Part-time academic workers, who experience economic injustice on a daily basis, figure prominently in the CFT-endorsed Occupy Wall Street and Refund California movements as they call for better pay and working conditions, more robust funding for public services, and an end to the privilege enjoyed by corporations and wealthy individuals.
Larissa Dorman, part-time political science professor at San Diego City College, describes her activism as rooted in her experiences as an advisor to student clubs, an instructor, and a struggling worker.
Not only has Dorman advised various student groups on her campus, including one devoted to raising awareness about the impact of budget cuts on public education, but she is keenly aware of the ways that her own professional and personal life are affected by economic injustices.
“I have not had any opportunities to even apply for a tenure-track job in the five years I have been teaching,” so despite her advanced degree and love of teaching, Dorman says, “I don’t feel very confident about my future.”
Dorman is also vice president for political action of the AFT
Guild, Local 1931, and proud that her local union is supporting
the Occupy San Diego movement through financial contributions,
holding teach-ins,and organizing members
The report from Orange County is similar, according to Andrew Tonkovich, a lecturer in English at UC Irvine and president of Local 2226 who participates regularly in actions for social justice.
Tonkovich says the movements have invigorated students and faculty at UCI and brought people out who often don’t see each other. “In very real human terms,” he explains, “these movements illustrate the solidarity between trade unionism and student activism to stop the fee increases and save the UC system for students and workers.”
In the heart of Occupy Oakland, Janell Hampton, part-time English instructor at Laney College and member of the Peralta Federation of Teachers, is motivated largely by concern for students. “Students live on Main Street,” she says, “where state budget cuts to the community colleges mean out-of-control lines at financial aid offices, no seats left in classes required for transfer, not enough sections of those classes being offered, and tuition hikes.” Hampton celebrates the Occupy movement for “bringing concerns such as these to the forefront of so many people’s lives.”
Across the bay in San Francisco, Melissa McPeters teaches part-time in Transitional Studies at City College and at four other locations. Referring to the precarious situation faced by part-time faculty, McPeters says, “Each semester, we are threatened with cuts. It is only a matter of time before part-time instructors are filing for unemployment during the school year.”
McPeters sees the suffering of faculty and students alike. “We part-timers struggle in our academic institutions and in our daily lives. We also represent our students who tell us of their hardships caused by funding cuts at the colleges. The funds do exist though — withincorporations and the 1 percent of our population.”
In the Sacramento Valley, Folsom Lake College instructor Robert Laurent decries rising tuition and fees and says student loans, which leave students in debt for decades, do not adequately address the problem.
As a part-time teacher of astronomy and physics, Laurent manages to “cobble together the equivalent of a full-time job out of multiple part-time teaching positions,” but he believes that it would be better for both his students and him if he could teach full-time. “One of the advantages is that they could find me in a regular office rather than scrounged desk space.”
Laurent applauds the movements for “pushing for the restoration of some of the higher tax rates on the very wealthy, which could begin restoring California’s educational system to the great system that it was.”
By Linda Sneed