey was to seek suggestions to improve and evolve the institute as the years’ progress. The survey asked seventeen questions, with many allowing for qualitative responses. Additionally, a final qualitative section asked for suggestions for improvement as the ASCCC moves forward. Out of the roughly 150 participants at the institute, forty-one completed the survey. The following is a summary of the results [1]:

Question 1: How likely is it that you would recommend attending the Part-Time Faculty Institute to your colleagues?

  • 83% (34 participants) indicated they would indeed recommend this conference to colleagues.

Question 2: Overall, how would you rate the Part-Time Faculty Institute?

  • The responses ranged from good to excellent, with 58.54% (24 participants) indicating the latter. None of the respondents indicated the conference as being “poor” or “fair.”

Question 3: Was this your first time at the Part-Time Faculty Institute?

  • 70.73% (29 participants) indicated that this year was their first time attending. The commentary was also predominantly positive, with many praising the location and facilities. Others celebrated the organization of the conference. The majority of comments spoke to the relevance of the topics and a feeling of camaraderie from being with colleagues in the same situation.

Question 5: What was your overall perspective of this year’s Part-Time Faculty Institute?

  • Similar to the responses to Question 3, the overwhelming majority of respondents spoke to the organization of the conference. As one individual stated, “The Part-Time Faculty Institute was amazing. I left feeling inspired, renewed and better equipped to go back to my campuses and do the work. The topics and presenters were on point.”

Question 7: Overall, how relevant were the topics presented during the General Sessions?

  • The majority found the topics to be “very relevant” – 46.34% (19 participants). The other participants indicated that the sessions were either “somewhat relevant” (17.07%, or 7 responses) or “extremely relevant” (36.59%, or 15 responses).
  • The general session upon which the institute was based, “Affirming Our Voice: The Dilemma,” garnered the most critical and visceral responses. While many respondents commented in a positive manner, some stated that the session made them feel uncomfortable. In addition, some felt that more solutions to the issues should have been presented.
    • The Part-Time Committee was very aware when creating the session that it would evoke a wide-range of emotional responses. The individual scenarios and topics discussed during the session were meant to be difficult, but they illustrated real experiences that part-time faculty have faced. The committee understood that the participants might be excited, empowered, angry, depressed, and even uncomfortable about these issues. However, the ultimate goal motivating this particular general session was to create a safe space in which all attendees would not only feel a sense of camaraderie with one another, but also establish trust in knowing that part-time faculty have shared experiences that need to be addressed, allowing participants to speak freely with their whole voice and not have fear of being judged.
    • While the conversations held were powerful, many of them indeed were left open- ended. Two factors contributed to this situation: time and too many scenarios presented. The Part-Time Committee wanted to have a robust, interactive conversation with as many different scenarios and issues as would be possible to address in the time permitted. In this respect, the committee may have been overly optimistic and might better have focused on a smaller number of scenarios that would then have allowed for longer conversations that would ultimately make the attendees feel more resolved.

Question 12: Overall, how helpful were the topics presented during the breakout sessions?

  • Forty of the respondents indicated either “somewhat helpful,” “very helpful,” or “extremely helpful.” Only one indicated that the topics were “not so helpful.” Unfortunately, this question did not have a qualitative section in which the respondents could explain why they felt this way.

Question 13: Please select the top 2 breakout topics that were most useful to you.

  • The two sessions that garnered the most responses were “Guided Pathways and You: What Is Your Role as a Part-Time Faculty Member” at 32.5% (13 responses) and “Legislation and Part-Time Faculty—What Has Happened, What Is Coming, and What Can We Do?” at 30% (12 responses). The remaining breakout sessions had a relatively equal distribution of relevance, with an average of six responses each. The least relevant session to these respondents was the breakout session “Affirming Our Collective Voices: Empowerment through Integrated Reading and Writing in the Classroom,” with only one response. The qualitative responses were extremely positive, with one participant summarizing them by saying, “the breakouts help[ed] me feel a sense of community between other campuses across the state. [They] let me know that other faculty have similar experiences and find creative ways to manage their needs while increasing student success rates in their courses.”

Question 17: How likely are you to attend the Part-Time Faculty Institute again in the future?

  • The vast majority of the respondents indicated that they were “extremely likely” to attend again (75.61%, or 31 responses). Seven others indicated that they were either “somewhat likely” or “very likely” to attend again, and only three indicated that they were “not so likely” to return.

The Part-Time Committee will continue to explore ways to improve upon the success of this conference in the future. A number of suggestions essentially said, “keep up the good work.”

A few respondents spoke to the scheduling of the event. In prior years, the institute had been held during the summer months. This timing has its own pros and cons, and the ASCCC determined that the event was better scheduled during the academic year. However, scheduling the institute in January meant that for most participants, it occurred during their first weeks of the Spring term. As future events are planned, the timing of the institute should be reevaluated.

  • Others spoke to the lack of communication about and publicity for the conference. Although the ASCCC website does contain all sponsored events and details, the majority of part-time faculty across the California Community Colleges system may be unaware of its existence and relevance to their lives as faculty. Increased communication with local senates might help them to do a better job in relaying these types of events when they arise, especially in the case of the Part-Time Institute, as it is free for all participants.
  • Attendees indicated strongly that the institute should provide more solutions to issues rather than merely talking about them. Future institutes might therefore include more breakouts that focus on solution-based facilitation. While not every problem and concern facing part-time faculty has a solution that can be offered at an institute, future Part-Time Committees should make such breakouts a goal.
  • Finally, many attendees suggested that more part-time voices should be heard throughout the institute, especially at the general sessions. This issue has been reoccurring since the inaugural event, and this year’s committee made a concerted effort to have as many part-time presenters as possible. The institute achieved this goal with the fact that all but two of the breakout sessions were led by part-time faculty. One respondent did note that the institute was “more diverse than past conferences, and [had] a few more part-time faculty voices.” In the future, the general sessions might also be designed with more part-time inclusion on the panels.

Ultimately, the 2020 Part-time Institute was a notable success. The majority of the topics were difficult to discuss and explore. The presented topics allowed for various institutional challenges to be addressed, which was one of the main goals of this year’s institute. In order for part-time faculty to reaffirm their voice across the CCC system, part-timers must first find their voice. Doing so requires having difficult but productive discussions. The Part-Time Institute provides a perfect setting for such a dialogue. The work is not complete, however; each successive institute should strive for improvement and constant evolution: more inclusion, better communication and dialogue, new voices and ideas, greater networking opportunities, and other improvements to benefit the many outstanding part-time faculty in the California Community Colleges system.

1. Some questions will be skipped in this summary, as either they relate to logistics rather than outcomes or the responses applied to issues not necessarily falling under the academic senate purview, such as compensation.