It’s the Working Conditions. Really.

If you haven’t already heard of FACE, let me introduce you to it. It is an initiative by the American Federation of Teachers, and FACE stands for Faculty and College Excellence. We all want faculty and college excellence. On the surface, it sounds like a laudable legislative project. If you go to the FACE webpage, you’ll read that the drive aims to achieve two goals:

  • Ensuring that all faculty members receive the financial and professional support they need to do their best work;
  • Establishing a better balance between the number of full-time tenured faculty, and part- and full-time nontenure-track faculty.

How, one wonders, could AFT officials convince tight-fisted legislators, who have cut higher education funding to the bone, to cough up millions to fund new full-time faculty positions? It’s an important question. According to a paper from the Justice Policy Institute, “the proportion of all state funding for higher education…declined from 70 percent in 1985 to 53 percent in 2000.”

To answer my own question, I decided to see exactly what various AFT officials actually said to legislators in support of FACE. To do this, I searched out testimony by AFT officials in support of FACE on the Web. It made for some interesting reading. Let’s begin with the testimony of Mr. Daniel McCarthy, Executive Vice President, Federation of Technical College Teachers, in Connecticut. He testified on February 22, 2007.

Mr. McCarthy: “Let me begin by saying first and foremost the goal of AFT Connecticut is to increase the number of full-time faculty and staff throughout our state public system of higher education….

“This bill is not only important for Connecticut, but is also part of a national effort to correct a systemic problem in higher education. Connecticut joins Rhode Island, West Virginia, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington as states that have introduced this legislation. We will soon bejoined by at least 10 other states who will be introducing similar legislation. The campaign, sponsored by our national affiliate the American Federation of Teachers, is known as the Faculty and College Excellence Campaign or FACE.”

In Oregon, Michael Dembrow, President, Portland Community College Faculty Federation, testified in support of FACE on March 28, 2007. His union represents 600 full-time faculty and 1,200 part-timers.

Mr. Dembrow: “When I began teaching at PCC-Cascade in 1981-82, I was THE part-timer in English for my campus. I taught three courses a term for the next couple of years; all the remaining courses were taught by the four full-time English faculty at the campus. I was well-qualified, worked really hard, did great work. I was very poorly paid, especially considering all that I was doing, but I considered it an investment that would soon translate into a full-time position. And you know what? For me, that’s exactly what happened.

“When one of the full-timers retired in 1984, I was able to apply for and eventually take over her position. This was the way that the system was supposed to work. Few courses in the core curriculum were taught by part-timers, and those part-timers had a good shot at getting an open full-time position. Unfortunately, my experience back then would be almost incomprehensible to today’s part-time faculty, certainly those at my college….

“We take advantage of their love of teaching and their hopes of getting one of the increasingly rare full-time positions, we deny them benefits, deny them any real job security, even though many of them have taught for us for a decade or more….

A moment later, he testifies that while “many of them have taught for us for a decade or more”….the problem is…

“Because of the poor pay and lack of job security, we see large turnover in part-timers every year—approximately 25% of PCC’s part-timers are new each year.Managing these large numbers consumes substantial college resources, leading the colleges to have to hire more administrators and release full-time faculty from more and more of their teaching in order to serve as department chairs and coordinate them.”

Then we have the kicker when Dembrow tells the legislators:

“Part-timers are generally not paid to be on campus other than to teach their courses, and in many cases they are off running to another job at another college or university (their combined annual teaching load often exceeds those of full-timers)….This practice has consequences. There is a growing body of literature that points to the harmful effects of over-using part-timersin your FACE packet you can find an annotated bibliography of some of them.”

Say what you like, but I simply cannot imagine the majority of part-time faculty don’t make time to meet with students. That’s my opinion, of course. What bothers me about Mr. Dembrow’s testimony is that his union could have provided the exact percentage of the 1,200 part-timers represented in the local who “are off running to another job at another college or university” instead of meeting with students. Quite simply, his local could have surveyed its part-time faculty members.

William Scheuerman, then President of UUP, still Chair, American Federation of Teachers Higher Education Program and Policy Council, testified as well. Here’s what he said to the Oregon legislators.

“Students deserve colleges which have a coherent curriculum and teachers who know and understand it. Students need professors who are up to date in their fields and even better, contributing to scholarship. Students need faculty who are able to provide long-term mentoring and support throughout their college careers….

“Please do not misunderstand me. I neither criticizing nor attacking the talent and professionalism of part-time faculty. Rather I am criticizing a system that imposes so many burdens on them….”

The problem is that you can’t testify that part-timers are not up to date in their fields, don’t conduct research or mentor their students in one breath and then blame the “system” in the next breath. Why not? Because, in reality, staying up to date in one’s field, going to a conference and interacting with one’s students have nothing to do with the “system.” These are very individual and personal choices made by all faculty. It’s a fact that there are plenty of tenured faculty who stop publishing once tenured, and who never teach undergraduates if they can help it. Further, why on earth would legislators cough up money for pro-rata salaries when union leaders lead them to believe part-timers are shirking their professional responsibilities?

In Washington State, Sandra Schroeder, President of AFT Washington testified. Her testimony began with this:

“I am honored to be here today to speak on behalf of this important national legislation. The national effort to address the academic staffing crisis and bring balance into thehigher education system is called the Faculty and College Excellence Campaign and HB1875 is our state’s version of the FACE act. Bills very similar to this one have recently been introduced in Oregon, West Virginia, and New Mexico. Within a few months, we expect legislation under the banner of the Excellence Act to have been introduced in at least fifteen states. But with your help Washington could be the first in the nation to take this step forward and to fight against the cheap-labor forces that have come near to undermining our system.” (The bolding is mine; the incendiary language is Ms. Schroeder’s.)

She goes on to testify that: “Students are not being served well by their state and colleges if they do not have a solid core of full-time faculty guiding their educational experience, and would also benefit by having a stable part-time faculty/workforce that has adequate salaries, office space and other resources that show their institutions value them and their work.”

Define adequate. Later in her testimony she claims,

“And to create one full-time position from three classes currently taught by part-timers with benefits costs only $20,000 a year. For only two million dollars, you create 100 new full-time positions in the community and technical colleges. The price might be higher in the universities, but not so high that it is unreachable. And as you make more full-time positions, the cost of closing the pay gap decreases as well.”

If she is referring to full-time contract lectureships (combining three single courses taught by three part-time faculty into a full-time, contract lectureship), adequate in her opinion is $20K per year plus benefits.

Reading the testimony of these AFT state/local union leaders was instructive; it was also maddening. On the one hand, they took pains to stress that part-time faculty are good teachers and hard workers. On the other hand, they used part-time faculty as scapegoats. AFT’s FACE Talk blog entry of February 7th discusses criticisms such as mine.

“It’s the Working Conditions,” trumpets the blog title. Oh, really? As Norma Desmond croons in “Sunset Boulevard,” “It’s the pictures that got small.” The problem is this: If it’s the working conditions, the unions are to blame. They have represented for decades some of the part-time faculty in states where FACE is being pushed. The FACE blog author writes, “Part-time faculty often suffer from low morale caused by these conditions, as well as feeling like ‘second-class citizens’ because of snubs received from administrators and some of our full-time, tenure-track colleagues.”

The author of the FACE blog February 7th entry forgot to include another group that has snubbed part-timers and treated them like second-class citizens: their own local, state and national unions. FACE is the most insulting snub of all. AFT is spending loads of money, time, effort and energy on a self-proclaimed push to get more full-time faculty hired. Ok. I agree that colleges need more full-time faculty. However, the problem is that in focusing on college excellence by selling out part-time faculty, AFT has painted a target on the backs of the the tens of thousands of part-timers whom they represent, and left them to fend for themselves. Yet again.

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