Face it, Oregon college students need full-time faculty

By Stephanie Blackman of Portland, Oregon. Stephanie is an adjunct faculty member at Portland State University, Clackamas Community College and two campuses of Portland Community College. She's a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 3571, PSU Faculty Association.

Today, faculty members from across Oregon gathered at the Capitol to address a serious issue in our system of higher education. There's a troubling trend in staffing our colleges and universities, and its having a big impact on students and faculty in Oregon.

Next term, I will teach six classes at four different campuses in the Portland area, including at Portland State University, Clackamas Community College, and two branches of Portland Community College. In short, I am good at my job, I absolutely love what I do, and there are many other teachers like me in our community colleges and universities. Yet because of the professional constraints of being a part-time faculty member, I can’t be the educator I want to be.

And I'm not alone.

According to the US Department of Education: Between 1970 and 2005, Oregon's teaching faculty ratios have dropped from 78% full-time and 28% 22% part-time - to 46% full-time and 54% part-time. Even worse, the trend is accelerating with our disinvestment in higher education. Additionally, a number of faculty members like me simply string together enough courses to make a living, college to college and term to term.

As an educator, my primary concern is with students. Though I work hard in class to promote learning, it is outside the classroom where my part-time status has the greatest effect on students. At each campus, I must limit my office hours in order to make my schedule work. I do not have enough time to offer the kind of academic support, such as tutoring or research assistance, that furthers student success, or the personal support that students sometimes need to persist in college and that adds to the faculty-student relationship.

Furthermore, one of the reasons I want to work at public institutions is that I believe in the process of faculty governance and ability of faculty, as citizens, to create a learning environment that will serve the public good. I am willing to serve on committees and councils, and I want to be involved in the long tradition of faculty governance in higher education, but I am either not invited to the table or too busy flying down the freeways to the next campus to make it to the meetings.

From campus to campus, I use different textbooks for the same course, have access to different videos, teach in classrooms with different equipment, and have a key ring that would compete with any security guard or janitor.

Part-time work also has more serious consequences on me personally. I teach five or six classes, which is far more than a full-time course load. I have no benefits, so I pay my own health insurance and cannot save anything toward retirement. Each term I have an intense period of stress waiting to find out what classes will be offered to me and whether I can make the schedule work. Scheduling happens at different times for different schools, so this stressful period can last for weeks.

One way to fix this would be for Oregon’s Legislature to pass House Bill 2578, the Faculty and College Excellence Act.

This bill would:

This problem will not be solved overnight but, we need to invest in a better future for Oregon’s students, and ensuring quality and excellence in staffing at our colleges and universities is one way to get there.

Learn more about AFT’s Faculty and College Excellence here.

Comments

  • (Show?)

    I watched your testimony today it was great. I'll try to make it to the Waffle House Soon.

    Baessler

  • Susan Abe (unverified)
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    According to the US Department of Education: Between 1970 and 2005, Oregon's teaching faculty ratios have dropped from 78% full-time and 28% part-time - to 46% full-time and 54% part-time.

    Oh, great, so the DOE can't add.

  • wharf rat (unverified)
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    Hi Folks...

    You won't get any argument from me regarding Ms.Blackman's comments. My wife is an instructor in Developmental Education at Rogue Community College in Medford. This quarter she has two evening classes of about 15 students each. For each class hour she puts in between 4 and six more with reading, grading, advising, special needs students and their parents, consultations, etc. Every other instructor, regardless of discipline, faces the same time/resource/compensation challenge. After a lot of close examination it has become readily apparent that the leg, the executive and the various powers-that-be, regardless of their public stances, simply do not support educational achievement in Oregon. For us it's time to move on to better opportunities in teaching because the state of Oregon lacks the will to make education at any level a priority.

    Regards

  • (Show?)

    Yea, I don't think many people quite get what the big deal is about. They think about times when they had multiple jobs, had to work between different locations, etc.

    What they don't get is how much goes along with teaching college, like office hours, participating in activities at the college, being an adviser, etc.

    It makes it hard on students when their professor isn't available for office hours. And it's hard to advance to a higher position in the school if you can't participate in various activities around the school.

    We have to do something not only to better Pre-K through 12, but also our community colleges and universities.

  • Madam Hatter (unverified)
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    As a recent student at Mt. Hood Community College, I can attest to the problems the author wrote about. About half of my instructors were part-time, the other half were full-time. Among the part-timers, I know several of them taught at different campuses - a couple of others taught in addition to working full-time in careers other than teaching.

    It was not only difficult to arrange to meet the part-timers outside of class, but also to get assignments graded in a reasonable period of time. I even had to drop a class becuase I couldn't get the required input from instructor in time to complete the term project.

    Please understand, I do not blame most of those part-time instructors. They were mostly just stretched too thin. But I also am upset that I'm still on the hook for what frequently is sub-standard education.

  • JMG (unverified)
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    Welcome to the new migrant labor force for the 21st C, where the full-timers work with the administration to shaft the part-timers and protect their own rice bowls. The really sad part is how, when one adjunct is going Wast on 84 to make it from Mt. Hood to PCC, there's another one going East to go from PCC to Mt. Hood to teach a similar (or the same) class.

  • (Show?)

    Oh, great, so the DOE can't add.

    Got that clarified, thanks. It's 22%, so worse than originally reported.

  • (Show?)

    Stephanie - great article about an issue that few people stop to think about. (I'm working on a PhD and hope to teach in Portland someday, so it is an issue I think about a lot!)

    Oregon has a long and not-so-proud history of under-funding higher education. As higher ed continues to struggle for limited funds the temptation exists to use part-time faculty as a cost-cutting measure. Your post clearly points out the consequences of this: to the faculty; to the students; and to the long-term health of the institutions themselves.

  • (Show?)

    As a student at two of Portland Community College campuses, and a member of the student government of one, I can very much attest to the impact that the lack of investment in community colleges is having on students. Not only are we unable to get the level of communication needed with our instructors, we are also not receiving adequate academic tutoring and advising at all levels. Computer tutoring is non-existent. Whole programs have been cut; classes have been cut, making it difficult to even graduate on time. The vast majority of instructors that we have at PCC (and that includes the part-time faculty) do the best that they can to do whatever they can for the students. With the constraints on their time and lack of support it amazes me how committed to us, the students, they remain. Even on our worse days, the vast majority of students are aware and very much appreciative of the commitment that our instructors have made to, and for us.

    Community colleges in this state have been severely underfunded for six years, and it is looking like that number will soon be seven. Students have been consistantly asked to carry the burden of those cuts, including a lowering of the support system for those who most directly impact our success in school. Our instructors. Oregon has got to commit itself to the success and accessability of higher education, or be left in the dust of an economy that demands an educated workforce.

  • (Show?)

    This bill is utterly unacceptable.

    The higher education system in Oregon is suffering for one reason: lack of consistent funding from the state legislature. But micromanagement of personnel and budgetary issues by state legislators, even if well-meaning, is not going to solve this problem, and will probably make it harder for Oregon to compete for the best and brightest.

    Specifically:

    Section 2 (1) mandates that 75% of undergraduate courses be taught by full time tenured or TT faculty. Where did that magic 75% come from? Why ignore graduate education in the calculation? This provision ignores the reality of faculty leaves and sabbaticals that may pull a department below 75% full time staffing. Furthermore, a department may fall below these figures because their faculty are being successful in attracting outside funding and grants. Do we want to penalize them for this?

    Section 3 (2) mandates part of the content of collective bargaining agreements between institutions and their employees. It requires that staffing levels be part of the bargaining process, regardless of whether both parties want them in there or not.

    Section 4 (1) requires that the salary paid a part time instructor be "equal, on a pro rata basis, with that of tenured and tenure track faculty..." Section 5 (1) specifies a specific timeline (15% annually) by which such salary "gaps" must be reduced. This kind of budgetary micromanagement is unworkable. Tenured and tenure track faculty have administrative and research expectations that are not part of the job description of a part time instructor. There are permanent costs associated with a tenured faculty member (e.g. laboratories) that are not associated with someone brought in primarily to teach.

    Section 4 (2) micromanages the hiring and tenure process--the most fundamental and important part of academic self-governance-- by requiring that visitors receive "advance notice of and priority consideration for" tenure track positions.
    Visitors and part timers are free to apply through the regular hiring process, but giving them priority consideration does far more harm than good. If they merit hiring to a regular slot, they need to be able to make it through the normal hiring procedure, without any precedence.

  • Former PTer (unverified)
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    I was glad for the opportunity to begin teaching as a part-timer, and then to move to full-time a couple of years later. If we want to keep good faculty members we need to move them to full-time, where they can contribute to all of the responsibilities of faculty, like curriculum development, student advising, and shared governance.
    Also -- so they can have families, pay taxes, own homes, and otherwise be professionals!

    Increasing the percentage of full-time faculty is not going to be initiated by the colleges. There are so many ways for them to spend money (new programs, new facilities, scholarships, full-time employee contract agreements)and so few ways to save. They are going to save here if they can. The only way it is going to happen is if the state funds it AND requires it. Yes, increase funding to the colleges and universities and attach some strings to some of the money - a pool of money that can only be tapped into if the college increases the percentage of sections taught by full-timers.

    Could the faculty unions help? Maybe, but they probably won't. Generally the unions are focused on holding on to the benefits that employees with seniority enjoy - they rarely help the people at the bottom of the ladder.

    Legislators..it's up to you!!

  • George T. Karnezis (unverified)
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    Dear Stephanie:

    Thank you for a fine job of describing the scandal of the decimation of a profession. Nationally, over half the professoriate is part-time. (See the PBS documentary special and book, Declining by Degrees.)

    I would add to what you say the following: It is largely teachers predominantly female, I suspect) who instruct students in introductory college classes, particularly in the humanities, and especially in writing and foreign languages, who suffer the burden of lousey working conditions in general, and unacceptable class sizes in particular. All of this is justified in the name of economizing, and no union has, as far as I know, been able to stem this scandalous treatment of dedicated teachers, many of whom burn out after working so long under these conditions. I fear that the operative mentality is to accommodate and therefore justify the powers that be. Would any other profession allow so many of its members to be turned into intellectual migrant workers or gypsy scholars begging for crumbs? And when is the last time anyone heard talk of part-time Deans or college Presidents, or of forcing football and basketball coaches to be part-time or to do their jobs by themselves without any assistants or job security?

    As you know, it takes real continuity of staff to build traditions of teaching in specific locations. You learn how to deal with your students once you get a secure place and work over time with folks like yourself who care about teaching, and especially folks who teach in the liberal arts or gen ed courses which have alwyas served as introduction to higher forms of literacy. How sad that those teachers most dedicated to this portion of students' educational experience are treated so shabbily. Shame on those in higher education who have allowed this to happen.

    I will write my representatives and I hope something comes of it. Forgive my doubts, however. I am a semi-retired college teacher with almost 4 decades of experience. After several part-time adjunct positions, I was fortunate to get a full -time position. However, sad to say, I found all too many of my comfortably situated colleagues not particularly interested in improving the plight of their fellow teachers --- and it didn't matter whether they were in a union or not.

    I wish you and others luck. It is very difficult to make legislators or the general public understand how important a greater percentage of full-time teachers enriches the lives of students and campuses. Anything that eats away at the idea of a community of teachers impoverishes our profession and makes any pretense we may have to "empowering" our students seem a bit hollow.

    Regards,

    George T. Karnezis

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