Most people know that our schools use language strangely, especially in their use of obfuscation and euphemism. During the last four years that I have been at Austin Community College trying to teach my students grammar, I have also been trying to teach myself the meanings of all sorts of curious words and phrases that I had never heard or seen before. For instance, I teach full-time in a division called Parallel Studies, euphemism for developmental studies. Developmental studies, for those who do not know, is a euphemism for remedial studies. Austin Community College also has a Learning Resource Center, which is what most of us call a library. Learning the dozens of strange words floating about the college almost requires a workshop with hands-on material. Yet all of these words are necessary, we are told, to emphasize the new directions community colleges are taking.
One of the most curious terms is something called “full-time faculty.” In community colleges the number of teachers hired only part-time has grown so much that the word “faculty” is no longer enough. Now we say “full-time faculty” is a retronym similar to “real butter,” “raw milk,” and “fresh squeezed juice.” And just as the shelves of any supermarket will show that margarine, pasteurized milk, and orange drink are more prevalent, so in most community colleges the part-time faculty outnumber their full-time colleagues. Thus, this odd use of our language reflects an even stranger practice, and an exploitative one, in our community colleges.
This new direction surprises some people. It certainly surprised me. When I was completing my master’s degree, no one told me that I was preparing to teach part-time. They told me there were no jobs, but they were wrong. There were plenty of jobs —just part-time. For instance, last spring Austin Community College employed 519 part-time instructors, over two thirds of the teaching staff. The Dallas Community Colleges employed 2,775 part-timers, and Houston Community College employed 1,200. Of the 47 community colleges in Texas, 19 employ as many part-time as two to one. At two others the ratio is four to one. Nor is this phenomenon peculiar to Texas. Nationally, part-time teachers count for 51% of the faculty in community colleges, and the number is growing every year.
The use of part-time instructors is not really new. For decade colleges and universities have relied on a few local part-time teachers to staff classes temporarily in emergency cases and occasionally to staff classes requiring teachers with highly specialized training.
The new direction is the over-use of part-timers, a trend that began in the late sixties and swelled in the seventies. A study by the American Association of University Professors found that between 1972 and 1977 the number of part-time teachers grew at a 50% rate while full-time faculty grew 9%. Jack Fried-lander, of the Center for the Study of Community Colleges, estimates that the growth in the use of part-time faculty between 1971 and 1977 was closer to 140%.
One does not have to look long to find the reason part-time faculty are so popular: like migrant workers, part-timers are cheap. Austin Community College pays part-time instructors $924 per three-credit hour course per semester. Teaching experience and number of degrees mean nothing; an inexperienced teacher with a bachelor’s degree makes the same as a Ph.D with 20 years’ experience.
The nine-month salary of full-time faculty, which takes experience and education into account, ranges from $15,451 to $27,051. Considering that full-time faculty teach ten courses in nine months, they receive from $1,545 to $2,705 per course. Thus, the college saves at least $600 per course taught. In addition, the college saves by giving no benefits to part-time instructors: no multi-term contracts, no health or life insurance, no sick leave, no paid holidays.
Yet Austin Community College is not particularly stingy with its part-time faculty. It pays more per course than two-thirds of the other Texas community colleges. It is one of a few that pay teachers for longevity at the college. At 39 Texas community colleges, part-time teachers get nothing beyond base pay.
Obviously, colleges are saving money. With an “innovative” administration, they save even more. One ex-dean, Jim Hammons, now of the University of Arkansas, proudly explained how it’s done. In one article he wrote, “It didn’t take long to realize what many another dean of instruction already knew: that part-time faculty cost less. … It was not necessary to buy furniture or to maintain an office for them. Little, if any, operating budget expenditures were incurred for travel, secretarial services, postage, duplicating, telephone, media or other items encumbered each time I employed a new full-time faculty member. … I realized additional savings with larger-than-average class sizes in courses taught by part-time faculty and in reduced cost in supervision.”
I have probably read that statement a hundred times, but each time I am shocked anew at how blatantly exploitative it is. Yet I might not be so troubled if this issue were so simple as saying that across the nation the majority of community college teachers are being exploited. I might even believe the administrators when they say the over-use of part-time instructors is economically necessary. The administrators go further, however, claiming that the college benefits by hiring from the community professionals, who do not want to teach full-time, to teach a course or two or three.
Theirs can be a powerful argument, and when I began teaching part-time at ACC, I believed it. When I was part-time, I became president of the Part-time Faculty Association, and I spoke often about how the college benefited from having a faculty of part-time teachers who daily worked throughout the city, how this condition, in fact, made us a true community college, and how our teachers were involved in the city and the city involved in the school. I even attempted to compare our educational setup with the approach of fifth-century Athens where higher education was built more on the interaction of citizens than on structured curricula and a well-paid faculty. Knowing I had no formal power, I thought I could reason with the president of the college by warning that in treating the part-time faculty badly he was treating the community badly. I thought what I said was true, and I thought I was promoting superior education by saying it.
Not until I became full-time and, by a strange turn of events, acting-division chairperson for seven months, did I realize what a half-truth I and the rest of the college believed. What is more, I began to see that it is a half-truth from which greater and more insidious half-truths grow. For me, the question has ceased to be how to stop the exploitation of part-time faculty. The question has become how to abolish the practice and return our colleges to being a community of teachers, intent on educating our students. For I believe now that the use of part-time teachers is ruining our community colleges, making it almost impossible for students to get the education due them.
For instance, in theory having professionals come in and teach an occasional course is a very good practice; why should not an accounting or writing student learn from a professional accountant or writer? Yet we must remember that no one learns from someone who does not know how to teach. And there is plenty of proof that the professionals do not teach as well as the teachers. Why should they? Their ambition was not to teach. They teach while putting in a full week at another job. They learn the art of teaching slowly because their experience builds slowly. Seldom being at the college, they remain unfamiliar with the college’s support services. They do not have offices in which to meet privately with students or to store class materials and books. And, since part-time teachers are not permanent — every semester about 10% of them leave the college — a community of teachers never forms.
Recently, community colleges have become aware of this problem and one of their new watchwords is “staff development,” which includes such things as orientation sessions, handbooks, mentor systems, and newsletters — all for part-time faculty. At Austin Community College all of these programs are fostered by what is called the Instructional Development Program.
One of its publications, which it borrowed from another community college, indicates the state of community college teaching. The booklet, Basic Teaching Techniques begins lesson I: “Congratulations! You have been selected as an instructor at Austin Community College, welcome aboard! And now that you have this nice easy assignment, you can just sit back, relax, and take life easy. And carry all that nice easy money to the bank each month. Don’t You Believe It. This may come as a surprise to< you but you have just committed yourself to one of the most challenging assignments you have ever had in your life.”
I suppose I am lucky, but I have never hired a person for whom that booklet is appropriate, but then I have hired only teachers who want to teach full-time but who cannot find jobs. However, if we at ACC have teachers for whom the booklet is appropriate, we cannot claim that students benefit from having those people in the classroom.
Sadly, it is too clear. There is no pedagogical justification for the over-use of part-time instructors. Sadder still, to hide the exploitation, administrators, division .chairpersons, and even full-time faculty bury this educational half-truth with more half -truths. Below are a few of these that I have run across at ACC and in educational publications (most notably in New Directions for Community Colleges; Using Part-time Faculty Effectively, number 30, I960.). I am certain other community colleges have their own.
- Part-timers like being part-time. Of course, this is sometimes true. My experience at ACG shows me, and the study by the AAUP confirms it, that there are generally three types of part-time instructors, and nation-v/ide they number about equally. One group consists of those faculty members who work full-time outside the college and who like teaching part-time. Another group teaches part-time and by choice has no full-time employment elsewhere. This group consists mainly of housewives and retired teachers who want to divide their time between their families and jobs. The third group teaches part-time and wants to teach full-time. Often they teach part-time at several institutions.
However, even if two-thirds of the part-time faculty like being part-time, and I doubt if that many do, the point is meaningless. First, it ignores the fact that if one advertises for part-time teachers one gets mainly people who are willing to teach part-time. We have an estimated 125,000 Ph.D.’s without posts; one would be silly to suppose
that they would want part-time jobs. Second, it does not prove part-time teaching is a good educational practice, much less a fair one.
In any case, the statement reminds me of a comment made by a land owner about migrant workers in the CBS documentary “Harvest of Shame.” It went something like this: “Well, those workers just love being migrate, no cares, no worries, just traveling around having a good time. They’re the happiest people in the world. If I could afford it, I’d be one, too.”
I have often heard full-time teachers proclaim the joys of being part-time, but I know of only one full-time teacher who ‘ has chosen to become part-time. Although that teacher no longer has an office, she is not paid on the part-time faculty scale; she receives pro rata her fall-time faculty salary.
- Part-time teachers are less qualified than full-time teachers. This is a half-truth. Some are less qualified, but some are more qualified. It is also true of full-timers themselves: some are more qualified than others. Generally, full-time teachers do have slightly more education, out usually it is the number of hours beyond the master’s and not the number of degrees. Anyway, not many Ph.D.’s will teach for $924 per course.
In most cases, full-timers have more teaching experience, and the reasons are related to the nature of part-time teaching. Some part-time teachers, such as the professionals and housewives, never pursued teaching full-time. Others, those-who want to teach full-time, simply cannot find full-time teaching positions because community colleges have not been offering any for over a decade. In other words, the system creates its own inequities: full-timers have more experience because they are full-time.
- Full-time teachers do more work. Certainly this is true. full-timers do more work because they are hired to do more work. Full-timers are required to teach five courses a semester, but that does not explain why they get between $600 and $1700 more per course. Supposedly, the difference is made up in bureaucratic work. For some full-timers this is so. Some interview, hire, and “supervise” part-time instructors. Most write curricula, order books, and make sure syllabi are printed. All serve on at least one committee. But one has to ask, if full-time faculty do all that bureaucratic work to justify such better pay, how do they find time to teach five classes, prepare for those classes, hold a required ten office hours, or, should they try, keep up in their fields?
- All part-time teachers have to do is teach class and hold one office hour a week. As the underside of statement number three, this statement shows how part-time teaching is inherently exploitative. Since the college underpays part-time teachers, it requires them to do very little. It writes and prints the course syllabi; it chooses and orders the textbooks; it writes and prints the tests. The part-time teachers do nothing but pick up their materials, attend class, and hold one office hour a week, (Many colleges do not require the office hour because there is no office to hold it in.) If the part-time teachers choose to write their own syllabi and tests and hold more than one office hour so that they can see more than two students a week, that is their business. In other words, this policy excuses bad teachers who do not see students out of class and who do not know or care enough about their subjects to develop their own versions of their courses. The good teachers, who make suggestions to improve the courses and maybe even serve on a few committees, get no rewards.
In the end, these half-truths are not merely exploitative; they are destructive, and I see at least two ways they are so: they destroy the college’s community of teachers and they encourage mediocre teaching. In both cases, it is the student who suffers most.
Consider a small, though telling, confrontation at ACC last fall. In one of its monthly meetings, the Full-time Faculty Association proposed cooperation between it and the Part-time Faculty Association. The full-time teachers overwhelmingly approved the proposal, but the opponents were loud and furious. Those few who were against cooperation are some of the most powerful members of the faculty — division chairpersons who have been with the college most of its eight-year existence. One division chairperson reportedly said, forming a circle with his thumb and forefinger, “Part-time faculty are a zero, a big zero,” referring to the political weight they carry with the college’s board and administration.
The proposal passed, but looking at it, it is a weak document. It calls for cooperation “where possible” on “philosophical,” not policy, questions. It calls for the exchanging of agendas and “soliciting input in written form,” another way of saying that part-time teachers should not appear at a full-time Faculty Association meeting. More important is that never was a merger of the two faculty associations seriously considered.
One of the teachers who made the proposal said, “The hysteria I witnessed
at the meeting was a shocker — a ‘them against us’ syndrome.” Her shock is one shared with many full-time teachers who once taught part-time, for very few part-time instructors realize just how ambivalently full-time teachers view them as both colleagues and competitors.
And why should not they view them ambivalently? The full-time teachers know that a third of the part-time instructors are eyeing their jobs, noting what is not done to improve the courses. Two-thirds resent the full-timers for not encouraging them and not rewarding them for suggesting changes in the syllabi the full-timers wrote. The conscientious part-timers are jealous of the full-timers who have offices, secretarial help, and better pay.
Most part-time teachers do not know that full-timers fear them as a large and potentially powerful group. For instance, the full-time English instructors know they could do nothing if all the part-time English teachers, who teach 70% of the freshman classes, refused to teach the English syllabi. One way the college prevents something like this from happening is by offering only one-semester contracts; therefore, if someone causes trouble, he or she is not “re-hired.”
Another way of keeping power from part-time instructors is the task force. At ACC, the full-time faculty of each discipline meet about three times a year as a task force to approve new courses, course content, required texts, etc. Although part-timers may attend task force meetings, they have no vote. A few years ago, some people considered giving part-time faculty the right to vote in task force. That right to vote would be controlled, however, by giving one vote for every ten part-timers attending the meeting. I cannot help thinking that in 18th century America blacks counted at least as three-fifths of a citizen.
The full-time teachers do not only fear part-timers, they feel guilty because of them, for they know they should not be paid so much more than the part-timers. So they double their efforts to prove they are worth the difference, taking on more committee assignments and spending more time “supervising” in some form or another. It then does not take long for the full-timer to become resentful toward the part-timers and the administration. They do not want to do the bureaucratic work their jobs require. They do not want to force their syllabi on others. They do not want to supervise part-time instructors who are as qualified as they. But resentfully they do it because there
are no full-time teaching jobs without the bureaucratic work. After all, as they know, nationally the only jobs available are part-time.
Moreover, the full-time teachers who hire part-time teachers find themselves in the peculiar bind of knowing that if they hire bad teachers who will do only what is required, they guarantee that students will get poor educations. If they hire good teachers who do more than is asked, the students will get good educations, but the part-timers, unless they are as strong-willed as dedicated, will sooner or later become disillusioned and bitter, bitter toward the students, the administration, and the full-time teachers, most of whom are not more qualified or harder workers.
It is not only the competition and emotionalism inherent in the system that prevent teachers from forming a small community in which they discuss their subjects, exchange teaching techniques, and generally encourage one another. Part-timers are not on campus very much, and when they are, they are in the classroom. Therefore, they do not meet and talk with their fellow teachers. And since part-time and full-time teachers usually do not have offices near one another, if indeed the part-timers have offices, they seldom mix.
The effects that the ill feelings, distrust, and lack of communication have on the classroom probably are not measurable. But they seem to me to be great. Students learn much about the life of the mind by sitting with several teachers who are discussing a question from one of their classes. Often an idea half discussed at the coffee pot can become the subject of an exciting and enlightening class discussion. The dividends of a community of teachers are small and slow in coming, but they accumulate and over the years they affect many students in important ways.
More obvious is the mediocre teaching propagated by the overuse of part-time faculty. As we have seen, some part-time instructors are not primarily interested in teaching; it is something they do after a full day’s work. Everything else being equal, their teaching is not as good as someone’s whose only job is to teach. Furthermore, excellent teaching is not rewarded by better pay, job security, voting privileges on the task force, and certainly not by an eventual full-time job.
More damaging is the trend toward standardization caused by the abundance of part-time teachers for whom everything is provided by the school. Justifying standardization is easy. Given that part-time faculty teach 70% of a college’s courses, that those people have greatly varying talents, that they are on campus only when they are teaching, that they come and go at a rate of 20% a year, how can a college know what they are doing? Simple. Standardize all courses. If there were a community of teachers, many teachers would be doing many different things, but there would be no need for standardization because everyone would know and trust what others are doing.
Ironically, standardization, created to ensure excellence, ensures mediocrity. First, it proliferates objective tests in all fields, especially in the social sciences. After all, essay tests are supposedly subjective, and anyway the college does not pay enough for non-English teachers to read all those essays. Second, courses are simplified so that teachers who have never used a particular teaching approach can easily adapt themselves to it. Third, part-time teachers eventually become bored with or overly critical of syllabi which they are expected to teach but not allowed to change, and this attitude is apparent to students. If a teacher is not enthusiastic about a course, neither will be the students.
Finally, a student’s education is short-changed because standardization of class materials also standardizes teaching practices. Certainly, some students learn better by lecture, some by discussion, some by drill, some by individual instruction. Equally certain is that different teachers use different methods with varying degrees of effectiveness. Some very dynamic lecturers cannot lead a class discussion worth peanuts. More important is that students become familiar with the different approaches teachers have toward the same discipline. Risking over-simplification, a student of history needs to learn from a teacher whose focus is the facts and a teacher whose focus is the lessons of history. Otherwise, the student will not understand either approach or history itself.
I would like to think that all these problems, from the exploitation of community college teachers to the educational problems the exploitation creates, were primarily economic questions, but I do not. Community colleges have limited funds, sure. But the way a college spends its funds is a question of priorities and priorities grow from an educational philosophy: what is a college, and what is a college education?
The part-time problem is, however, part of a larger trend — the bureaucratizing of our colleges. UT-Austin president Peter Flawn spoke last year of how the masses of paper work are smothering academic freedom. In The New York Review of Books (November 5, 1981), Jacques Barzun wrote, “Colleges and universities have become bureaucracies like business and government. . . . The academy obviously needs officials of the bureaucratic type; and their attitude inevitably spreads throughout the campus by contagion. In these conditions the old idea of membership in a university is virtually impossible to maintain.”
In community colleges, it is impossible to maintain. Barzun points out that one of the problems with the universities in the 1960’s was that teachers did not respect good teaching: they wanted research jobs or government work. The problem with part-time faculty, too, grows from a disrespect of teaching, this time by deans, administrators, and college presidents. Once upon a time, teachers became deans and college presidents because of their expertise and achievement. Now, people who hate teaching because it is a frustrating, thankless, and financially unrewarding profession get the easiest doctorate available, one in educational administration, and become deans and college presidents. Sometimes I think if they could have it their way they would do away with such troublesome things as teachers and use only computers and televisions. Certainly, dividing a faculty in two, with one third, the full-timers, doing the bureaucratic work of writing curricula and ordering books, and two-thirds, the part-timers, doing the teaching, is the best they can do so far.
Last year, when ACC tried to get the city of Austin to create a tax base for the college (it is only one of two in the state not supported by its community), it invited the people who were running for the board of trustees to speak to the college’s faculty. One of the candidates spoke of the dedication of the “staff” at ACC. This candidate’s choice of the word “staff” over “faculty” illustrates how those who run our colleges view those who fulfill the purpose of the colleges.
One part-time teacher I know speaks of the fast-food approach to education, but the analogy is neither funny nor inaccurate. The overuse of part-time faculty came about because of the assumption that the college belongs to the administrators, much like a McDonald’s belongs to the buyer of the franchise. To an administrator, a part-time teacher is nothing but the cashier who serves the product, prepared by the full-timers to the administration’s specifications.
Another strange word that has crept into the language of community colleges completes the analogy. The word is “student consumer.” For me, the widespread use of “consumer” to mean a human being was bad enough, for it represented not the demise but the triumph of materialism. Calling students “the student “consumers” represents to me the death of the idea of the educated populace. The word assumes that skills and knowledge are something bought and consumed at a drive-in window, and not something earned by work and love, that is, studied.
Like “student consumer,” “part-time teacher” wrongly assumes that such a thing exists. Teachers may be paid well or badly, hired to teach five courses or one. But teachers who truly are teachers remain so under any circumstance. It is that fact that allows community colleges to exploit them. It is also that fact that allows students to get at least some education, in spite of, not because of, what is done to our schools.
This essay was originally published in The Texas Observer in 1983 (I believe).