By Chris Thomas
Washington News Service
OLYMPIA, Wash. – Almost half the college courses in Washington are taught by part-time instructors at less pay than full-timers and with no benefits.
Legislation in Olympia aims to change that in the state’s busy community and technical college system. House Bill 2615 outlines a plan to convert 200 teaching positions every two years from part-time to full-time.
Annamary Fitzgerald, now a full-time instructor at South Puget Sound Community College, knows the difference well. She spent nine years as a contingent or part-time teacher.
“It’s a lot of piecemeal contract work,” she explains. “It is just really tenuous every quarter, how many classes you’ll teach. Your income fluctuates dramatically and you have no guarantee that in three months, there’ll be another contract for you.”
Fitzgerald points out that having more part-timers at a college increases the workload for the fewer tenured faculty members, who develop courses and majors, set policies for their departments and serve on school committees.
The House bill made it out of committee last week. It calls for a study of overuse of part-time faculty in the community college system.
Karen Strickland is president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Washington, which represents some higher education teachers and support staff. She says research shows that giving instructors more job stability also gives students a better education.
But she acknowledges it’s a big goal, with a short legislative session and tight budget.
“We’re in this for the long run,” Strickland states. “I’d like to think that within five years, we would have made substantial progress. It requires some real shifting in how colleges do what they do.”
The bill also mentions the need to examine whether part-timers are receiving equal pay for equal work, and ways to diversify the faculty to better represent the racial diversity of students.