Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s paid community college tuition program relies upon the state’s poorest paid employees — part-time, or adjunct, instructors — some of whom live in desperate circumstances.
What we wish for ourselves we should also wish for others. That wish is embodied in Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s executive order to provide tuition for Seattle high school graduates to attend community and technical colleges.
Ironically, the mayor’s program to provide a stable career and a family-wage income relies upon the state’s poorest paid employees — part-time, or adjunct, instructors — some of whom live in desperate circumstances.
Even though the state’s 7,315 part-time instructors satisfy the same credential requirements as the 3,744 full-time instructors, award the same grades and credits, and have the same tuition charged for their classes, they receive roughly 60 cents on the dollar, in square denial of equal pay for equal work.
As if discounted pay weren’t enough, part-time instructors also are restricted from working full-time, which in itself can be a hardship. (As an adjunct at Olympic College since 1992 teaching 66 percent of full-time, my teaching income is around $20,000 annually.)
An even greater hardship is the lack of job security. While full-time instructors have secure, tenured jobs, part-time instructors’ jobs are precarious, being contracted term-by-term.
Some might consider these substandard working conditions and the discrimination inherent in the two-tiered workplace grounds for a second McCleary lawsuit, but the state government is not alone in bearing responsibility: Our state’s two faculty unions — the Washington Education Association (WEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Washington — are the exclusive representatives of the part-time faculty working conditions, though those unions focus far more on the upper tier of full-time instructors.
In a revealing comparison of Washington college faculty unions with those of British Columbia, writer Frank Cosco observes that: “[T]he key difference between B.C. and Washington … appears to be that faculty unions [in British Columbia] have found a way to normalize the conversion of contingent faculty to ‘regular’ faculty through collective bargaining.”
While Washington’s faculty unions have established no regularized advancement from part-time to full-time, they do promote, under the guise of helping part-time faculty, legislative efforts to fund new tenure-track lines, such as current 2nd Substitute House Bill 1168. But a few new full-time positions do not help the substandard working conditions of the state’s 7,315 part-timers.
Cosco explains that the British Columbian approach, by contrast, has been “to bargain conversion or regularization of the person.” That is, once a faculty member completes a probationary period, he or she is automatically “regularized,” which means “the expectation and right to work until retirement.” In Washington colleges, one can teach for several decades but still not be assured of a job the following quarter.
Cosco further notes that the “automatic conversion of [part-time or] contingent faculty” profoundly impacts the “faculty culture.” Instead of a two-tier faculty ethos that dominates Washington community college campuses — and gives rise to inevitable elitist claims that full-time faculty must be superior to rationalize the difference in pay and working conditions — the British Columbia model offers a more genuine basis for equality and collegiality: All faculty can and do take part in shared governance. They can and do take part in research. They have enforceable academic freedom protections in the collective agreement from the first day they teach.
Most Washington faculty union leaders explain that the chief reason for the dismal working conditions of Washington part-time instructors is a lack of state funding. But while establishing equal pay would cost the state more than $100 million per biennium — testifying to the extent of part-time faculty underpayment — providing job security to part-time instructors who have proved themselves as capable educators along the lines of the British Columbian system costs no money.
The goodwill inherent in Mayor Durkan’s Seattle Promise program should be embraced by legislators and faculty unions and extended to our state’s part-time faculty. If we continue to assume that it is somehow acceptable to discriminate based on part-time status and deny equal pay for equal work, then perhaps we deserve an outcome more severe than another McCleary lawsuit.