The text below appears on the Opinion page of the Eugene Register-Guard, Dec. 3, 2013
LCC treats part-time instructors inequitably
By James T. Salt and Polina Kroik
Lane Community College has always prided itself on its high quality accessible education. Students attend LCC as a pathway to continuing their studies at a university or to embark on careers in fields such as health care, information technology and culinary arts. As faculty members, we are proud to work side by side with our students to help make their dreams a reality.
Yet few students and community members know that in recent decades LCC has maintained its accessibility by shifting the cost of education onto its faculty and staff.
Instead of hiring full-time instructors, LCC increasingly relies on part-time faculty to teach the majority of its courses, and for almost solely economic reasons: part-time instructors are paid approximately 30 percent less than full-time faculty for teaching the same courses. Part-time faculty receive fewer benefits and work on term-to-term contracts with little or no job security, even after teaching for many years.
This approach, while clearly a strategy for balancing the budget, is inherently unfair and ultimately hurts students, as recent research demonstrates. Many faculty members are part-time in name only, teaching numerous courses across several campuses, while still receiving only part-time rates. Part-time faculty are often unable to meet with LCC students outside of a few scheduled office hours and therefore can’t always provide the mentorship and support students need and deserve.
There’s a better way.
In this year’s contract negotiations, the Lane Community College Education Association, LCC’s faculty union, has asked the college administration to continue investing in high-quality education by increasing support for part-time faculty.
LCCEA’s proposals are modest: an increase of the employer contribution to family health insurance, provisions that help part-timers serve on committees that make collaborative decisions about the direction of the college, and a slight salary increase to partially restore wages to pre-recession levels.
These provisions will help ease the burden for some part-time faculty members and bring them closer to becoming full members of the college.
Though LCC offers good health benefits for single part-time instructors who qualify for them, those who need coverage for a spouse or children pay premiums that amount to 50 percent or more of their monthly salaries.
Some have to take their children to charity care or else seek employment outside their profession.
Many select plans that provide minimum coverage or result in dramatic out-of-pocket costs.
LCCEA’s proposal will allow part-time faculty members with family members to sign up for lower-cost plans at a more affordable price without relying on public subsidies.
Part-time faculty members are professionals with master’s and doctorate degrees, and typically with many years of teaching experience. Yet in some departments they have little say in the makeup of the curriculum and policy decisions. When part-time faculty constitute 60 percent of all instructors, such practices threaten the quality instruction that students and community members expect. The administration has turned down these proposals without offering substantial alternatives.
We urge LCC’s administration to renew its commitment to high-quality accessible education by investing in its faculty.
Full-time and part-time faculty have stood by the college during the recession, including forgoing cost of living adjustments and step increases, moving to less expensive insurance plans, and voluntarily taking additional students in their classes.
The college must do the right thing by supporting its faculty and beginning to reverse this shift to overreliance on part-time faculty positions.
We are certain that faculty and the administration share the goal of offering our students the high quality education that they expect and deserve. The administration must also realize that faculty can do so only when they have adequate compensation and benefits, job security and strong ties to their workplace, forged through equitable inclusion in the life of the college.
James T. Salt, president of the Lane Community College Education Association and chairman of the bargaining team, teaches in Lane Community College’s Social Science Division. Polina Kroik, the association’s vice president for part-time faculty, teaches language, literature and communication at LCC. This essay was signed by 18 additional part-time faculty members at LCC.