David Bacon Stories & Photographs
Freeway Flyers Want to Get Off the Road
by David Bacon

LOS ANGELES (12/6/00) -- They're called the "freeway flyers." Years ago, Cesar Chavez compared them to farm workers - poorly-paid, traveling constantly between jobs, with no security.

These are the part timers, the instructors who migrate from campus to campus, teaching one or two courses on each, carrying the bulk of the teaching load in California's community colleges.

"When I was getting my MA, my instructors at Cal State Northridge really discouraged us from teaching community college, especially part-time," remembers Kathleen Boylan, who nevertheless spent 3 years doing exactly that at Glendale Community College, followed by another year at Los Angeles City College. "They warned us that the work would burn us out, and that with so many people holding advanced degrees, the system would always have a new crop of people anxious to replace us. They even gave us articles, to let us know the reality of the situation we would face."

Boylan was never able to get a full time position, despite lining up interviews each year. Instead, she taught two or three English literature classes each semester, including summer sessions, for $2500 per class.

"That wasn't enough to make ends meet," she says. "So I kept the job I had all through graduate school, managing a friend's record store - Eastside Records." That job paid $20,000 a year, more than she made as a college instructor.

"What kept me going was the love of it - I love literature, and I love teaching about it. And I figured it would take a few years to get a full time position. But there are so few of them that only people who have some kind of inside track stand a chance of getting them."

Boylan finally couldn't wait any longer. She got a job teaching English fulltime at Clark Magnet High School in Los Angeles. "It's different," she says. "The discipline problems are greater - the students never stop talking and their energy level is a lot higher. But I like it."

Still, she says, she would teach community college if it was capable of paying her a living wage. "The governor thinks we're all part-time housewives teaching for the hell of it. There's obviously something wrong here," Boylan concludes.

That's also been the conclusion of the California Federation of Teachers, which has gone on record for years opposing the unequal status of part-time community college faculty.

The CFT Research Department has found that while the beginning salary for full-time faculty (including benefits) averages $45,700 per year, beginning salary for adjunct faculty (even carrying a five-course, full-time load) averages $19,245. Adjunct faculty don't receive benefits. Salaries for adjunct faculty, in other words, average only 42% those of full-timers.

Twenty-eight thousand part-time adjunct instructors are employed state-wide, and teach 40% of all classes, while only 15,000 instructors have full-time status. And despite the stereotype of instructors working for only "pin money," a majority of adjunct faculty rely on teaching as their primary source of income.

This year it looks as though there may finally be an opportunity to do something about this gap. The federation, and the Community College Council, have strongly supported a proposal for state appropriations which would finally begin erasing it.

"Our campaign centers around getting $75 million appropriated by the governor and legislature each year, for the next three years," explains Tom Tyner, Community College Council president. "If we succeed, that would almost eliminate the gap."

The proposal, which would basically double adjunct faculty salaries over three years, has already been formally adopted by the state community college Board of Governors. It is strongly endorsed by Tom Nussbaum, chancellor of the community college system. "Over the past 25 years, our part-time instructors have carried a very heavy load in bringing the promise of community college education to literally millions of our students. The entire community college system, including my office and the Board of Governors, is committed to securing major new funding to address the long-standing compensation inequities that these critical employees have borne," he states.

Also supporting the proposal are all the organizations representing community college faculty, statewide student organizations, and the Community College League representing the boards of trustees of districts throughout the system.

Board of Governors Trustee Amy Dean, who heads the South Bay Labor Council in Silicon Valley, notes that the failure to provide equitable salaries for adjunct faculty makes recruitment of the best candidates difficult, at the same time as the state's economy increasingly relies on community colleges to provide cutting-edge education for high-tech jobs. "We must provide part-time faculty with both economic security and equity with full-time instructors to ensure that we can recruit and retain the best personnel available," she emphasizes.

Linda Cushing, an art instructor at Orange Coast Community College, angrily notes that even freeway commuting between campus jobs is a problem, since "many part-time faculty can't afford to buy even a decent used car, finance a modest home or plan in any meaningful way for the future, because we can't qualify for financing based on sufficient and stable income."

The first appropriation of $75 million, for the 2001-2002 school year, is already included in the overall $600 million budget for the system. And the proposal faces its first major hurdle next month -- the inclusion of part of the funding in the governor's January state budget. "It's important to get something into the January budget now, and if the economy continues to look good, get the remainder of the full $75 million into the May revised budget later this spring," Tyner emphasizes.

The CFT has already produced a brochure explaining the issue, and Governor Grey Davis has already been inundated with hundreds of letters - the first stage in the federation's support campaign. Both the secretary and under-secretary of education have been extensively lobbied as well, and, according to Tyner, have been "fairly receptive."

The January partial appropriation is a litmus test. Last year the legislature dropped a similar proposal, after it had passed both houses, when the governor made it known that he would veto it. Tyner thinks that situation may have changed. "The indications he would sign it are better now. But if the governor fails to put anything on the table, we'll have to consider our options," he warns. Anger among part-timers has built up pressure already which could result in more direct action if the legislature and governor do nothing.

If all three appropriations make it through the legislature and across the governor's desk, supporters want the funding to become part a permanent part of the system's base budget from then on. "Once we achieve equity, we still have to make sure we can maintain it, which would require the adoption of a regulation by the Board of Governors guaranteeing parity," Tyner concludes.

"We just want to get off the freeway. But that's going to take a lot of work."

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photographs and stories by David Bacon © 1990-

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