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How Can California Improve Working Conditions for Community College Assistants?

The second-class status of part-time faculty at California community colleges is a decades-long problem that demands new solutions. With conditions worsening, state and local leaders must find new ways to address the problem, panelists said Wednesday during an EdSource roundtable.

This could include agreeing to a framework contract that sets minimum job requirements, salary and benefits; enact legislation to improve ancillary working conditions; and determining how best to use the $200 million proposed by Governor Gavin Newsom in the 2022-23 state budget for extended health care benefits.

Whatever the solution, panelists agreed that something had to be done for part-time faculty, also known as adjuncts, who make up two-thirds of instructors at California’s 115 physical community colleges. The loss of student enrollment due to the pandemic is costing them jobs. Often they work semester by semester with little or no job security, and these harsh conditions often trickle down and diminish the student experience, panelists said.

“As an auxiliary, there’s always this feeling of, will I need me this next semester? You’re always waiting for that email or that conversation with the department chair,” said Kenneth Brown, a panelist who recently served as chairman of the board of trustees of California Community College.An aerospace engineer, he teaches physics as an adjunct at California State University Dominguez Hills.

Nearly 37,000 adjunct instructors form the backbone of the state’s community college system, which is the nation’s largest higher education system. Adjuncts often take gigs in multiple college districts to cobble together something akin to a full-time job, but at far lower rates of pay than full-time faculty.

Since the start of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, enrollment at community colleges has plummeted, leading to fewer jobs for CAs. Enrollment fell significantly in the 2020-21 academic year: The community college system reported enrollment at 1.8 million, down about 15% from pre-pandemic levels. Many colleges continued to lose students in the past 2021-22 academic year.

Even though the problems facing auxiliaries have been exacerbated during the pandemic, the problem is not new. Community colleges have long relied on part-time faculty to balance their budgets and give them the flexibility to hire faculty as needed. Whether or not they get health benefits depends on the district that employs them. As EdSource revealed in a three-part series in February, 33 of 72 community college districts offer no health benefits.

Assistants earned on average less than $20,000 per district, according to 2020 salary data for 41 of the 72 districts that listed part-time faculty titles. The data was obtained by EdSource under the State Public Records Act.

Often it is students who pay the price for poor working conditions for part-time faculty, panelists said. For example, there are wide variations among California community colleges when it comes to compensation for office hours, which are often as crucial to student success as regular classroom instruction. Some auxiliaries are not paid at all for office hours, and some are unwilling to spend that time without pay. Full-time faculty are usually paid for office hours and any work outside of the classroom.

John Martin, panelist and adjunct faculty member at Shasta and Butte Colleges, said he no longer meets students outside of the classroom because he is not being paid for those hours.

“Why should I work for free? I meet them right after class, right before class, but I’m not going to hold office hours unless they get paid,” said Martin, who is also president of the California Part-Time Faculty Association, an advocacy group of deputies.

Another panelist, Wendy Brill-Wynkoop, president of the California Community College Faculty Association, pointed out that “working conditions are our learning conditions for students,” but students who attend community colleges from California are often among the most modest students.

Part-time professors are urged to help lift these students out of poverty and into the labor market, even though the professors themselves are not fairly compensated, creating a difficult situation for students and professors , Brill-Wynkoop said.

“You are asking those who are unfairly paid to lift others out of poverty,” she said.

At the same time, part-time faculty have essentially been pitted against full-time faculty, said Jose Fierro, president of Cerritos College and roundtable panelist.

“Years of politics have led to disparity, and that disparity often pits two groups against each other,” he said. “So in a state like California…you often have contracts that give assignment priority to full-time faculty.”

The solution lies beyond individual campuses, he added. “The way to talk about the working conditions and employment of part-time faculty is to look at the larger systemic issues rather than what we find at 115 different colleges because there are 115 different ways to address them. And we will see that it does not work.

Another panelist, William Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College in New York, said there are several paths California can take to improve teachers’ realities. part time.

One option, Herbert said, would be to establish statewide minimum standards that would establish a baseline for issues such as assistant pay and benefits.

Another option would be to create better terms through collective bargaining and even come up with a master contract that could be applied to campuses across the state.

“It could create a better playing field for everyone,” Herbert said. “Part of these negotiations could create a path to full-time employment.”

The auxiliaries told EdSource that they didn’t feel like they had a chance of getting full-time jobs given their teaching experience.

Martin said his organization, which does not negotiate add-on contracts, is finally getting the attention of state unions. “They listen to us. However, there is a group of people in power who are dragging their feet and who strongly oppose changing our working conditions.

There are several proposals this year at the state level that could improve the situation for adjunct professors. Last month, two bills seeking to do so were introduced in the Assembly’s Higher Education Committee.

Assembly Bill 1856 would allow auxiliaries to teach up to 85% of a full-time teaching load in a single district, giving them more stability and reducing their need to cobble together jobs in several districts. However, Newsom vetoed similar legislation last year.

Assembly Bill 1752, meanwhile, would bring pay equity between part-time and full-time faculty. The bill would require districts to pay their part-time employees the same average hourly wage as the average hourly wage of full-time faculty.

The two bills are to be heard Thursday before the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee.

Meanwhile, Newsom’s budget proposal includes $200 million to fund health care coverage for state college auxiliaries. The money would fund a pool from which local districts would have to seek reimbursement for 50% of their coverage cost. The fund has been severely underfunded in recent years. Terms should be negotiated on each campus. Still, the proposal is seen as an investment that would significantly increase what is currently available.

Fierro, the president of Cerritos College, suggested during the roundtable that money for health care could be allocated statewide, rather than to local colleges.

“This should be an opportunity for us to examine how we can enroll part-time faculty in a statewide benefits system, using the purchasing power that is in the budget of this year and that’s already been granted to districts and maybe say, we’re going to take all of that back and it’ll be a big umbrella across the state that we can affiliate community college employees that meet those specific characteristics” , did he declare.

“The power that we will have in numbers, not just in numbers of teachers, but the amount of money that is spent collectively, I think, could provide something a little better than what we could individually,” Fierro added. .

During the roundtable, panelists also addressed the racial makeup of community college faculty, which does not reflect the diversity of students who attend these colleges. Nearly 60% of faculty in the state are white, while 71% of students are from other racial and ethnic backgrounds, including Latino, Black, Asian, and Native American students.

Brill-Wynkoop said it was a “huge problem” which is compounded by poor working conditions for part-time workers.

“So we’ve created a situation where we have to bring in fresh new ideas, younger and more diverse faculty, and it’s very difficult when we’ve created a system where the chances of getting a full-time position and being able to support your needs are very small,” she said.

Fierro added, however, that it will take more than higher pay and better working conditions to ensure the faculty matches the diversity of students. One possible solution, he said, is to ensure that hiring committees include diverse members.

“Panels tend to hire what they reflect,” he said. “And if we don’t diversify the panels, we will continue to hire the same way we do.”

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