Part-time Faculty: Where Are We Now?

December
2008
Richard Mahon, Executive Committee Member

No fact of community college life is as problematic as our structural dependence on exploited part-time faculty. One part-time colleague comments, "As a part-timer at [.] College for eight consecutive years, I feel slighted at every turn with the disrespect given me by the District via non-equity pay." A simple comparison of the salary for a full time faculty member and the accumulated salary for a part-time faculty member teaching the same number of classes reveals the second class status our part-time colleagues tolerate, and that's without even considering "fringe" benefits. The statewide average salary for a part-time instructor is 39.27% of full-time wages, though using a second means of comparison, it might rise as high as 69.82%.1 Our system has relied on the lower wages paid to part-time faculty to balance its books for many years, with slow but steady increases in that dependence. In Fall 2007, the statewide percentage of instruction attributed to full time faculty sank to 59.2%, with the lowest district (Mt. San Jacinto) providing only 42.4% of instruction by full time faculty. Thus it is not surprising that many resolutions have asked the Executive Committee to investigate various aspects of the role of part-time faculty in our system.

The Senate's primary document on part-time faculty is the Spring 2002 adopted paper Part-Time Faculty: A Principled Perspective. Among the nine policy level recommendations of the 2002 paper is the following:

4. The Academic Senate should undertake a comprehensive statewide review of part-time faculty hiring and evaluation policies, procedures, and their implementation. Such a review would include: the extent of implementation of fair and effective hiring and evaluation practices; an analysis of turnover and retention of part-time faculty; an analysis of long term changes in the diversity of parttime and full-time faculty; and the impact of current part-time faculty employment practices on full-time faculty and administrative responsibilities.

The design of the survey was assigned to the 2006-07 Educational Policies Committee, which found that conducting a comprehensive statewide survey was not feasible. Thus the 2007-08 Educational Policy Committee undertook a more limited survey to take the pulse of the status of part-time faculty. Eighty respondents (including full- and part-time faculty) addressed 65 questions to provide a broadly based, although not scientific, portrait of the roles and integration of part-time faculty within our colleges. The Committee hopes to repeat this survey in the future to determine any changes in district behavior-caused, for example, by the Basic Skills Initiative or increased noncredit funding.

What do we see in our portrait? In general, those services that can be most cheaply provided for part-time faculty are widely available. Most part-time faculty have access to a physical mailbox (78%), email (83%), voicemail (69%), and copy services for large copy orders (83%). While these numbers are fairly high, it would be reasonable to ask why such fundamental services are not available to 100% of instructors. Taking a very small step backwards, however, already begins to reveal an even worse picture of access to services that most full-time faculty would consider essential for effective professional participation and service to students. Most academic senates across the state appear to provide dedicated representation for part-time faculty (72.7%). The presence of one or two part-time faculty serving on a local senate, however, is a far cry from meaningful involvement of part-time faculty in the intellectual life of the institution. Seventy-nine percent of respondents indicate that part-time faculty play little to no role in the respondent's college curriculum approval process (this figure is achieved by combining the two lowest responses on a five-part Likert scale, with the lowest response indicating no involvement at all). The levels of neglect are almost equally bleak in a number of other crucial areas, including accreditation self study (68.8%), Program Review (68.8%), or developing course-level SLOs (59%). While participation of part-time faculty is usually welcomed it seems clear that it is not actively sought or encouraged. One respondent commented, "I have never been encouraged to participate in meetings at the department (division) or college level." While we sometimes absolve ourselves by reasoning that part-time faculty are happy to be left alone, another respondent commented, "I had the opportunity of being on the hiring committee for the college president. This was the first time in the history of the college. It was a great honor." In general, it would appear that colleges do a reasonable job providing some tools to help link students to faculty: email, voicemail, and physical mailboxes are widely-but not universally-available. Shared (and seldom private) office space is less available for part-time faculty members to meet with their students. The great divide comes when we look at the efforts colleges make to involve part-time faculty in the intellectual life of the institution outside of the classroom, in accreditation, curriculum, program review or the Basic Skills Initiative.

It should not be a secret that part-time faculty are educating higher percentages of developmental students. The statewide average for credit basic skills courses shows 52% of instruction being provided by part-time faculty. Six colleges provide over 70% of basic skills instruction by part-time faculty; 26 colleges provide over 60% of instruction by part-time faculty. Nothing in these figures suggests that these faculty members are not well trained, committed, and compassionate faculty members, but the part-time survey does suggest that part-time faculty are generally not well integrated into institutional dialogue about pedagogy, curriculum design, program review, or accreditation, the processes which would indicate meaningful part-time faculty connection to the institution and not just their teaching discipline. Such integration was one of the key predictors of success cited in the research for the Basic Skills Initiative. In spite of this, 59% of respondents report little to no involvement in the local Basic Skills Initiative and 55% report little to no involvement in local discussions of pedagogy; one respondent noted, "There is no institutional support for part-time faculty to encourage their participation in academic and professional activities beyond teaching."

Improving outcomes in basic skills is a systemwide priority that provides a clear reason to improve the professional status of our part-time faculty. Another systemwide priority that affects many of our most vulnerable entry-level students-namely noncredit instruction-provides a similar incentive. Enhanced funding for career and college preparation noncredit classes has focused attention on the astonishing lack of full-time faculty in such programs (less than 5% in a 2006 Academic Senate survey) and the corresponding lack of paid office hours and time for class preparation.

Standard III.A.2 of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges 2002 Accreditation Standards requires that "The institution maintains a sufficient number of qualified faculty with fulltime responsibility to the institution." Unfortunately, despite its fondness for data and quantifiable precision elsewhere, the Commission provides no guidance as to what constitutes "a sufficient number," and there appears to be little in the Standards for institutions to fear if they do not integrate part-time faculty into basic institutional processes. For a discussion of this issue see the September 2008 Rostrum article on the 75/25 Full-Time Faculty Standard.

What perhaps emerges most clearly from the survey is the existence of an enormous cadre of faculty who are not on anyone's radar. If student success really is the most important outcome our colleges strive to meet, we must rethink the notion that 40% of instruction statewide-and even higher levels in developmental courses-can be provided by faculty in whom our colleges have made a minimal investment in resources and the intangible but crucial qualities of respect and involvement. The time is ripe for change.


1 Trying to estimate this percentage accurately is extremely difficult. This figure leaves out both institutional service and "fringe" benefits. The 39.27% figure is reached by dividing the average full-time salary by the average part-time salary achieved by teaching 30 units. Despite the 60% law, it is possible for a part-time faculty member to teach 30 units in a year at a district that has both winter and summer sessions. Two aspects of full-time faculty service and compensation are excluded from this calculation: institutional service/office hours, and "fringe" benefits. The averaging also treats all districts equally, though in general larger districts pay their part-time faculty above average. The percentage rises to 69.82% if one assumes that all full-time faculty work a 40-hour week, and then compare part-time salaries to those of full-time faculty not including institutional service; this second measurement still excludes the value of health care and other benefits.

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