“A is for Adjunct” : Part-Time Faculty Are Crucial to Student Success


George Gastil

by George Gastil

This month Governor Brown will submit an updated version of his proposed state budget.  Many of us are pushing the governor to take this opportunity to show support for part-time community college faculty and the students we serve.

Last Fall, I was part a group of instructors from around the state who visited the Governor’s office with a proposal to improve community college teaching in three ways:  1) fund more full-time faculty positions, 2) improve the pay for part-time faculty, and 3) fund office hours so that part-time faculty can be more helpful to students.

We did not see the money in the budget Gov. Brown proposed in January, but governors do often add items to the budget in May.  The legislature has already shown support for the three priorities.

Like other community colleges in our state, Palomar College relies heavily on part-time faculty.  On the plus side, part-time faculty bring a wide range of skills and talents to our colleges while giving the colleges a great degree of flexibility in hiring.  On the downside, part-time faculty are not treated as equal to full-time faculty, and this disparity ends up affecting the students.

One of my colleagues at Palomar, English professor Will Dalrymple, provides a good example of the difficulties facing part-time faculty.  When Dalrymple started teaching about fifteen years ago, he only taught a few classes a year, and he mainly earned money at a different job.

Dalrymple turned out to be an excellent teacher and he became very inspired to share his love for language and literature with students.  For the past five years he has made teaching his primary source of income.

Dalrymple gives us some good insight on how this rewarding career is also unsustainable:

“Now I teach at two, sometimes three, colleges to put together a full load of classes, which frequently means commuting over a hundred miles a day from one side of the county to the other (from Palomar in the north to Southwestern in the south). My truck has 331,000 miles on it, so I’m not sure how long that’s sustainable. I pay health insurance out of pocket. I have nothing a financial planner would call a legitimate retirement coming from my teaching.”

Some might ask, why doesn’t this instructor just cut back on the teaching and do some other kind of work?  It is possible that Dalrymple could do a different job, but that is not what the students would want to see.

If you go to RateMyProfessors.com, you will see that students find Dalrymple’s classes very rewarding.  They say he is a tough grader on essays, but that his class is well worth the effort.  In addition to leading inspiring classroom discussions, he is spending a huge amount of time grading student essays and giving valuable feedback.

In the past fifteen years, this instructor has helped educate hundreds of people.  If we tracked down his former students, I am sure we would find many of them developing innovative products, teaching our kids, working in hospitals, and managing a diverse array of businesses along the Hwy 78 corridor.

We should also be concerned that the California State University is able to pay part-time instructors better than the community colleges do.  At SDSU, not only do I have higher pay, I also have access to an excellent health plan.  I also have an office at SDSU where I meet with students frequently.

As the state budget continues to improve, we should focus on making sure students at the community colleges have access to the same quality of education they would get in the first two years in a CSU.

Part-time faculty are speaking out, and we are getting a great deal of support from our full-time colleagues as well as many current and former students.

During the week of February 23-27 adjunct faculty in several local colleges wore a red letter “A” to call attention to our situation.  At Palomar College, several of the full-time faculty also wore the letter in a spirit of solidarity.  A few people thought the “scarlet letter” was not appropriate, since adjunct faculty have not done anything wrong.  I actually enjoyed wearing the letter, knowing that I was in good company.

I hope our demonstrations will grow larger and more visible.  I also think it is critical that we take our cause beyond the campus and into the community.

I often hear people share how valuable the community colleges are, but I am not sure how many people realize that the majority of the faculty in these colleges are not treated as full professionals.

One particular person needs to hear from us:

Governor Jerry Brown
c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814

Phone: (916) 445-2841

The message can be relatively simple.  To improve student outcomes in the colleges, we need to focus on improving the conditions of part-time faculty.  We also need to fund more full-time positions, so that instructors can devote themselves to serving students at one college.

If you have benefited from the work of a part-time instructor, I encourage you to speak up.  Maybe you are a community college graduate, or perhaps a parent, or perhaps an employer.  Please let the governor know who you are and why you care.

George Gastil teaches History for Palomar College, Grossmont College and San Diego State University. He also serves as the political director for Palomar Faculty Federation, a union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.

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