Part-time faculty members of CFT attended the 10th conference of COCAL International, the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor, in Mexico City, where California, despite its problems, was held up as a standard for part-time equity. 

In mid-August, contingent and part-time faculty traveled from Canada, the United States, South Korea, and within Mexico to share information and ideas about how best to defend the world’s public institutions of higher education.

Bill James, a Spanish instructor at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento, said one of the most powerful ideas at the conference was that part-time faculty “form alliances with full-time faculty and unions who represent other campus workers, as well as with student groups.” James, a member of the Los Rios Federation, was inspired by this shared approach to staving off further austerity measures.

“California seems generally to be seen as the ‘gold standard’ for part-time instructors,” James said. “But if that’s true, we can still increase the karats. We must publicly insist that it is hypocritical to say that we value education, yet hire a clear majority of part-time faculty with limited job security as opposed to full-time, tenure-track professors.”

Linda Chan, from the Adjunct Faculty Federation at Citrus College in Glendora, was struck by the shared situation of attendees. “No matter where you are in the world, full-time tenure-track positions are under assault.”

Chan remembers the moment a presenter invited attendees to notice the average age of people sitting around them, observing: “Colleges and universities aren’t hiring younger teachers. Who would want to start teaching now, when working conditions and pay are getting worse, as are prospects for a full-time job?” Chan left the conference feeling more committed than ever to defending the right to decent pay and working conditions for contingent faculty.

Hugo Aparicio, a part-time business instructor at City College of San Francisco, called the conference “eye-opening.” Some higher education instructors work for as little as $5 per hour, he reports. “We Americans and Canadians, learning about conditions in Mexico, now have a better appreciation for what we have. Thinking about our brothers and sisters in Mexico made me feel a bit guilty because their conditions are, by comparison, so poor.” But he doesn’t feel complacent; he intends to be become even more active in his union.

James, Chan, and Aparicio agree that it was extremely valuable to attend the international conference to see that, as Aparicio puts it, “the education problems in Mexico are the same problems here, at different levels, and in Canada and Korea, too.” He says that we all share the same structural problem: “Teachers aren’t recognized for the work we do.” For Aparicio, the conference provided a tremendous opportunity to exchange ideas and set the tone for “where we’re going in the next 10 years.”