I teach history, American and Western Civ, in three Bay Area community
college districts. I commute 300 miles weekly (500 in summer), which
makes me what we call a "freeway flyer." I don't like
that. But otherwise I love teaching, since I started 11 years ago
at Chabot College in Hayward. I'm also at College of Alameda and
at Santa Rosa Junior College.
That makes me one of more than 30,000 part-time, or adjunct, community
college instructors throughout California, three-fifths of the teachers
you see in the front of your classrooms. (Only the other two-fifths
are full-time, or tenured/tenure-track, instructors.)
It's one of the chief ways the state has been able to provide you
in the past 30 years with college at, yes now, $18 a credit unit,
making California by far the cheapest and largest (and best in my
opinion) community college system in the world.
Several years ago I was active in a few faculty unions (I still
happily pay dues to each of them).
At that time, working together with supportive full-timers, we were
able to get the state to institute a health-insurance benefits program
in which California paid half of the premiums and each part-timer
paid the other half. (Get this: even with that my annual premium
payment works out to be just south of $3000.)
The districts, if they didn't love it, found it okay because they
didn't have to, and don't, pay a cent. But even then not every district
has agreed to the program.
Now, in this budget climate and among the too-often-competing constituenices
inside the unions, even this half-paid health-benefits program may
very well be cut. That's more than 200 instructors in just two of
the state's 72 districts who may be out health insurance.
Support part-timers during Campus Equity Week and throughout the
Ken Bell Gleason
College of Alameda, Chabot College, &
Santa Rosa Junior College
[PT work hours]
Being a college professor sounds like an excellent career choice.
There is an educational investment—either a masters or a doctorate
degree—necessary to get there, but once you get the job, you’re
set. After some years, you’re eligible for tenure—a
venerable form of job security. Work with an institution typically
carries a number of other perks, too, such as health insurance and
a retirement package.
But not if you only work part time.
As a part-time instructor, most of my work goes unpaid. The following
is a summary of my academic work over the last two weeks, illustrating
the gross inequity between my work/ pay ratio:
That’s 39.5 work hours in the last two weeks. My hourly wage
for this period was $8.50/hour.
I am not eligible for health insurance. Employed in the Peralta
District for the last three years, I do not yet “qualify”
for medical benefits. I have no job security; I am not assured future
The years of education, knowledge, skill and care that I put into
teaching is taken for granted, and treated with disrespect and discrimination.
This injustice is being inflicted on a caring and dedicated part-time
I remain committed to making a positive contribution in the lives
of my students.
Suzan Bollich, PhD
Psychology Instructor, Laney and College of Alameda
[PT course assignment]
Close your eyes and imagine. It is January, on a Tuesday, the second
week in Spring semester. The call I made to one of the Peralta colleges
about a part-time teaching position is returned. The Dean wants
to interview me immediately as the semester just began a few days
ago and there is no instructor for this class.
The interview is pleasant, relaxed, and there is genuine dialogue
about students and their learning needs. What a terrific opportunity,
to work in a place with people who really care about students and
their learning. In leaving the interview, I notice one more person
waiting to be interviewed. A few hours latter, I get a call and
I am offered the course. I am given very specific instructions on
how to fill in all the hiring paper work, putting special emphasis
on the equivalency forms and the required medical exam and fingerprinting.
I am told I have more experience in teaching the subject matter,
thus the Dean chooses to hire me. I accept the class and go about
spending nearly $150.00 in vaccines, doctor fees, x-rays, and fingerprinting
expenses. I still do not know how much would I be paid and when.
Now it is Wednesday afternoon. I have just been hired to teach a
class that apparently has not been taught for several semesters,
despite student enrollment, for lack of an instructor. I have taught
the class before in another institution for several years and I
have the material and experience to jump in during the second week.
I put the course together in 24 hours. On Friday, I meet a great
bunch of eager students waiting in the hallway for the class to
begin, and for an instructor with a key to the classroom. The semester
goes quickly with a few glitches. I feel I have done the best of
a difficult assignment.
Now is Fall semester. Scheduling for the following Spring is approaching,
I have been recommended by the department chair to teach the same
class again. I am eagerly awaiting confirmation because I have a
lot of material to update and prepare. I want to do better than
last semester and having early notice would help a lot. A few days
after our department meeting, I receive a phone call from the Dean.
The same person who hired me in January now tells me that this time
the class might be assigned to someone else, to the other person
that was interviewed last January -- on the same day that I was
told I had been chosen because I had more experience. I am puzzled.
I asked, was there a problem with my evaluations? No. Is it because
two students complained? "No, as a matter of fact, students
complain all the time," I am told. So, please give me a reason.”
"It simply means there is another qualified person and it is
an opportunity for us to try someone else." After a few seconds
of silence, I asked, “Is that it? The voice on the other side
of the line says, "well she might not even be available after
I open my eyes, I am no longer imagining; this is the real world
at Peralta Community College District, where part-time instructors
with PhD’s are disposable labor. Academic training, teaching
experience, work, and effort don’t matter anymore. How do
I teach students here and encourage them to continue their education
and work hard? Would it make a difference for them?
Name withheld by request.
[PT work, pay]
It is now 11:30 p.m. and I have just returned from my three-hour
evening class where I teach about 30 students who are enrolled in
a transfer-level class in the humanities. I spent most of the past
two days grading their assignments which are their first research
efforts in this subject area. Since writing is required in all transfer-level
courses, they must demonstrate their comprehension and critical
thinking skills by undertaking a research topic in an academic format.
Their work reflects the diversity of today’s students, many
of whom need considerable help in their written English. Many of
these students are non-English speakers and a number may have undiagnosed
learning disorders. I long to have the time to meet with them and
to give them more personal feedback but because I only teach one
class in this district, I am not paid for any office hours. I often
stay late after class to meet with those who request it. Several
students did not follow through with the announced deadline after
I sent notes to their homes about their outstanding assignments.
I made several wasted trips this week to the college to retrieve
their assignments but most had not followed through.
Now in my 25th year as a part-time instructor between two districts,
I find myself burning out rapidly with the enormous time required
to offer a meaningful academic experience to these students and
the time required to work with them on assignments. The next two
week-ends will be committed to special lectures that I must attend
in order to prepare material for a new topic next month. I will
have to prepare all of the hand-outs and visual aids and pay for
these myself (another $20 plus, the third such outlay this semester)
that will be necessary to present this new material. Then I will
need to go to the university and public libraries in search of more
materials to make this a content-rich lecture. I reflect on this
unpaid time and mentally calculate what my hourly rate might be
if I factor in these additional hours expended.
How can I possibly squeeze in an Academic Senate meeting or meet
with a colleague about a project that we have been discussing for
faculty development? There are only so many hours in the day, and
about 95% of my time now is consumed with community college business.
But I am paid only for actual hours teaching in the classroom at
an hourly rate considerably lower than that of full-time instructors
with the same qualifications.
Where do I draw the line? How much longer can I continue this pace
and feel proud of the job that I do with these students in order
to introduce them to my subject area and to excite them about its
many interpretations? I know that their experience has been valuable
when I see them on nearby university campuses or encounter them
at a new job. They tell me how much they valued their time in my
classes. This feedback means everything to me yet I reflect on the
years of uncompensated time that pass totally unacknowledged by
full-time department heads and managers.
Name withheld by request.
[Letter of Application]
Dear Sir, Madam, Ms. Mr. and Whom It May Concern
I wish to apply for the full-time, tenure-track position of Instructor
of English. Enclosed you will find my application packet, resume,
letter of introduction, copies of transcripts, answers to supplemental
questions, letters of recommendation and several scraps of paper
that are missing from my desk. Please accept this bundle with all
due humility and subjection. All the pages you sent me are as blank
as the day I received them.
I have been trying over the years to get this process straight,
and maybe now is the time to just give up and write whatever comes
to mind and see if you read these damn things anyway. I give this
advice to my students all the time - write what you see, what you
feel, what you think, write like the wind, don’t let spelling
or facts stand in your way!
I have been teaching for twenty-three years. I have been involved
in teaching for thirty-three years. I have studied literature and
rhetoric, composition and creative writing. I have worked with near-geniuses
and really dumb kids who can’t spell their own names. I have
worked with every ethnic group and every age group and every sex
group, including some that would give you nightmares.
I have learned ebonics, slang and how to coddle students so that
they won’t drop out and ruin the FTE dollars, er, that is,
figures. I have high retention rates, as I don’t grade any
lower than I can get away with. I have served on every committee
I’ve had time for. Time is a marvelous thing, isn’t
it? I have worked simultaneously at three colleges, in three counties,
three districts, taught five classes, driven 250 miles a week, taught
summer school every year, eaten as well as I could and earned less
than half what you full-time guys earn for doing less work than
I do. Now is that fair? I ask you.
As far as what I’d bring to your college? I don’t have
a single damn idea, because maybe I haven’t yet taught at
your college – yet, I say - and don’t know what “issues”
you pretend to think are important - this year. What I’d like
to do is organize the part-time faculty and have regular sick outs,
so that once and for all you’d realize that in some places
up to two thirds of the faculty is part-time and that we may actually
have some clout. But I would never tell you that in an interview
or a letter of introduction. I might not get the job!! Now that’s
What else can I tell you that will make me sound like a good candidate?
I could tell you that I organize each class around two principles
- critical thinking and basic writing skills. The students that
we pretend to teach (who also pretend to learn) are too far behind
in both areas for them to catch up in one semester. We all know
this but are very careful not to admit it to each other or the students.
I have them answer some very innocent sounding questions about what
they do with their money and how much time they spend watching television.
Then I force them to admit that they spend their money on relative
luxury items rather than books and spend more time watching television
and movies per day than they spend studying per week. I ask them
if they’re affected by peer pressure and they say no. I then
demonstrate to them just how much they are slaves of fashion and
peer pressure. They hate me. Some faculty hate me for being organized,
serious and demanding.
I should also tell you about my grading policy. I mark students
down for non-attendance and tardiness. I give them C’s and
D’s for sloppy work, then boost them up by grading their rewrites
higher. But I mark their papers as if they needed a dose of red
ink to cleanse their souls. Every agreement problem, every tense
shift, every misplaced modifier, every misplaced or absent comma,
is marked. We discuss these basic skills in class, and I tell them
how remiss their other instructors are, who never teach them or
tell them about basic skills.
I also have something to add about the administration for who -
or which - you work. Many times the president of the college - no
matter which college - has reportedly said “I will not hire
a part-time teacher to be a full-time teacher on our staff.”
That vote of confidence has left me feeling a little, if not a lot,
numb. So . . .
In closing, I would like to ask you for a favor. Please don’t
call me for an interview. I’ve had one too many interviews
and I will only be surly, if not nasty, in response to your turgid
questions, asked with such aplomb and superciliousness that I want
to gag. I have the skills and qualifications to do the job, I have
served a long and diligent apprenticeship, I have been watched,
observed, written about, discussed and ignored. You know where to
find me if you really want me. Otherwise, go ahead and make the
best choice you can from the people who you do interview, those
who are not as sick to death of the process as I am, but those who
will never make as good an Instructor of English as I would have
if you had hired me when you had the opportunity.
Cheers! Oh, and good luck!
Name withheld by request