Sunday, September 30, 2007

Grandparents paid for me to go to college,
now they pay for me to TEACH college

A letter I sent to my assemblymember, and members of the Assembly Higher Education Committee:

My grandparents gave me money to go to college.

Now they have to give me money to TEACH college.

I thought if I got a master’s degree and taught college, I’d be able to support myself. But because I can only get part time faculty jobs that pay as little as a third as much as a full time teaching job per class, offer no health insurance most of the time, and have gaps in pay between semesters and no guarantee of work or enough classes to survive from semester to semester, I have to ask my 86 year old grandfather and his 89 year old wife to help me out.

My grandfather is proud to help me because I'm the most educated person in my family, and being a "professor" looks like part of that American Dream about each generation doing better than the one before.

Ironically, with two years of college, he was able to own a house and support a stay at home mom and three kids by my age while I consider myself lucky to make my rent, and that I have one school that provides health insurance for me alone (no family allowed).

I taught for eight years at four different districts before any of them offered me health insurance. Before that, I was paying $200 a month out of pocket for a long-term medication.

I took out $50,000 in student loans to get the degree that’s required to do my job. That’s ballooned to over $100,000 with interest because it’s been tough to pay with irregular work and having to pay for any medical expenses out of pocket for eight years. My student loan payments are more than my rent.

I also work more than a full time load when my multiple jobs are added together, and split the difference between what I can teach effectively and the number of classes I need to pay my bills.

I wish my story were unique, but I know many part time faculty members who only have health insurance through their spouses or have none when a major medical crisis like cancer comes up. Others still live with their parents in their forties and fifties because they love teaching in spite of how we are treated.

Community college districts do this with the legal fiction, allowed by state law, that we are "temporary" employees even though most of us will work in the same districts for decades. They only offer us part time jobs to avoid providing health insurance or fair pay even though when you add the multiple schools most of us are employed by, we work more than full time for these state-financed schools.

What kind of morals and what about the value of education are we teaching our students when college instructors are treated like suckers and Walmart employees?

Something is profoundly wrong when our education system is aping the worst practices of the private sector rather than leading by example. Administrators have failed to act responsibly in these matters and need more guidance from the legislature.

If the Assembly approves AB 1343 or AB 591, it would go a long way toward ending these abuses.


To support these bills, you can comment directly on them at these links:

AB 1343 comment form

AB 591 comment form

Cross-posted at FACE Talk

Get candidates (even presidential ones) on record about FACE during primary season

Most of the time when you talk to politicians about correcting a basic injustice they will complain about how much money it costs, how the opposition party or other interests will resist it, or how it will never be signed by your governor.

There is one time when politicians, particularly Democrats, are EAGER, to promise action to educators: when they are running against an opponent in the primaries. They can't afford to have a key constituency like us apathetic and despondent on election day.

In California's last governor's race, I got the democratic candidates for governor on the record supporting equal pay and ending discrimination against part time faculty

(unfortunately, the winner was running against Arnold Schwarzenegger, and unlike Arnold, he hadn't made dozens of action movies that could be played on continuous loop on cable before the election).

All it took to get that promise was showing up at a candidates forum on a Saturday afternoon, and writing a question on a little card. I wrote a follow up letter to the winner to get him to confirm his promise in writing, which he did.

If your state has a governor's race or a contested primary for your state legislator, go ask them. If the seat isn't contested or the likely winner isn't likely to support equal rights for part time faculty, ask them anyway. You can use it to remind other faculty members why they SHOULDN'T vote for that person.

Since this is a presidential election year, you have an opportunity to take this a level higher.

When you find out a presidential primary candidate will be in your area glad-handing, show up and ask them if they would sign a bill ending discrimination in pay and benefits against part time and contingent faculty.

The Democratic candidates are desperate to get labor support and will be unlikely to say no. John Edwards in particular has made being labor-friendly a centerpiece of his campaign.

If you can get it on tape or video, even with your phone camera, so you can post it online, even better.

Does this mean the candidate will push legislation or even sign a bill if elected president?

Who knows.

But if you get them on the record saying they will, you can use that to draw attention to the abuse of adjunct faculty and to show state legislators that they are behind the curve and better act fast if they don't want to end up looking like the Orville Faubus of the 21st Century.

Cross-posted at FACE Talk