Letter to editor: Community college budgets may be balanced on backs of part-time faculty

Salary cuts may bypass full-time faculty, so part-timers likely will bear the pain.

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Shoreline Community College's campus in fall.

Salary cuts may bypass full-time faculty, so part-timers likely will bear the pain.

The two-year colleges have been able to absorb recent cuts in large part due to the 10,000 low-paid, low-benefit part-time professors who teach nearly half the courses and who have no job security. While a small number of tenured faculty have been laid off or given financial incentives to retire, it is adjunct professors whose jobs are cut first, and as colleges implement austerity measures, adjuncts have seen their course loads reduced. 

Yet no one is even keeping track of the impact on the adjuncts, in large part because their unions (WEA and AFT) are controlled by, and are concerned almost exclusively with, the full-time, tenure-track faculty who supervise them. While thousands of state workers have undergone furloughs, two-year college faculty have not. Instead, they been allowed to teach overtime, taking jobs and income away from part-time professors whenever they do. The State Board for Community and Technical Colleges reports that the incidence of “moonlighting” by full-time tenured faculty has increased 30 percent in the last five years.

Though we are in a recession, the teachers’ unions spent this session pursuing bills (HB 1631 and SB 5507) that would fund incremental seniority raises chiefly for the full-time faculty, thereby increasing the huge disparity between part-time and full-time pay, and reversing 15 years of slow but steady progress for the adjuncts (see my "Community college part-timers need legislature's help"). The adjuncts still earn only 60 cents on the dollar for teaching the same courses as the full-timers, and the dollar disparity has actually grown from $115 million in 1995 to over $130 million per biennium in 2010.

The alliance of the Democratic Party with labor unions has not been helping the part-time professors, as Democratic leaders push union bills that favor the tenured professors and discriminate against the adjuncts. Many Democratic legislators have been reflexively supporting union leaders who are denying equal treatment to their adjunct members. With all Republicans voting against the union increment bills, they died in large part because a handful of brave Democrats, who hold the majority, were willing to buck the union leadership.

And if, as seems likely, the colleges are forced to cut 3 percent in salaries, this may fall largely on the part-timers. While full-timers will not see their salaries cut, the colleges will be free to take this money from the budgets set aside to pay for courses taught by part-timers.

Our governor and legislators cannot continue to ignore the fact that the majority of individuals who teach in our system (adjunct faculty) have been deprived of the fundamental right to choose their own union, elect their own leaders, bargain their own contracts, and support their own legislation.


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About the Authors & Contributors

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Keith Hoeller

Keith Hoeller is an Adjunct Philosophy Instructor in our community colleges and the editor of Equality for Contingent Faculty: Overcoming the Two-Tier System (Vanderbilt University Press).