Like private-sector employers who turned to temporary workers during the recession, California State University relied on more part-time faculty than full-time professors last academic year as the 23-campus system looked to cut costs.
Students say the shift means they have fewer chances to meet with professors outside of class or get letters of recommendation. Part-time teachers say they have struggled to gain a foothold in the academic world, while tenure-track professors have to advise more students and serve on additional committees.
“I’ve had (part-time) faculty complain to me that they have to meet students in big closets,” said Ted Scott-Femenella, 62, who teaches social work part-time at California State University, Sacramento. “They have to meet students in the classroom or between classes. Catch as catch can.”
Across the California State University system, 51 percent of faculty had part-time status in the 2013-14 school year. Sacramento State relied even more heavily on such staff – about 55 percent were part-timers last school year. At UC Davis, by comparison, 10 percent of the faculty is part-time. CSU has not yet released its systemwide faculty numbers for the 2014-15 school year.
Officials at California State University and Sacramento State say the increase in part-time faculty is a response to state budget cuts in recent years that made university funding unstable. CSU officials said they needed more flexibility in hiring and scheduling since they were unsure about future funding levels.
Part-time faculty, unlike full-time tenure-track professors, can be hired each semester as needed and cost considerably less. They usually teach fewer classes, sometimes don’t have an office and often have multiple jobs. Most lecturers are hired on a semester-by-semester basis, meaning some don’t return to the campus, often by choice.
For years during the recession, California State University was just trying “to keep the lights on and the doors open,” said Michael Uhlenkamp, director of public affairs for the university system. CSU was “forced to rely on part-time lecturers to deal with the budget volatility,” as well as increases and decreases in enrollment, Uhlenkamp said. “It isn’t possible to do that with tenure-track faculty members.”
At Sacramento State, full-time faculty are far more likely to have a doctorate than part-timers. About 25 percent of part-time faculty at the university this school year have a doctorate degree, compared with 90 percent of full-time faculty, the college’s data show. Roughly 12 percent of part-time faculty had no graduate degree at all, compared to less than 1 percent of full-timers.
Some Sacramento State students said they don’t know which of their instructors are part-time and which are full-time. But they have noticed limited access to professors or longer waits for grades. “Some (professors) just happen to be around much more than others,” said Miriam Alexander, a senior majoring in psychology.
Others said a revolving door of professors can make it difficult to track down former mentors.
“A lot of professors I had my first year are no longer there,” said Denise Fernandez, a Sacramento State junior majoring in ethnic studies. “I no longer have access to them. That’s a problem.”
Workload an issue
Part-time lecturer Sarah Strand, 38, said finding enough teachers to offer sections of required courses is a huge issue at Sacramento State. “Graduating seniors need to beg and plead to get into the classes they need,” Strand said. “You have to have instructors teaching those classes.”
Sacramento State has an eight-page list of classes in “continuous need” of part-time instructors.
The high proportion of part-time faculty members results in a heavier workload for tenure-track faculty, who are required to advise the department’s students, do research and serve on campus and community committees, said Marya Endriga, the chair of the Sacramento State psychology department.
Endriga said the psychology department stopped taking new students in its graduate counseling program in 2010, because there weren’t enough tenure-track faculty to oversee students working on their thesis projects.
“As tenure-track faculty decreases, the workload doesn’t decrease; in fact, the number of students is creeping up,” Sacramento State Vice Provost James Prince said. “Committee work and evaluations are distributed among fewer people.”
The state Assembly identified the problem as early as 2001 and passed a resolution that year asking the university to draw up a plan that would raise the proportion of tenure-track faculty to at least 75 percent.
“Clearly in the last 10 to 15 years we’ve moved in the opposite direction,” said Kevin Wehr, president of the Sacramento State chapter of the California Faculty Association.
Part-time lecturers said the setup fosters insecurity, because they don’t know from semester to semester whether they will land enough teaching assignments to pay their bills and be eligible for benefits. Sacramento State faculty become eligible for medical and retirement benefits if they teach at least six units, usually the equivalent of two classes.
“(I was) pushing, begging almost, pulling to get classes in departments other than psychology, which I thought was extremely rude and undignified,” said John Tamblyn, 72, who has taught part-time at Sacramento State for more than 30 years. “I took it personally, I have to say.”
Tamblyn, who also taught at Cordova High School before retiring in 2002, eventually was able to teach enough classes in health sciences and psychology to reach a full load of 15 units.
Many lecturers find themselves stuck in a part-time position at the bottom of the pay scale indefinitely, unable to move to a full-time or tenure-track position. Full-time lecturers who have six years of positive evaluations are eligible for a three-year contract, Wehr said.
Strand has a doctorate in neuroscience and is in demand as an instructor, but that hasn’t been enough to land a full-time job at Sacramento State. For seven semesters, Strand drove every evening from her full-time job as a project manager at UC Davis to Sacramento State, where she taught a class and had office hours. The pace was “hectic,” she said. “Toward the end of the semester, I could really feel it.”
Twice a year, she waited to learn if she would be rehired for the next semester and how many classes she would teach.
Strand recently decided to take “a leap of faith” and quit her day job, buoyed by promises that she could teach more classes. She is hoping she will be hired for one of two full-time lecturer spots expected to open in Sacramento State’s psychology department.
Renewed focus on hiring
Scott-Femenella said part-time lecturers, who often work at multiple colleges to make ends meet, can lack fresh research when full-time tenure-track jobs open up. Sometimes they find themselves “trapped.” Wehr called the situation “degrading to the profession.” He said lecturers, even those who teach full-time, can make as little as $29,000 annually.
“No one comes to CSU to make money; they come to serve the students and give them the very best education that they can have,” he said. “They deserve job security like everyone else.”
Scott-Femenella said he makes about $750 per class each month. In return, each week he spends three hours in class, an hour meeting with students and several additional hours preparing for each lesson.
“I know very few people, myself included, who would do this unless they really loved teaching,” Scott-Femenella said. “That is the only reason that I come back year after year after year. It’s certainly not for the money, because it certainly is not there.”
Strand noted that not all part-time lecturers are unhappy with their situation.
“It depends on what they want,” she said. Some want to teach only one class. Some want to teach more. “Some want teaching experience to add to their résumé,” she said.
Now that the CSU system has climbed out of the recession, Uhlenkamp said, it will put an increased focus on improving student graduation rates. This means hiring more tenure-track staff to promote teacher-student relationships, improve the quality of teaching and allow more professors to participate in undergraduate research.
CSU has asked the state for an additional $269 million for its 2015-16 general fund, with $11 million for hiring tenure-track faculty, Uhlenkamp said. CSU already has increased the number of tenure-track faculty systemwide, hiring 750 this school year, and has plans to hire another 900 next school year, he said. The system loses 400 to 500 tenure-track faculty a year through attrition, mostly retirements.
Prince, Sacramento State’s vice provost, said the university is trying to expand its permanent hires. Sacramento State hired 50 tenure-track professors this school year and is seeking 37 more for next school year. That would be a net gain, as 26 tenure-track professors retired before the beginning of this school year and another 15 will retire before next school year, according to university officials.
“It’s a good start, rather than having attrition that isn’t replaced,” Prince said.
Call The Bee’s Diana Lambert, (916) 321-1090. Follow her on Twitter @dianalambert.