California law would mandate adjunct rights

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You know that feeling when the popular course you've been teaching for years is given to a newer, shinier faculty member? Or when your department head says you don't deserve a raise because you're slacking off, but you've actually been working late? Wouldn't it be great if you had some recourse when this happens? Better yet, what if there were a law against it?

In California, that might just happen.

AFT Guild adjunctsA bill guaranteeing seniority and due process for adjunct faculty at community colleges has passed in both the state Assembly and Senate and is awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown's signature. Assembly Bill 1690 also requires community college districts to bargain with temporary faculty if they don't already have a collective bargaining agreement. If it passes, this bill would give adjuncts a state-mandated right to a voice in negotiations over working conditions, including evaluation procedures, workload distribution and seniority rights.

The bill outlines minimum requirements in several areas:

  • Part-time, temporary faculty would be evaluated regularly.
  • After six semesters or nine quarters of service, part-time, temporary faculty members with good evaluations would be placed on a seniority list, and assignments would be offered in seniority order.
  • In cases where adjunct faculty receive a less-than-satisfactory evaluation, a written plan of remediation with concrete suggestions for improvement would be provided, and a system of due process would be followed in cases of possible termination.

Brown has until Sept. 30 to sign the bill into law.

"If we get it signed, it's going to be a game changer," says Jim Mahler, leader of the Community College Council of the California Federation of Teachers, president of the AFT Guild (which represents faculty and staff in the San Diego Community College District and faculty in the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District), and an engineering, math and physics teacher at San Diego Community College. Some community college districts already have adjunct faculty policies in place, he adds, but many do not. The bill would mean no college could refuse to negotiate, and minimum standards would protect faculty across the state.

The seniority rules are particularly "groundbreaking," says John Govsky, vice president of the Cabrillo College Federation of Teachers, a member of the AFT's higher education program and policy council, and a digital media instructor. Adjuncts lose courses "all the time," even when they are recognized as successful, he says. "This bill would stop that."

With one of the world's largest higher education systems—2.1 million students at 113 campuses—faculty working conditions at California community colleges vary widely. At San Diego Community College, for example, "We've negotiated huge gains for adjuncts," says Mahler, listing job security, healthcare for those with a 50 percent or more workload, and paid office hours. Other districts suffer with low pay, no benefits and no office hours.

Setting a minimum standard for everyone would affect not just adjuncts but also students, says Govsky, who calls adjunct working conditions "part of a puzzle" of elements that create a rich learning environment. Having paid office hours, for example, makes faculty more available for out-of-class consultation and mentoring. And job security allows adjuncts to exercise academic freedom, unafraid of losing their jobs if they take the sorts of risks that can inspire and challenge their students.

Most full-time faculty enjoy these benefits. But when two-thirds to three-quarters of the faculty are part-time, as is the case in most public colleges and universities, it's important to extend those policies to everyone.

Other state federations are also leveraging legislation to win adjunct rights. AFT Washington is working on a bill that gives adjunct faculty priority consideration for tenure-track positions. A bill backed by the Council of New Jersey State College Locals would provide up to five-year contracts to adjuncts in good standing who have completed five one-year contracts, creating "much fairer conditions for our members," says Tim Haresign, NJSCL president. The Rhode Island College AFT Adjunct Union is working on making healthcare available not only to state employees who work "half-time," defined as 20 hours a week, but also to faculty whose time is defined by the course—and who carry half the course load that full-time faculty carry.

The California legislation, if passed, would be the most comprehensive state law to address adjunct faculty.

[Virginia Myers]