Free college is a laudable goal, one that the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Washington, the faculty union, supports. It’s unacceptable, however, to subsidize that goal by exploiting adjunct faculty. Washington has defunded the Community and Technical College system, creating a gap largely filled by low pay and substandard working conditions for adjunct faculty. Jack Longmate gets that part of the equation right in his recent Op-Ed.
Solving this problem requires a deeper critique than he offers. He erases an ongoing labor-led effort to address the problem. Significantly, he ignores how the chronic disinvestment reflects institutionalized racism and classism in our society. The two-year college system was developed to expand access to higher education to marginalized communities, including students of color, first-generation and lower-income students. Failure to prioritize these communities is at the root of the problem showing up in the overreliance on adjunct faculty, typically unpaid for office hours, innovations in course curriculum and other contributions to the colleges. The overreliance on underpaid, precariously employed, and disrespected faculty cheats students of the full benefit of their teachers’ time and expertise.
This New Year’s, let’s resolve to achieve free college, overcome racial and economic inequities in our system, and support adjunct faculty.
Karen Strickland, Seattle, president, AFT Washington, and former faculty member at Seattle Central
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