As City College of San Francisco struggles to remain accredited, part-timers have played pivotal roles in maintaining the quality of instruction and services on which so many students depend.
Li Lovett, a counselor and San Francisco Community College Federation of Teachers member, reports that many part-time instructors at the college have been “immersed in the fight.” Having participated in four phone banks to mobilize faculty since July, Lovett found the part-time faculty she spoke with to be “really aware of the issues,” including the threats to the union’s flagship contract provisions for part-time faculty.\
Lovett has also been impressed by the numbers of part-timers helping build the “people power” required to expand public awareness and to do work not previously expected of part-timers in this era of budget cuts, layoffs and reduced staffing at the college.
Malaika Finkelstein, also a Federation member and an instructor who works with disabled student services and transitional students, agrees that part-timers have been instrumental in keeping the college going: “Nearly all the part-timers I know invest their full working lives into this job. We have been doing a lot of work traditionally done by full-time faculty, staff, and administrators. We’re told that we have the option of ‘just teaching,’ but realistically, that isn’t possible. Much of the extra work we’re doing is essential for us to be able to do our teaching jobs.”
According to Lovett and Finkelstein, this increased workload is to some degree a function of the part-time faculty’s strong contract. Partly because of re-hire rights and the contract’s reasonable compensation and health benefits for part-time faculty, both have always felt “very much a part of the City College culture,” according to Finkelstein.
Lovett attests to a “loyalty and dedication” to the college felt by many part-timers because they have been treated as an essential “part of a team.” This has resulted in a willingness to take on duties not previously required or expected of them — for the good of students and the college.
But “we’re all stretched thin,” says Finkelstein, describing her recent experience helping a student get a student ID card that would permit use of library resources. Because the ranks of counseling faculty and support staff have been dramatically reduced, some day-to-day administrative and student support work “falls to those of us still here, including part-time faculty. What seems like a simple administrative problem becomes an instructional problem.”
Faculty members do more support work than ever before simply to be able to teach their classes. “If I don’t do curriculum development, I will have no material to use in my courses,” Finkelstein elaborates. “If I don’t write course outlines, my classes will be cut. If I don’t fix registration problems, my classes will not have enough students.”
Though part-time teaching at City College has become more difficult due to accreditation threats and budget cuts, Lovett and Finkelstein credit the union for “stepping up” and playing instrumental roles in the essential work of the college. The union, the academic senate, and the faculty as a whole have been doing work traditionally expected of administrators, including college promotion and boosting student enrollment. The union’s member representation work — such as ensuring the correction of payroll errors that have hurt faculty — has grown.
Meanwhile, the connectedness and sense of inclusion that part-time faculty already felt at City College has become a form of solidarity with other campus workers. According to Finkelstein, there has been a tremendous amount of “faculty-staff collaboration, and a sense of solidarity between part-time faculty and student workers on campus who earn less than minimum wage.” But the struggle is hard on everyone.
“The extra work does take its toll,” explains Finkelstein. “Everyone is under too much stress, taking on too much extra work. There is tension because no matter how hard we work, things – and students – can fall through the cracks.”
“We have been doing a lot of work traditionally done by full-time faculty, staff, and administrators. We’re told that we have the option of ‘just teaching,’ but realistically, that isn’t possible.”
— Malaika Finkelstein, Instructor of disabled and transitional students