Without the McCleary Supreme Court decision, it is doubtful that our politicians would devote any time to solving the problems of our K-12 public schools. Even with this 2012 decision, and the imposition of $100,000-a-day fines, the Legislature has yet to act to satisfy the court. What other fires are our legislators ignoring?
For the last 20 years, adjunct faculty have been telling the public and our legislators that our state’s vaunted community and technical colleges system has been running a chain of sweatshops, employing more than 7,000 part-time (or adjunct) professors at less than $20,000 a year, not paying them for all of the hours they work, limiting the amount they work, denying them regular raises and denying them any kind of job security, let alone promotion to the more lucrative and secure tenure track.
These colleges are a fount of equal opportunity for everyone but for the majority of professors who staff them.
From 1996 to 2009, at least the Legislature listened and allocated money each biennium to improve part-time faculty salaries. Yet no money has been allotted since the 2007-2009 recession. And now the Democrats want to add gasoline to the fire.
Rep. Gerry Pollet’s (D-Seattle) union-sponsored SHB 2615 seeks to add 600 full-time faculty positions to the colleges. It gives the false impression that these jobs will go to adjunct faculty when it fact it will cost many of them their jobs. In the past, the colleges have created new full-time jobs by taking courses away from current part-timers, as the original bill made clear.
The bill claims that adjunct faculty will get “priority consideration” for these new full-time openings, but these words are meaningless and may mean that adjuncts would get only notification or a courtesy interview. And even if in the unlikely event that all new positions are filled by current part-time instructors, the new 600 positions do little for the remaining 7,000 part-time instructors across the state who will be left behind with substandard working conditions. Clearly, SBH 2615 does not solve the problem of part-time faculty.
The bill has a deceptive fiscal note of only $95,000 to fund yet another study. The community colleges have done two prior studies, neither of which made a dent in the miserable treatment of the adjuncts. Moreover, it will actually cost $15 million to create 600 new full-time positions.
Why would the two teachers’ unions (AFT and WEA) falsely claim that SHB 2615 benefits part-timers? Washington currently forces adjuncts into the same unions with the full-time faculty who serve as their supervisors and control the unions. This arrangement is illegal at private colleges and in other sectors of public employment. It should be made illegal in higher education too, as Sen. Tim Sheldon’s (D-Potlatch) SB 5231 would do.
SHB 2615 passed the House with all of the Democrats and none of the Republicans voting for it. It is an example of how the marriage between the unions and the Democratic Party is hurting education in this state. It remains to be seen if the Republican-controlled Senate will defeat this bill.
If the colleges are to provide living-wage jobs for the students who graduate from our colleges and choose higher ed teaching as a career, the Legislature should return to providing increased funding every biennium solely for adjunct professors, starting with $15 million this biennium.
Keith Hoeller is co-founder (with Teresa Knudsen) of the Washington Part-Time Faculty Association and editor of Equality for Contingent Faculty (Vanderbilt, 2014). Jack Longmate has published extensively on adjunct faculty and teaches at Olympic College in Bremerton.