Longform

Teacher's Fret

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"What we have now is just this constant drift into part-time," says state senator Pat Pascoe, who taught at Metropolitan State College as a part-time faculty member for six years. Adds Monika Von Glinski, who has taught at Red Rocks Community College since 1992: "The administration knows the community college system would collapse without part-timers."

The shift has a lot to do with money. Community colleges' biggest selling point is that they remain the most affordable higher education available. In Colorado, taxpayers foot about 40 percent of the bill--$91 million annually--to keep the state's eleven community colleges running. Most of the rest of the schools' budgets come from tuition, which is about $54 per credit hour. (The University of Denver charges $465.)

Like other schools, community colleges have been wrestling with their budgets and looking for ways to conserve money. One especially effective tactic has been to rely more heavily on part-time faculty.

For administrators, the savings are huge. Unlike full-time professors at two-year colleges, who can earn as much as $40,000 a year, adjunct instructors average about $500 per credit hour. That means a part-time instructor teaching 15 credit hours--effectively a full-time course load--for two semesters takes home $15,000 a year.

Most adjunct faculty also receive no medical or disability benefits. And frequently, these part-timers work in conditions that a full-time teacher would find intolerable. Many adjunct faculty are still expected to keep office hours to meet with students--even though they have no offices and get no pay for those hours. At Front Range Community College, the part-timers aren't even included in the college's faculty directory.

Last year Pascoe proposed a state law that would have extended certain considerations to part-time faculty that full-timers expect as a matter of course, such as equal (though pro-rated) pay and benefits, and participation in faculty governance. "Part-time faculty are often denied the fair treatment commonly granted to full-time faculty," Pascoe wrote in defense of the proposal. "This treatment...ultimately decreases the quality of the statewide system of higher education."

(No studies have been done to measure how the shift from full-time faculty to part-timers has affected the education students receive in Colorado. But at the very least, relying on so many adjunct instructors presents quality-control challenges. In March 1994, for example, a student attending Community College of Aurora's Basic Law Enforcement Academy was killed when he was shot in the back of the head by another student. The course was taught by two Aurora detectives on a part-time basis. No charges were filed, and the policemen were cleared in an internal investigation. But two lawsuits filed this spring allege that the instructors were negligent in permitting students to point guns at one another and by bringing live ammunition into the classroom.)

Pascoe's bill, which the senator herself describes as "pie-in-the-sky," was killed early in committee. In arguing against it, administrators claimed that most part-time instructors in the community college system were teaching in the spirit of volunteerism, expecting little in the way of pay and relying on other, full-time jobs for health benefits.

Many adjunct faculty still fit that profile. Yet more and more part-time teachers are anything but part-time. A 1995 state study shows that nearly one-third of adjunct faculty in the community college system teaches seven or more credit hours.

For conscientious teachers, the hours can pile up. "I'm on campus by 7 a.m.," says Elizabeth Nick, who teaches twelve hours per semester. "I'm teaching by 8. After class I hold office hours until 9:45. I'm in class again at 11 and from 12 to 1 hold more office hours. From 1 to 2:15 I have another class. I usually leave the campus at 3, eight hours after I arrived."

And that schedule doesn't take into account the instructors who teach courses at more than one community college in an effort to earn a living. Tony Valenti, a math teacher, juggles an 18-credit-hour teaching load at Arapahoe Community College, Red Rocks and Community College of Denver. At each school he is considered part-time, even though, he says, "this is effectively my full-time job."

Teachers like Valenti worry college administrators for a couple of reasons. The public one is that instructors who try to cobble together a living at such low wages must by necessity spread themselves very thin, teaching six, seven or more courses. "When someone is teaching thirty credit hours a semester, we get concerned about the quality of education," says Richard Voorhies, an administrator with the Colorado Community College and Occupational Education System. In private, administrators also concede that part-time faculty teaching full-time could legally demand full-time benefits.

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Eric Dexheimer
Contact: Eric Dexheimer