Part-Time Blues

Gavilan College part-time ceramics instructor Jane Rekadal,

Gavilan College’s adjunct instructors find it hard to make ends
Gilroy – She has a bachelor’s in marketing, a master’s in creative writing and has taught at Gavilan College since 2001.

But because only a coveted few land full-time jobs in California’s community colleges, Cheryl Chaffin’s stuck in part-time purgatory.

“Underneath it all I have a lot of anger about how the state rides on the back of adjuncts,” she said referring to part-time employees. “I feel resentful because we’re not getting the benefits and were not getting any sort of job security.”

For the single mother of a 2-year-old, it’s the healthcare hole that really hurts. Part-time or adjunct professors don’t receive benefits at California community colleges.

Chaffin is what they call a “freeway flyer,” since she spends time on the road driving to a couple of campuses for work. But even though she teaches English at Gavilan, Cabrillo Community College in Aptos and at the school’s satellite campus in Watsonville, she had to place her son on MediCal. She pays hundreds a month to maintain healthcare benefits with Blue Cross.

The 41-year-old lives with her mom in Aptos because she can’t afford rent. And she’s constantly weighing the costs of gas and child care, to ensure she’s not working just to spend her days driving, while someone else watches Elias.

Chaffin’s not alone in her predicament.

This school year, about 140 of Gavilan’s professors are part-timers and 77 work full-time at the college, said Sharon Williams, Gavilan human resources director. Those numbers are typical for California’s community colleges, she said.

Community colleges are only allowed to hire a certain amount of full-time professors every year, based on the college’s enrollment, class load and the state’s budget, said Williams.

During any given semester adjunct professors teach more than half of the community college’s classes. This semester, part time professors are teaching about 54 percent of Gavilan’s classes, according to a survey compiled by the Gavilan College Faculty Association.

Part time professors receive an hourly wage, while full-time staffers are on salary. At Gavilan part time professors earn an average of $48.21 per hour. The number varies depending upon the instructor’s degrees and how long he or she has taught.

Gavilan’s full-time faculty earn an annual average of $65,000 and a $2,700 annual stipend for doctoral degrees, plus their benefits package, which adds up to about $16,000 a year, said Williams.

And if a full-time position opens up, part time professors have to apply just like everyone else.

“Part time faculty (are) still considered temporary employees so they have to compete with other applicants,” said Williams.

That’s what happened to Chaffin.

In the spring a couple of full-time seats opened up in the English department at Cabrillo and Chaffin jumped at the chance. But her three-year tenure at the college didn’t help. Chaffin was just one name in a pile of 250 applicants.

She didn’t even get an interview.

Dennie Van Tassel feels Chaffin’s pain. The computer science instructor spent five years as a freeway flyer, traveling between Hartnell and Cabrillo community colleges.

Eventually Van Tassel managed to “be in the right place at the right time,” and he was hired as a full-time professor at Gavilan.

“I got it when there was a big shortage of computer people,” said Van Tassel, who has a master’s in mathematics. “So they were willing to hire an old, white male. But quite often you don’t get a full-time job.”

Usually when a full-time position opens up at least 100 instructors will apply, particularly in disciplines like English, he said.

Jane Rekadal sympathizes with part-timers but she doesn’t necessarily have the same grievances to air.

The ceramics instructor has taught part-time at Gavilan for 26 years but because her husband makes a good living, she didn’t have financial trouble raising her two daughters. For Rekadal, being part-time means she can teach, which she loves, and still create ceramics at her Aromas studio.

“I like being part-time because of the freedom,” she said.

But as Rekadal has grown older, the lack of benefits, particularly retirement, has become more of an issue. And the instructor understands the animosity of adjuncts.

“Many people are pretty bitter about being part-time faculty,” said Rekadal. “Part-timers really don’t make a living wage.”

Comparison of colleges

• Average salary for part-timers at Gavilan: $48.21

• Average for full-time: $65,000 annually, plus about $16,000 worth of benefits

• Rank compared to other local community colleges:

Hartnell Community College average: $46.60

Foothill-Deanza Community College $70.24

Cabrillo Community College $72.21

• Highest average pay for part-timers in California: College of the Siskiyous $124.15

• Lowest average pay for part-timers in California: Imperial Valley College $31.14

*Data from Community College Chancellor’s Office from 2004 and Sharon Williams, Gavilan human resources director.

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