Longform

Teacher's Fret

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Last year the CCCOES board flirted with the idea of limiting the number of credit hours a part-timer could teach to eleven. (Most courses are three credit hours, so the rule effectively would have limited part-time instructors to three classes.) The proposal died, thanks in part to protests of adjunct faculty members who complained that not only was the state paying them poorly, now it was trying to limit the amount of time they could teach.

College administrators take advantage of the part-timers, says Pascoe, because a glut of relatively young, hyper-educated people means that they can. "I finished my Ph.D. in 1982, in Renaissance literature, and there were no jobs in my field," she says. "In the fifteen years since then, I've heard of only two openings.

"The bottom line is the administration is exploiting these people. And as long as they can get away with it, it's going to continue."

In response, part-time faculty organizations have been springing up at Colorado's community colleges. One of the first was started four years ago at Arapahoe Community College. The state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers began organizing at many of the other colleges early this year--an AFT adjunct faculty group popped up this past spring at Pikes Peak Community College--and is planning a big membership push for the fall.

One of the union's most successful organizing efforts has been at Community College of Aurora.

After earning his MFA from the University of Arkansas, John Hart moved to Oregon, where he began teaching at Linfield College. Later, he taught at Western Oregon State College, and then at Oregon Institute of Technology. He arrived at the Community College of Aurora in 1994.

A dormant union organizer, Hart says he became inspired again in the spring of 1995. "I was attending this conference at Aims Community College," he recalls, "and some part-timers did the keynote presentation about the difficulties faced by adjunct faculty. I just couldn't keep my mouth shut."

Community College of Aurora was an obvious target for organization. Founded just over a decade ago, CCA began with a faculty that was exclusively part-time. As the college grew, full-timers were added. Today there are about 30 full-time teachers, although that number is dwarfed by the 240 people who are considered adjunct faculty.

CCA's administration also had shown itself to be particularly resistant to organizing by its faculty--even full-timers, teachers there say. As recently as early 1995 it was the state's only community college without a faculty senate. Last year, Hart says, the Community College and Vocational Education Board finally ordered CCA to form one.

Hart jumped in. "John was saying all the right things," recalls Kathy Mills, a CCA math instructor. "He started saying, 'Even though we're part-time faculty we still have rights.' The part-timers were like, 'We do?'"

In May 1995 the new faculty senate was formed. Unlike any other official college faculty group in the state, CCA's was a coalition of both part-timers and full-timers. Hart was elected co-chair for the part-time faculty.

Other reforms piled up. By the end of the year, primarily at Hart's insistence, CCA had become the only community college in the state with a position of resident instructor. Intended as a middle ground between part-time and full-time faculty, resident instructors receive a higher rate of pay than other part-timers, as well as additional pay for office hours and committee work. They also are guaranteed an interview if a full-time position in their specialty opens up at the college.

This past spring, Hart was voted to be the CCA faculty representative to the state board that governs community colleges, the first time a part-timer had gained that position.

At the same time he was winning concessions for CCA's adjunct faculty, however, Hart was also alienating an increasing number of people at the college. Even his supporters concede he could be abrasive. "Sometimes John would say things to people that were just outlandish," acknowledges Mills. For example, she says, he attacked CCA's faculty education program without good reason. The program provides continuing learning opportunities for instructors.

When Anthony Clark, a history professor and the faculty senate's other co-chair, got into a dispute with the administration, Hart swooped into the fray. Clark had been approved for tenure only to have it revoked over a clerical error. When he met with the president to sort out the mess, Hart attended as the union representative.

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Eric Dexheimer
Contact: Eric Dexheimer