Slaves Of The System: California's Teachers
An Expose On The Treatment Of California’s Part Time College Teachers
Current state law is clear on the fact that our colleges are supposed to have a teaching staff composed primarily of full time instructors (more than 75% of the faculty) with a small body of part time instructors (less than 25%) employed to pick up the leftover classes. Schools that do not comply with this law can lose their accreditation, (in some ways worse than simply being closed down) and yet nearly every college in the state breaks it. Many of the departments at community colleges in the state break this law to a staggering degree, having an average of one (or fewer) full timers on the payroll for every five part timers employed. That’s not only breaking the law– with 70-80% of the staff employed part time, it’s a blatant slap in the face, (one of many, as you will see)
But why have so many part timers on the payroll? Simple. They’re cheaper to employ, they don’t teach enough classes to earn any sort of benefits package (even after decades of service), and they don’t have tenure, meaning they can be fired at any time, for any reason. (Like violating a gag order placed on them by the school they work for if they speak to anyone about how bad the situation really is for part time teachers)
Part timers are bound by what is known as the 60% law (now the 67% law, thanks to a change in legislation that was supposed to “help” part timers, even though that additional 7% doesn’t even grant part timers an extra unit’s worth of classes.) which states that any instructor who teaches more than 60% of a full load (9 units) of courses is considered full time and must be given benefits. Because of this law, most schools only hire instructors to teach at about 50% of a full load out of fear that they might accidently exceed the number of courses and be forced to give the instructor benefits (like basic medical insurance.) The whole reason that the 60% law came into being was in response to a surge in students at college level in the 60's and 70's as an attempt to keep part time instructors from being overworked, but today it is little more than an unbridled and uncontrolled method that schools use to take advantage of workers by keeping them from the benefits they often so sorely deserve.
Of course, as with most jobs, 60% of a full load isn’t enough to live on, not by a long shot, meaning that part time teachers at the college level can’t make enough to live on unless they teach at two or more schools. This of course means an incredible amount of unpaid travel time (think one or more hours one way) just to get between campuses everyday. This past year, gas went up to almost five dollars per gallon, but did part timers get any kind of cost of living raise? No. Even though the high cost of gasoline in 2008 meant a bill of close to $3,000 just to get between campuses, part timers received no economic boost to help them cope. How are men and women, teachers who are driving more than 100 miles per day and paid a wage that’s already barely enough to live on, supposed to make up for the extra increase in cost it takes simply to get to work? Any other business that requires this degree of driving gives its freeway flying employees a car or credits them for mileage. But not part timers working for the state of California though– the best they get is the cold shoulder.
And perhaps worst of all– The unions, (CTA) the people who are supposed to be fighting for better working conditions for teachers, don’t do anything, in fact they blatantly state that they’re worried about stirring up anything because they’re afraid of losing their jobs (by doing their jobs?) There seems to be no unification between the unions at the various schools, even though all part time instructors are CTA members and CTA is statewide organization. The injustices aren’t being addressed, and people (students and teachers) are suffering because of it. How do students suffer from California’s part time teachers’ total lack of union representation as they’re bent over the barrel and exploited in ways that stop just short of slave labor? Read on.
With 70-80% of staff at the JC and community college level employed part time, it’s more than safe to say that the majority of students are being taught by part time instructors. If you consider all the problems that go along with having 80% of your work force composed of part time employees, the problem becomes quite clear. You’d never get a hold of anyone. Nothing would get done. Even the full timers are unhappy– after all, they’re stuck doing literally all of the administrative work, since part timers aren’t allowed to do any of it. Not that part time instructors would have any place to actually do any of that work, even if they were allowed to. 90% of part timers have no office space where they work. A few do, but only if full timers in the same department are kind enough to share their offices with them. Most part timers are forced to use their cars as makeshift offices because they have no other place to store the materials and books that they or their students may need to have access to throughout the semester. Under these conditions, it’s unreasonable to assume that our part time instructors would be able to perform at their full potential. They’re overworked and overstressed from being so poor that many literally worry about where their next meal is coming from, or even if they’re going to be able to afford to eat at all. With no hope for better conditions coming down from their uncaring unions, many are pushed to the breaking point, and anyone who has ever worked a day in their life knows that employees pushed that far are completely incapable of doing (let alone are inclined to do) anything better than the bare minimums it takes to get by. Studies show that happy employees are the most productive employees, so it stands to reason that people pushed as far as California’s part time teachers are aren’t going to be very productive at all.
Beyond that, students are unhappy because they can’t get in touch with these professors– but why would part time teachers be so hard to reach? I mean, they’re part time, which means they choose to work less, right? So why don’t all the part timers just get off their butts and become full time? Simple: They literally don’t have a choice. Even when there are additional classes to teach, state laws wont let them take more than 67% of a full load. Only full timers can hoard classes and pull in the money like there’s no tomorrow, which isn’t as hard as it might sound, considering the fact that most full timers are paid literally more than three times as much money per hour as any part timer is for the same work.
Contrary to popular belief, there is absolutely no opportunity for advancement for part timers in California’s college system. Part timers are never given preference, even after long periods of uninterrupted quality service, and even if they were, full time positions are so rare that when one becomes available, it’s a huge deal. How huge? Think on the scale of elections or presidential inaugurations. Lips are hot with gossip and the musings of hungry instructors who feel like, after ten or more years of service and enough commendations to sink a ship, they might have a shot at a full time position.
The truth is, it’s nothing more than a tease.
What happens is simple– in order to cut costs, schools that open a full time position will almost always hire a raw PhD with zero teaching experience before they hire anyone with a lowly Masters degree and a pitiful decade or so of experience on the job at the same campus. Why? PhD’s in full time positions look better on paper when it comes to a school’s reputation, and the lack of experience (i.e. seniority) costs the school less money in the short run, which is really all the school is worried about. A year or so down the line, those same PhDs are kicked to the curb before they can get tenure, and their sections are once again returned to the part timers scrabbling to make enough to eat. Perhaps even worse– after discharging it’s PhDs, the school often doesn’t even bother to open up a new full time position. But then, why would they? The body of part time faculty is large enough to make sure every offered class has an instructor to teach it.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Part time teachers at college level have no job security, and even the system of seniority is a farce (beyond what you’ve already seen.) Part time teachers have no contracts that extend beyond individual semesters with any of the schools they teach for, so work isn’t even guaranteed until the first day of instruction. Oh sure, they get scheduled to teach classes, their names get put in the catalog, but if a full timer wants one of their classes, the school doesn’t even bat an eye at pulling the rug out from under the unfortunate part timer who had it first. And the compensation? Nada. Zip. Nothing more than a heartless shove out the door with less than a “good luck, sucker” to go with it. But what does this really mean? It means that, up until the first day of instruction, none of a part timer’s classes are guaranteed. They could literally be scheduled to teach the maximum number of classes at any of the campuses they teach at and still lose them all literally the day before the semester starts, with no restitution whatsoever.
And its not like part timers are paid for these forced holidays, any more than they’re paid during summer or winter break, or when a holiday comes up that forces them to take a day off work in the middle of their contract periods. This of course means that California’s part time teachers are forced to rely on unemployment (EDD) for their basic necessities when school is closed during winter break and between summer sessions. Most part time instructors cannot afford to take the summer off, unless they can afford to live on EDD payments, so most simply take as many classes as they can handle just to afford the tires and other vehicular maintenance costs they need in order to commute between schools for the rest of the school year. They are paid hourly, according to the amount of time they spend in class, with no consideration or compensation for the required grading time, preparation time and administrative aspects (such as faculty meetings that aren’t technically required, but are still considered when employee evaluations come around) that go with teaching– meaning they are not paid for literally hundreds of hours of required work projects associated with working as an instructor.
And it’s not like their breaks are as easy as just drawing an EDD check and sitting around with nothing to do for a month and a half– end of semester grading (more unpaid work) takes up a significant amount of part time teachers’ off time, as does the whole process of convincing EDD to release a check that ultimately isn’t the freebie they try to make it sound like it is. Unemployment is the safety net of those down on their luck, and the money that is drawn from it is money that was paid into it when there was work available, but when instructors apply for it, they’re often subjected to humiliating interviews with people who act like the often lifesaving check they might release is some kind of gift, one that starving part time teachers couldn’t possibly be so poor to really need. They treat unemployed instructors like they’re trying to pull one over on the government, the same government that is in fact pulling one over on the instructors themselves, the same government every one of these teachers has signed multiple forms stating they will not lie to or attempt to undermine in any way.
Oh, but that isn’t even half of it. Anyone who has dealt with EDD can tell you that even phoning in and getting a hold of a living person is a nightmare. Every part time instructor I spoke to who has been forced to draw EDD over their unpaid breaks has told me that they have the number on speed dial, that they call in literally hundreds of times (one instructor quoted me 167 times in a row) without getting anything more than the standard “all our phones are busy, please call back later” message. And good luck getting through on the internet. More often than not, the messages that come in there are either lost or ignored altogether.
So, instead of working in teaching positions that they were trained to fill or being supported by the government that has so kindly (and so often) given them the proverbial shaft, instructors very often have to take secondary jobs– they work in places they hate, take menial or sales positions just so they can work part time at the local college when it’s in session. They question their very motivation for trying to make the world a better place by teaching students climbing the ladder toward their own advanced degrees, all to often asking themselves “is it worth all this?”
This is not a new problem– it’s a persistent problem that continues to torture the most dedicated and educated public servants of our society. Any web search on “freeway fliers” will yield a whole plethora of articles and pleas, some of them just a year short of a decade gone unheard, expositions that explain the situation in a way that is informative, at times angry, and at times heartbreaking. Sure, the occasional “concession” comes rolling down the pipe in an attempt to keep the part timers quiet, but each and every one is a change like the 67% law– it sounds good, but has little, if any real effect on the third-rate working conditions California’s part time teachers are subjected to. In truth, changes like these only make the exploitation of teachers easier (and give the school something new to rub part timers’ noses in, saying “we’ve done a lot for you, so stop whining.”) What part timers need is major change, change for the better, and on a scale that really matters.