September 7, 2007 Volume 108 Number 17

Panel to measure use of academic part-timers

American Federation of Teachers-Oregon counted a small victory Aug. 28 in its years-long campaign against overuse of part-time college faculty.

Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski signed an executive order creating a “Postsecondary Quality Education Commission” that will try to answer the question: “What level of funding would be needed for Oregon to have a high-quality state college and university system?”

In the last decade, higher education has been the State of Oregon’s ugly stepchild, last in line for dinner. Tuition has risen to the point that many young Oregonians can’t afford to attend public colleges.

On the new commission’s task list is something AFT has sought in Salem since at least 1999 — a study of just how much universities and community colleges use part-time faculty. Anecdotally, AFT has seen a steady shift away from permanent full-time tenure-track faculty and toward term-to-term and part-time low-wage and low-benefit instructors.

And that harms students, not just AFT members, says Rob Wagner, AFT-Oregon Director of Political and Legislative Affairs. The union pushed a bill this year in the Oregon Legislature that would have phased in a 25 percent cap on the use of part-timers and required that part-timers get pro-rated pay and benefits and first crack at full-time positions. But the bill didn’t go anywhere.

Among other things, the new commission will study the impact of the use of part-time faculty and graduate student employees on program quality and student success. If it completes its study in time for the Legislature’s 2009 session, AFT might have hard numbers to back up its arguments to lawmakers.

Members of the commission hadn’t been named as of press time.