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Oregon bill would make pay rates equal for part-time and full-time public college faculty

FILE - Blue Mountain Community College's Pendleton campus is pictured in May 2022.
Antonio Sierra
FILE - Blue Mountain Community College's Pendleton campus is pictured in May 2022.

According to the Oregon Education Association, part-time community college instructors are paid roughly half as much as their full-time counterparts on average.

“Can you think of another job classification where someone does the same work and gets paid 53 cents on the dollar?” Oregon Sen. Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, asked at a legislative hearing last week for Senate Bill 416.

If passed, the bill would ensure part-time faculty at Oregon’s public colleges and universities are paid the same hourly rate as full-time faculty with similar levels of experience and expertise. Right now, for most institutions, that’s not the case.

On average across the state’s 17 community colleges, part-time faculty members are paid rates roughly half that of full-time faculty, according to information submitted to the Legislature from the Oregon Education Association.

More than a dozen part-time faculty members at colleges and universities across the state have testified directly to state legislators in support of the pay equality bill, with more submitting their support through written testimony. But some college administrators and other higher education officials say the bill would be too difficult to implement, and that they’re already paying part-time instructors fairly based on the duties of their jobs.

“Most of us realize that we are not going to get rich from working in schools; however, we do expect to be treated fairly,” Ciara Van Velsor told legislators last week. Van Velsor said she has taught part-time at Clatsop Community College for seven years.

“With the onset of the pandemic, the cost of living has changed drastically, with my family’s child care bill increasing by 80%, which we have been struggling to pay,” Van Velsor said. “We are at a point where my job does not earn us enough to pay for the required child care, and when student loan payments are due again, I am not sure that I will be able to continue teaching.”

Giving up teaching is something other part-time faculty members mentioned to legislators as something they have had to weigh.

Nick Nash is a part-time professor at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton and the college’s only philosophy professor. He said he recently did the math to figure out what his hourly rate would be, and he found he makes about $20 per hour.

“I work a second job that’s flexible enough to work around my teaching schedule, but to make everything balance at the end of the month, I work a lot,” Nash told legislators. “It’s become really clear to me that I can’t continue to live like this. But honestly, I feel trapped. The only thing that makes sense to give up is teaching, but if I do, my rural community college students lose, my community loses, and I lose the thing that I most care about and most enjoy in my professional life.”

Some higher education officials told legislators they have “significant concerns” with the bill.

Sheldon Flom, vice president of finance and operations at Linn-Benton Community College, said a big concern at his institution is that the college is already facing significant budget cuts.

“Like many of the community colleges, we’re facing a revenue shortfall and any impact on our expenses is going to hit us very hard,” Flom said.

Linn-Benton’s president, Lisa Avery, recently announced that the college had to make $2.5 million in cuts to attempt to balance its budget for the next school year.

In the language for the bill, SB 416 would provide the public colleges and universities with some amount of money to implement the change in pay rates, but that amount has not yet been specified.

Flom said if the funding isn’t consistent, already struggling community colleges could be seriously hurting.

Senate Education Committee chair and chief sponsor of SB 416 Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, is a retired instructor from Portland Community College. During his time at PCC, he said, the college calculated that part-time faculty did about 82% of the same work duties as full-time faculty, albeit for fewer hours per week.

“If you’re calculating that part-timers are doing 82% of the work, then why not pay them 82% of the pay? I don’t know if you’ve had that conversation at your college,” Dembrow said to Flom. Flom said they have not.

According to the data gathered by the Oregon Education Association, part-time faculty at Linn-Benton make just under half as much per hour as full-time faculty.

Cassandra Moseley, vice provost for academic operations and strategy at the University of Oregon, said she’s concerned about “unintended consequences” the bill could have on universities as well.

“This bill seems to envision that university faculty are only teachers,” Moseley said. “Our tenure line faculty have duties around research and teaching and service, and even our instructional faculty have duties beyond the classroom such as advising and program management.”

Moseley said university officials are concerned SB 416 duplicates existing laws around equal pay for equal work, which the universities already follow.

“We evaluate the job duties of every position, including considering whether faculty are teaching similar courses, and then use a prescribed set of bonafide factors as required under the law to set pay, and pay either needs to be differentiated by those bonafide factors or paid the same. That’s the principle that we follow,” she said.

Moseley said the bill could also force colleges and universities to pay all their faculty members hourly, which could be a complicated process since full-time faculty are salaried.

At Portland State University, part-time faculty, also known as adjunct faculty, make up a large percentage of instructors. According to PSU, adjunct faculty members made up more than 44% of faculty last school year. Adjuncts taught almost 38% of classes at the university in that same period.

“At PSU, our part-time faculty are essential partners in meeting the needs of our diverse student population,” Kevin Neely, vice president for university relations at PSU, told OPB in a statement. “The proposed legislation does not acknowledge or consider the wide variety of research and instructional roles that exist across Oregon’s universities. These discussions are best conducted at the individual institutions as part of the full range of issues generally considered through bargaining.”

Erica Thomas is an adjunct faculty member at Portland State University. She’s also the political action chair of the adjunct faculty’s union. Thomas said the union just recently entered bargaining for the economic portion of its contract and equal pay with full-time faculty is one of the issues it’s fighting for.

Thomas said at PSU, with the amount part-time faculty are paid per credit hour and the limits to how much they can work before being recognized as full-time, the maximum amount they can earn is less than $25,000 per year.

“What this is doing is preventing working class people from ascending in academia in a really harsh way,” Thomas told OPB. “Either you have a wealthy family or a wealthy enough family so that your family can somehow support that, or you have a spouse that makes a lot of money or something … That’s bad for higher education.”

Thomas said she’s been able to make due by piecing together other jobs and freelance projects, and the fact that she has a partner who has a job.

She said many adjunct faculty, including herself, do research and other outside-of-the-classroom duties just like full-time faculty, they just don’t get paid for it the way full-time faculty do through their salaries.

Thomas is an artist. With no formal professional development support from PSU, she participates in self-funded art residencies and writes her own grants for personal projects, among other professional development activities.

“Then they [PSU] get to buy my expertise for much cheaper,” she said.

Thomas said because of the lower pay adjunct faculty receive at PSU, she’s considering leaving.

“I don’t really want to leave where I live. I am rooted in Portland at this point. I’ve lived there for 15 years and my professional community is based out of that city. It’s a hub for the kind of art-making I do,” she said. “But I don’t see a future … It’s exhausting to constantly be looking for tiny morsels of money.”

Thomas said she’s currently a finalist for a full-time, tenure track job outside of Oregon. She said the pay is roughly 30% higher than what she’s making at PSU.

“I think that there is going to be a trend of people being tired of the wages, the wage stagnation, that is created by PSU and by the lack of funding from the state,” she said, “and people who can find employment elsewhere, who are qualified elsewhere, are going to leave.”

The Senate Committee on Education plans to discuss the bill further during a work session Tuesday.

Copyright 2023 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Meerah Powell is a general assignment and breaking news reporter for OPB. She previously worked as a news reporter and podcast producer for Eugene Weekly in her hometown of Eugene, Oregon. Along with writing and audio work, Meerah also has experience with photography and videography. She graduated from the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and Communication.