Colorado Community College Profs Seethe Over Low Pay, Lame Raise

In a part-timer economy, fast-food workers and janitors aren't the only ones feeling the pinch. Skimpy wages, long hours and a lack of benefits can also be found in the white-collar sweat shops operated by the Colorado Community College System. Last night, a group of CCCS instructors gathered at the Denver Press Club to compare notes about survival skills, swap stories about their worst assignments and ponder a satiric display of items that could be purchased with their latest five-buck-a-week pay raise, including used books, cans of beans, a large latte and other luxuries.

Part-timers, officially known as adjunct faculty, are the dirty secret of the state's community college system. They teach the bulk of the courses but are paid an average of $1,900 per semester course — less than a third of what full-time faculty are paid per class. Their course load is typically kept to under thirty hours a week in order to skirt federal requirements for health-care coverage. And if they complain, they can expect to see their course loads cut further; the disgruntled can always be replaced from a surplus pool of educated, aspiring adjuncts. Or, as in the case we've been following concerning former Adams State University part-timer Danny Ledonne, they can end up banned from campus for alleged "security reasons." 

Many instructors end up stringing together part-time gigs on different college campuses, along with outside jobs to get by. It's gotten to the point where veterans of the game offer crash courses to other adjuncts in how to access food banks, home heating assistance programs and indigent medical care. 

"It's very demoralizing," says Caprice Lawless, vice president of the CCCS chapter of the American Association of University Professors and organizer of last night's Snowflake Summit. "We have one guy here tonight who's working four jobs."

In 2015, a task force on adjunct pay recommended a 28 percent pay increase. Officials balked, saying the "current political environment" made such a hike unfeasible. Yet full-time faculty received a 20 percent raise, and administrative salaries have skyrocketed in recent years, along with major building campaigns on several of the 41 campuses operated by the state's thirteen community colleges. "Is the mission instruction or construction?" Lawless asks. "They're atomizing teaching. Instead of students coming to talk to you about their plans, they're supposed to go see a success coach." 

Administrators often cite budget shortfalls or declining enrollment as justifications for the modest pay, but a CCCS Adjunct Index compiled by the AAUP cites many facts and figures to the contrary. Enrollment and the financial health of the community college system have never been stronger. Front Range Community College, which employs Lawless, currently has close to eighty openings for adjunct faculty — even though studies suggest that relying on part-timers to teach most courses has a significant negative impact on graduation rates. 

Last night's gathering was one of a series organized by Lawless and other activists in an effort to encourage part-timers to get behind AAUP efforts to address the problem. But equal-pay bills introduced in the state legislature the last two years failed after CCCS officials spent $132,000 on lobbyists to defeat them. That's a lot of beans. 
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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast