- Fri, 12. May, 9a-12p (CLIMB)
- Fri, 26. May, 9a-12p (CLIMB)
- Tues, 13. June, 1-4p (CLIMB)
- Fri, 30. June, 9a-3p (CLIMB)
- Thurs, 06. July, 9a-12p (CLIMB)
- Tues, 18. July, 9a-12p (CLIMB)
- Thurs, 27. July, 9a-3p (CLIMB)
PCCFFAP is composed of three classes of employees — Academic Professionals, Full-Time (or job-secure) Instructors, and “Part-Time” (or job-insecure) Instructors.
How did people in all three job categories come to be in the same bargaining unit? An interesting story can be told…. To find out, go to: Best Practices for Assuring the Rights of Part-Time Faculty Within Unions.
by Cody Luff
I am sitting on an academic time bomb. One that has been ticking since I accepted a temporary position as a full-time faculty member at the Sylvania campus. I have been an adjunct for six years, rolling up and down the I-5 corridor with three bags in my backseat. One for my morning classes at PCC, one for my afternoon classes at Chemeketa, and one for night class at a different PCC campus. Both lunch and student meetings were frequently conducted on the hood of my battered Honda Accord and I had found several coffee shops that had tables big enough to house my stack of grading, lesson plans, and the occasional flurry of design projects waiting for review. I had achieved a low-grade balancing act that paid the bills and kept me employed in the profession that I love. Unfortunately, enrollment numbers wavered and my balancing act fell apart. Instead of six classes stitched together between various schools and campuses, I dropped to four, and finally to two. A temporary position opened at Sylvania and I applied for it and was accepted in short order. I was now a temporary-full-time-daily-rate-faculty member and I immediately became aware of differences between the adjunct experience and that of a full-time faculty member. No longer did I conduct my student meetings in a parking lot or grade in my living room at 4 in the morning. I was assigned four classes and found that in my 35-hour contract that I had time to actually speak to my students for longer than a few minutes before a long commute. I discovered that I could go home at night, having graded that week’s ration of papers in my office, and actually have dinner with my family. Not only did I feel that I could impact my students’ education on a greater level, but I felt that I had time to enjoy that newfound ability. I was on campus when they were, student meetings could stretch beyond the boundaries of my commuting time, and I could actually chat with my colleagues about teaching ideas and seek advice the very moment I might need it. The game was sizably different.
But even though the cup had been placed to my lips, I knew it wouldn’t last. My position was temporary, I did not have assignment rights, and when my time at Sylvania was at an end, I would enter the adjunct pool at the bottom of the bottom of the pile. The likelihood of getting even one class per school is very poor. I realized that by taking this temporary position, I may have inadvertently started the swansong of my career. I have been tremendously lucky in the fact that my position has been extended for a year, I have twelve months to pack my CV with as much committee work as I can, twelve months to scour the schools along the I-5 corridor for open positions and to feed the adjunct pools my information. This position has been a life saver but it has definitely highlighted the dangerously precarious nature of working as an adjunct. So many of us would like nothing more than to secure a full-time position at PCC, temporary or otherwise, and yet the act of taking that temporary position has a much greater impact on future employment than we may have initially thought. By this time next year I will be scrambling to find open classes, coming employment announcements in hopes of stitching together temporary assignments, community education classes, and the occasional odd-hour section of reading or writing to find my balance once again.
Is there a better way? I don’t know, not for sure. I do know that things will change and, in fact, are changing, but I hope that they change quickly enough to help adjuncts in my position, or any position, before we lose our balance altogether and find we must leave the profession we love in search of income security. With the national press to focus on assessment and success of our students, it seems like a strange thing to lose so many great professors because our schools are unable to focus on job security for the majority of their instructors.
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.
Meet the 76%!
We asked PCC job-insecure faculty to answer three questions for adjunct
awareness week.. Here are their answers.
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?
How do you balance your PCC life with the rest of your life?
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.
What do you love about teaching at PCC?
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.
also do a little consulting work. For fun we have stepped up our
attendance at live jazz and blues performances.
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.
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.