From 76% to 24% — sometimes it DOES happen

by Chris Brooks

I earned my PhD in history in 2010. During graduate school my cohort maintained a sense of gallows humor about our job prospects; the already abysmal statistics about tenure track (TT) placements grew even worse as the financial crisis took hold, and the fact that we at an excellent university that was nevertheless considered “second tier” in our field didn’t bode well for any of us. The reality turned out to be even worse; I played “academic roulette,” applying to TT jobs during a hiring year in which there were a grand total of seven positions available in my field in the entire United States. Despairing of my chances, and without even part-time positions available where I was, I moved back to Portland (where I had lived before leaving for grad school.)

I was fortunate enough to have a backup skillset: I had spent several years in IT working for software companies and call centers. Even as I applied to the part-time job pools at PCC, Mt. Hood, Clark, and PSU, I was also submitting resumes to return to the generally thankless life as a systems admin. Thanks to the influence of a former co-worker from several years earlier, I landed a position in tech (albeit as a “1099” temp – no benefits, security, or tax withholdings included.) Simultaneously, I secured a part time teaching position at PCC teaching one class per term. I told myself at the time that I would work at both until one of them offered me a full-time job, not knowing if either ever would.
My time on PCC’s campus was limited to prep time before classes, since I had to be at my other job as often as possible for the sake of providing for my family. I was met at PCC with a congenial, helpful, and friendly group of colleagues but next to no practical guidance; I wasn’t even aware that fall term was eleven weeks long until week eight. I had no idea what a “SAC” was.

After teaching for two terms, and being unable to secure a spot teaching in the summer, I was offered a full-time job at the software company at which I worked. Despite having spent six years in grad school, living in Paris to do my dissertation research, presenting at conferences, and innumerable hours teaching, I made good on my promise to myself and accepted the job in tech. I anticipated that the last term I would ever teach would be fall of 2011 (I was already committed to teaching one class), even as I concentrated on mastering and managing a very challenging technical infrastructure of servers and networks.
Miraculously, a full time position opened in my department at PCC the very term I thought would be my last. As the interview process wore on – four stages! Essays! Presentations, chats, interviews! A process that stretches on for half of a year! – I called in sick to work to come to campus for interviews, stayed up late writing essays, and did my best to make sure the network didn’t implode at my “real” job simultaneously. In the end, somehow, I got the job at PCC. I’ve never lost the sense of bewilderment I felt when getting the call from my dean.

My take-away from the last several years of my life is that getting a FT position in academia is much more like aspiring to make a living as an artist, a musician, or an athlete than as pursuing a conventional career path in which training and experience result in a job. There is nothing just, normal, or acceptable about that fact, and from my perspective one of the best ways institutions might start to address it might be to create pathways leading from PT to FT status.
One other note: I remain in awe of my PT colleagues who contribute so much not just to teaching, but to college service, usually without any compensation. When I was PT I took it for granted that I had no incentive to participate outside of the classroom, and as it happened I couldn’t have participated even if I’d wanted to (i.e. when I wasn’t here I was in a server room.) The spirit of dedication that motivates them speaks volumes to the need for improved conditions and prospects aimed at PT faculty.

Adjunct Awareness!! Who we are….

Meet the 76%!
We asked PCC job-insecure faculty to answer three questions for adjunct
awareness week.. Here are their answers.


Introducing:

Heather Mayer

What do love about teaching at PCC?

As someone who was born and raised in Portland, I know how important PCC is to our community. I love that we serve a diverse group of students. And I love working with my talented and dedicated colleagues.

What are some obstacles to your effectiveness as an instructor?

The uncertainty of my class schedule is an obstacle. I have to balance how much unpaid time I will spend prepping for a course that might be cancelled with my other work priorities.

How do you balance your PCC life with the rest of your life?

In addition to teaching, I also serve at the TLC Coordinator at the Rock Creek campus (a casual position). I supplement my income by teaching online at another institution. I recently completed my PhD in History at Simon Fraser University, and am looking forward to revising my dissertation into a book. My husband and I are expecting our first child in August, so I am very excited about entering that new stage of my life.

   

Cat Zimmerman

What do love about teaching at PCC?

The students! They are fully engaged, wonderful to know. In fact, I often tell them that I know the future of our state and the world will be better because of their dedication to learning and a sincere desire to change the world.

What are some obstacles to your effectiveness as an instructor?

 

Time to add current resources! Being a PT faculty member means I need other part-time work. In recent terms, with low enrollment, I struggle to make ends meet financially. This is far and away the work I love most.

For seven years, I’ve had the opportunity to teach online, first with Blackboard, and now via D2L. The course I teach is SOC 232, Death & Dying: Cultures and Issues. It is superbly suited for the online format, allowing students to have a little distance as they do their own work about taboo topic in American culture. No one can help another person deal with death, so they can help others. And they do it! Their Final Project is an essay about their personal experience with death. I am honored to read (and cry) through each one.

How do you balance your PCC life with the rest of your life?

Last year I worked for 15 months as an in-home caregiver for a remarkable and very interesting couple. The husband had worked for the railroad his entire career, and loved talking about railroad history. His wife worked her entire career, after moving from Minnesota for a job with the start of the Fred Meyer stores, ending her career as Mr. Fred Meyer’s personal secretary. I volunteer with Elders In Action, donate platelets regularly with the Red Cross, and I’m just about to become a tutor with Tutor Doctor, utilizing my linguistic skills and many years teaching phonics.

 

Lou Bruneau

What do you love about teaching at PCC?

I teach Business and Emergency Management, both important topics to me.

It took me a long time to get to the point that I thought I was doing a really good job of managing day-to-day operations and disasters and now I want to share what I have learned with others.

I love it when I get feedback from former students that are having success using something they learned from me.
What are some obstacles to your effectiveness as an instructor?
I teach the way I was taught which may not be as effective as modern pedagogical theory. I could probably do better with more training.
How do you balance your PCC life with the rest of your life?
It’s fairly easy given that I teach part time. I volunteer with the Oregon Disaster Medical Team. I
also do a little consulting work. For fun we have stepped up our
attendance at live jazz and blues performances.

Bargaining Issues for Job-Insecure Faculty

We asked and you answered! PCCFFAP executive council officers sent out surveys to our members, and then held an unprecedented number of campus meetings, inviting ideas for what needs to change at PCC for instructors and academic professionals to effectively meet the new challenges we face in providing quality education for all our students. Members and fair-share participants stepped up, and took time away from busy, busy lives to provide thoughtful responses to our questions. Then our two part-time bargaining team members sorted through the many responses and thought about what had been said  — and then thought and sorted some more — to come up with a prioritized list of bargaining issues. Here is what we have submitted to the administration bargaining representatives. They are sensible, and focused on what is best for our students. Thank you to all who contributed to the process.

Bargaining 2015 Issue 1: Job security Job security is by far the #1 issue for PT faculty at PCC, supported by data from federation surveys, campus membership meetings, f2f and email correspondence. Possible remedies

  • Annual contract for 50% or more of the faculty who teach 50% or more for 3 or 4 terms in an academic calendar.
  • Establishment of a seniority system to prioritize class assignments–possibly in tiers, such as Steps 7-9, Steps 4-6, Steps 1-3.
  • Clarity and consistency across the district about enrollment needed to avoid cancellation.
  • Compensation “kill fee” for cancelled classes in the amount of 10% of the cost of the cancelled class if the class is cancelled the week before the term begins and 25% if the class is cancelled during the first week.
  • When classes must be cancelled, sections assigned to Assignment Rights faculty should be cancelled last.
  • Bumping should be used as a last resort, instead a different formula like a three-term average or annual FTE should be used for FT faculty.
  • If enough classes are not offered by a department to meet the FTE required for Assignment Rights faculty to maintain eligibility for health insurance, the faculty members should be able to use non-instructional assignments to fulfill that requirement.
  • Make assignment rights transferrable district wide, rather than requiring additional time to qualify at a new campus.
  • Stronger language to clarify an actual annual assignment must be offered when an Assignment Rights faculty requests an annual assignment.
  • District wide Assignment Rights for part-time librarians.
  • Replace “assignment rights” and “annual assignment” with less confusing terms.

Issue 2: Career path We acknowledge that some PT faculty are interested in and working toward becoming full time, so they are involved in many activities beyond instruction. The following measures would recognize their efforts and create a clearer path to full-time work with PCC. Possible remedies

  • We need full transparency in the hiring process. Many part time faculty who were rejected for various vacancies reported being given brush offs from Human Resources claiming they were not qualified, while they were on paper.
  • PT faculty should receive credit for non-instructional services like committee work, advising, course development, etc. when being considered for FT positions.
  • Preferential consideration of part-time faculty for full-time positions.
  • Create a clear, consistent, and deliberate process for hiring part-timers across the district, like that used for hiring full-time faculty. This would provide opportunity to improve the diversity of part-time faculty, which would then allow PCC to hire from among current part-time faculty when filling full-time positions.
  • Create more full-time job share positions for current part-timers who don’t wish to work full time but would like to be involved in (compensated) college service.
  • TLC coordinators should become half time faculty positions.

Issue 3: Compensation for non-instructional services PT faculty regularly volunteer or are sought out to perform non-instructional tasks with little to no compensation. We are asking for compensation, according to Appendix D, for PT faculty participating in

  • Committee work
  • Program review
  • SAC projects focused on assessment of student learning
  • Governance
  • Department and SAC meetings
  • Faculty Orientation for new PTs
  • Proctoring accommodated exams when DS services not available
  • Mentoring of newly hired faculty, both PT and FT

Create a pay scale for compensation for non-instructional service to the college, so that more experienced instructors receive more compensation for their participation. This could be based on our current step system.

Issue 4: Compensation for teaching Many part-time faculty find that if they log the hours they spend on their teaching-related duties, including preparation, grading, and student contact, they are earning little more than (and sometimes less than) minimum wage. Possible remedies

  • Additional steps for part-time faculty to be aligned with the 17 steps for FT faculty and APs. Why fewer steps than full-time faculty?
  • Move part-time faculty closer to equity with full-time faculty in their pay per class.
  • Compensate instructors for developing new courses that are hybrid and face-to-face.
  • Compensation for faculty who have to accommodate several students with disabilities in a given term

Issue 4.5: Improvement of benefits The current benefits offered to part-time faculty seem to reinforce the faculty caste system, often with no apparent logical reason for the difference. Possible remedies

  • Part-time faculty participation in Health Savings Accounts
  • Incentive for part-time faculty who are eligible for health insurance but opt out–the same percentage of the waiver incentive for full-time faculty as the percentage part-timers receive of the cap for full-time health insurance. Every PT faculty opting out of healthcare coverage is a savings to the college just like any FT faculty or AP.
  • Part-timers should be able to accrue sick leave as they were several contracts ago.
  • Part-timers should be able to donate sick leave to colleagues.
  • Subsidy for dental insurance.
  • Ability to accrue tuition waiver to use at a later time.

Issue 5: Transparency and accountability of administration Because many of our part-time faculty have endured financial hardship and major inconvenience due to errors beyond their control, it is especially important that records should be transparent, accurate, and reliable. This will allow faculty to proactively monitor pay information and alert the necessary parties if errors are found. Possible remedies

  • Clear and readable paychecks.
  • FAN at beginning of the term should include, in addition to employee’s step and Assignment Rights status, a list of pay dates and amounts of each paycheck.
  • The job information under Earnings in online paycheck info should include the appropriate academic term.
  • Accountability for deans to conduct Assignment Rights assessment, and submit Assignment Rights paperwork to HR in a timely manner.
  • Accountability for HR keeping accurate records of Assignment Rights, with clear information on a faculty member’s status available on the FAN each term and on the MyPCC employee tab.
  • Online timesheets for employees doing multiple jobs.
  • Finding a solution for the 2-3 pay periods when the PT faculty do not get paid.

Issue 6: Parking and transportation PCC relies on part-time faculty to teach most of the classes offered. This system puts a unique transportation burden on part-time faculty, who must travel to and from other jobs, and who must transport with them all their teaching-related materials. Many faculty members struggle to find parking when they arrive on campus, resulting in several negative consequences: being late for class or appointments with students, having to leave during class breaks to move their cars, receiving a parking ticket for illegally parking in order to get to class, and even department chairs having to act as valet parking for part-timers. These burdens are not beneficial to faculty or to students. Possible remedies

  • Equality of parking situation at each campus: SE has no staff parking.
  • Part-time faculty, like all the other employees, should be able to buy pre-tax annual and term parking permits online.
  • Designated parking area for part-time faculty only on each campus to allow for those who must come and go at various times of the day.
  • Subsidized Tri-met passes for employees to decrease parking problems.

Issue 7: Evaluation Part-time faculty perform the same teaching work as full-time faculty yet are evaluated in a different way, which threatens the job security of excellent instructors. Possible remedies

  • Eliminate online evaluations.
  • Eliminate the ability of supervisors to use student evaluations alone (either the results or the completion rate) as a basis for not offering future classes to part-time faculty.
  • Part-time faculty should be evaluated on the same schedule and criteria as full-time faculty.
  • Part-timers employed at more than one campus should not have to be evaluated at each campus.
  • Part time faculty should participate in evaluation of Faculty Department Chairs.

Issue 8: “Primary” job issue Some employees work more than one part-time job at PCC and are then denied the benefits to which their full amount of work entitles them.

  • Employees with two or more part time jobs at PCC should be entitled for benefits from all their jobs.

Issue 9: Work space Although part-time instructors teach most of the classes at PCC, their work space situation is not equivalent to that provided for full-time faculty. This interferes with their ability to provide equal services to students. To allow all faculty to perform their duties, we are asking for

  • Guaranteed assigned office space to allow part-time faculty to work on campus, hold office hours and required conferences.
  • Guaranteed storage space for storing the student work that faculty are required to keep after the term ends.

Issue 10: Professional development Part-time faculty can enhance student learning by continuing to improve their knowledge of best practices. The following will provide these opportunities:

  • Consistent TLC professional development funds available to part-time faculty across the district.
  • Subsidize tuition for work-related courses at other institutions.

Issue 11: 9-week summer session at Cascade is inconsistent with the rest of the district and creates a multitude of issues for both students and faculty. House cleaning

  • Extension of one term workload exception
  • Replace “assignment rights” and “annual assignment” with less confusing terms.
  • IPR template — a dean asked me if we have one.

Notes In the spirit of unity and equity, all new benefits bargained during the new contract should apply to PT faculty as well. Many of the issues listed above have been raised by the Federation in previous negotiations over the years. More recently, Project ACCEPT has developed a comprehensive report on the working conditions of the majority of PCC faculty, which raises many of the same concerns and suggests several of the same remedies as we have found in gathering data from our Federation members and from contracts in force at other institutions. We acknowledge with appreciation the work of our colleagues from Project ACCEPT who brought new attention to these long-term challenges. Information request from HR The percentage of PT faculty who teach greater than or equal to 50% during 3 of the 4 terms in the academic year.

Contingency Plan: How the Other 76% Lives

In 2013-2014, 76.5% of the instructors employed at Portland Community College were part-time instructors who are paid poorly—less than half the annual pay of nearly all full-time instructors—with little or no job security, limited access to benefits, and a general feeling of being second-class employees. We are not paid for committee work, office hours, or class preparation, nor are we compensated when our classes are cancelled at the last minute. Many of us have been doing this for years or even decades.

To make ends meet, we work at multiple college campuses or take side jobs, which detract from our focus on campus and directly impact student success. We do not receive consistent orientation, training, or professional development, and we share office space with our fellow adjuncts, further diminishing our ability to help our students succeed.

We are not alone—nationwide, 66% of all college faculty are just like us. Whether you call us part-time, adjunct, or contingent faculty, one thing is clear: we are the working poor of college education. And we teach the majority of college classes.

This blog will tell our story.

Teacher appreciation week’s unsung heroes – adjunct college instructors

by Jessica Martin

As I haul a Costco-sized bag of chocolate truffles to help celebrate my son’s elementary school teachers and staff this week, I’m reminded that I, a college educator, never actually considered myself a part of teacher appreciation week. For some reason, I associated this week with preschool and K-12 education.

My notion of “teacher appreciation week” changed last year when I had a student bring in a small note and gift of appreciation. I was honored and completely blown away by this unexpected gesture of gratitude. Then again, why didn’t I feel like I deserved this token of appreciation during this week? How about my colleagues – do they feel the same as me? Do we forget the role we play in potentially making a difference in the lives of our students? Is it that we only have three short months with any given student instead of nine months? Maybe it’s that adults are seen as having a greater responsibility for their own education compared to children? Whatever the reason, I hope we start honoring our college instructors for the unsung heroes among our ranks.

I am an adjunct biology instructor – part of the “76%” of adjunct faculty at Portland Community College (PCC). While my students see me no differently than a full-time instructor, there seems to be a great financial and benefits divide between adjunct and full-time instructor status. Last term, I talked to my students about what it means to be “adjunct” faculty. Most truly had no idea that any extra office hours or time spent outside of the classroom isn’t technically compensated. My pay technically comes from time spent in the classroom with students – or “contact hours” – with a vague expectation that a reasonable amount of time outside of the classroom is devoted to activities like grading, writing quizzes and exams, making lecture slides, answering emails, etc. While it’s often said that teachers don’t teach for the pay, it’s certainly true for adjunct faculty. By the way, this isn’t just a PCC problem, this is systemic across higher education in our country. As tuition for students continues to climb, more unstable adjunct faculty join the ranks with fewer stable full-time positions. It seems that this “system” snuck up on us gradually over the course of several decades as a cost-savings measure by the business of higher education. So, where is all of that extra tuition money going if not to the educators? The adjunct position was never intended to be “76%” of faculty, yet here we are. If I honestly add up all of my contact hours and non-contact hours, my hourly rate isn’t much different than many jobs that don’t require a college education. Yet, I have a Ph.D. What does it say to our students, who are paying for an education in hopes of a better paying job, when their highly educated instructor’s hourly rate is comparable to not even bothering with college in the first place?

I don’t know what the answer is for solving the current adjunct crisis in higher education, but I hope to get the word out to students and taxpayers alike, who financially support and rely on public higher education. Instructors, students, and taxpayers deserve more. We need everyone touched by higher education – which is arguably everyone in our modern society – advocating to fix this problem. Do we keep a high fraction of adjunct positions, but better compensate? Do we shift back toward more full-time faculty positions over adjunct positions? Is it some combination of both? Does the government fully subsidize community college education like K-12 education? If so, will instructor compensation improve? While we can’t easily quantify quality of instruction, intuition tells me that appropriate compensation – i.e., a livable predictable wage with benefits – makes the difference between an instructor who spends the time to give constructive feedback on a written assignment meant to challenge critical thinking versus an instructor who runs a standardized, fill in the box, multiple choice exam through the Scantron machine.

In spite of it all, I LOVE my job. Nothing brings me greater pleasure than sharing my passion and feeling like I am truly making a difference for my students. I honestly get goosebumps when I tell my students the story of how former PCC Biology instructor, Donald Defler, was a key inspiration behind Rebecca Skloot’s New York Times Best Seller, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. College instructors can and do alter the trajectory of lives – not only for those individuals who grace our classrooms, but those individuals who later go on to make ripples throughout our communities and beyond – as is the case for Rebecca Skloot. Higher education plays a much greater societal role than ever before as the demand for highly skilled and trained workers only continues to rise. Community college instructors especially –whether adjunct or full-time – are truly at the heart of training this workforce. So, this teacher appreciation week, thank a college instructor. Just one email from a previous student can fill an instructor’s mostly empty cup. Even more important, this teacher appreciation week, be part of righting the wrong in our current higher education system. Become aware of the problem in higher education. Write letters to our state and national legislators to better fund public higher education and ensure that additional funding helps compensate its educators at a level commensurate with their education. Heck even start asking more questions up the chain of command at our higher education institutions. Students who are paying and going into thousands of dollars in debt for their education deserve a higher quality education that comes from instructors who don’t have to worry about whether they have enough “contact hours” to pay the bills next term. And to all my amazing colleagues in the biology department at PCC, you all have my sincerest gratitude and a Costco-sized bag of chocolate truffles headed your way.