Summer is the cruelest month for adjunct faculty. For many part-timers, the months between the spring and fall semesters mean week after week with no income. For those adjuncts given summer classes, that one assignment can make enough money to get through June, July and August.
However, that one assignment is likely to be elusive because it is common practice for full-time faculty to take all available summer courses, shutting out their part-time brethren. Who can blame full-timers who can make exceptionally large amounts from teaching summer classes if they qualify for “overload” status?
“Overload” is a big deal because full-timers typically earn one and one-half the pay they usually would. This boosts payments into the $8,000–$9,000 level. At the community college level, that is golden.
OK, many of you have heard this before. Lack of summer work is not a new development. However, something happened at Montgomery College, a two-year community college, located north of Washington, D.C., that offers a glimpse of hope. I have taught there since 2003 and it is the largest community college in Maryland.
With no announcement or fanfare, MC this year imposed a cap on the amount of total class hours full-time faculty could teach in an academic year—including the summer sessions.
Instead of an unlimited ability to grab classes, the cap on total hours limits full-timers essentially to four classes over the two summer sessions and only one class qualifies for the very profitable “overload” status.
After years of complaining about the summer situation, I was stunned. Here is why.
Several years ago, MC administrators imposed a harsher limit on summer assignments for full-time faculty that limited the upper-class citizens to two courses during the summer; adjuncts were celebrating. That lasted exactly one summer.
The following fall, overwhelmed by loud and relentless complaints from full-time faculty, MC administrators pulled the limit and brought back the bad old days. That one glorious summer disappeared into the past.
I remember being in the audience at MC opening day ceremonies where the banishment of the cap was announced. The roar from the full-timers was louder than all of the cheers from all of the bars in Chicago when the Cubs won the World Series last year.
In light of that, MC’s most recent action seems incredible. It also seems to be a very wise one. The most recent cap still guarantees a lot of summer work for the full-time faculty. I do not begrudge any effort by any instructor to earn more money. Yet, the college’s pronouncement has resulted in many more adjuncts at MC getting more summer work.
I have not researched exactly how much more work the MC cap has created for adjuncts. I also cannot say MC took the action to specifically help adjuncts. It has not helped all adjuncts, particularly those who teach English courses. In some departments, there was no change because adjuncts routinely are given summer assignments. Nevertheless, in other departments, the additional summer assignments—and additional money—were truly, deeply welcomed. This does not totally solve the adjuncts’ summer woes, but it is a start in the right direction.
Looking forward and beyond greater Washington, D.C., the MC administration’s decision could be a model for other colleges, especially the two-year colleges where pay is generally substantially lower than at nearby four-year institutions.
In addition, this relatively light cap on full-timers’ workload also introduces an acknowledgement by college administrators that part-time faculty need summer work.
I have taught at all types of colleges: community colleges, all women’s colleges, historic Black universities, for-profit institutions, religious-based colleges, private and state-funded colleges and online-schools. With few exceptions, summer work remains hard to find if you’re an adjunct, but summer classes should not be the exclusive property of full-time faculty. We are not talking about charity, just the opportunity to be assigned a fair portion of the summer pie.
While my plea sounds reasonable, I do not expect full-time faculty or college administrators to immediately embrace my viewpoint. I would hope they would give it honest consideration. After all, the MC “light” cap on full-time faculty’s total hours worked could be the fair compromise that works for everybody. It certainly is worth a try at other institutions.
Have a great summer.
By Mitch Tropin, SEIU Local 500, Montgomery College Part-Time Faculty Union and Faculty Forward Network contributor.