The Takeaways from PFF's Focus Groups

Earlier this semester, PFF invited all faculty to participate in a series of focus groups.  This email contains the takeaways that came from those meetings.
 
36 faculty members had signed up for the focus groups, which were held the week of October 2, 2017.  After some cancellations, we held 7 focus groups with 14 part-time faculty and 7 focus groups with 14 full-time faculty.  We truly appreciate the time and thought these colleagues took in this process.
 
Below is a summary of the major takeaways as well as how PFF will address them.  Later this semester, we will send a Survey Monkey for more detailed input.  We hope all faculty will participate in that online survey, and we will share the compiled results from that, as well.

In solidarity,
The Palomar Faculty Federation

 

Takeaways from PFF’s Focus Groups

 

THE ISSUE: How colleagues view PFF

Participants expressed admiration and respect for individual executive board members, and appreciate the work and commitment of the board members.

Some colleagues expressed an alternate view about the executive board as a group. Some thought the e-board was exclusive and not open to differing opinions.

PFF’S RESPONSE

We’re so glad you like us as people, and want to improve any negative impression we give as a group!  We can see how we might have earned the reputation, though – for example, we aren’t as accessible as we could be and executive board members tend to be drawn from “the same old” departments. 

Effective immediately, we are moving one of the two monthly meetings back on campus (see “Meetings and Mulberry”).  Office hours in MD-330 began this semester, and as faculty have been dropping in, we will continue those.  We encourage departments to send a representative to attend PFF meetings (it doesn’t have to be the same department member at every meeting – you can rotate!).  There is an open At-Large seat on the board that can be filled by a part-time or full-time professor, and we have been asking not from “the same old” departments to join.

We appreciate the constructive criticism, and will continue our efforts to be more inclusive.

 

THE ISSUE: Meetings and Mulberry

PFF and CCE share an off-site office on Mulberry Drive (it’s often just called “Mulberry”).  There is concern about the money spent on rent and utilities, and it has given the impression that the desire was to remove the union from the people.  There were a number of requests to have meetings on campus.

PFF’S RESPONSE

We hear you.

At the time, PFF and CCE were leading the way for greater union solidarity across North County, and voted to acquire a large, off-site office.  The locals also felt that with a more traditional “union hall,” there would be room to host even larger meeting audiences and have a place for socials.

The few parties we’ve had have been a blast, but not worth the expense of looking like the board is distancing itself from those it serves. While PFF takes a hard look at its future office needs, we will move one of the two monthly meetings to AA-140.  The meetings on the second Thursday of the month will be held at Mulberry, and the meetings on the fourth Thursday of the month – the next being October 26, 2017 – will be held at AA-140 on the main campus.

 

THE ISSUE: Transparency

Faculty want to know more about what, specifically, PFF is working on.  For example, colleagues want to know how to get meeting Minutes, hear how many grievances are in play at a time, and learn what/when the negotiations team is presenting.  Right now, it feels a bit secretive.

PFF’S RESPONSE

We’re so glad people want to know what we’re doing, and we are not doing anything in secret!

The Minutes, which include all these details, are posted within a few days of their approval at https://www.palomarfacfed.org/agendas-minutes/.  Minutes from one meeting are approved at the next meeting, then sent to our web master typically within a day, who then posts within a day of receipt.  For example, the Minutes from the 9/28/17 meeting were read and approved at the 10/12/17 meeting.  They were sent for posting on Monday, 10/16/17, and the web master posted them by that afternoon.

From now on, we will email when Minutes have been posted, and the email will include a very brief summary of the Minutes (as everyone can see the details on PFF’s site).  We will also send more negotiations updates as we make progress.

 

THE ISSUE: Both FT & PT have concerns about the amount of overload some FT faculty teach

We heard frustrations from part-time faculty that there weren’t enough classes for them to teach, in part, because full-time faculty took so much overload (particularly in the summer).

Full-time faculty are also concerned about part-time faculty having enough classes to teach for this reason.  They are also concerned about professor “burnout,” without summer breaks, and with the fact that some full-time faculty take overloads but don’t serve their required number of committee hours or attend commencement.

PFF’S RESPONSE

Per 4.1.12 and 4.1.15.1, full-time faculty may teach 140% of their load  in a regular semester and up to 28 instructional hours during intercession and summer session.  Up to these limits, full-time have the right to the classes first.

But like full-time faculty, part-time faculty members also count on a certain number of classes to cover their living expenses too, while earning about 1/3 of what a full-time faculty member is paid.  While department cultures vary, there is no room for differing interpretations of the contract: there is a limit to the amount of overload a full-time faculty member can teach.

 

THE ISSUE: Premature class cancellations

We heard numerous frustrations and examples about classes getting cancelled long before faculty felt the classes even had a chance to fill. 

PFF’S RESPONSE

      This makes us crazy, too, and we understand how this especially hurts part-time faculty and our students.  We continue to advocate for classes to be allowed to meet the first week of school. We filed a grievance over this, and it went to mediation, but the District insists it is their right as described in 8.2 of the contract.  We are working to change the contract language.

 

THE ISSUE: Areas not necessarily under the purview of the union

Faculty shared their concerns that aren’t under the union’s control.  For examples:

  • Several PT faculty respondents noted that “it’s not like this at other campuses;” Palomar is the worst in terms of PT morale and building unity between PT & FT faculty.  Here, PT feel “less than,” while at other campuses they feel they have a valued voice.
  • Varying department cultures – some treat all faculty with great respect and professionalism, and some need improvement.
  • Advertising – it’s inconsistent and ineffective, and faculty would like PFF to influence the amount and type of advertising the school does.

PFF’S RESPONSE

Although these issues are beyond our purview, PFF representatives are in all of the governance councils and will continue to speak up for all faculty in these meetings. We value the feedback we get and it informs the work we do.

ACCJC Loses in Court - Again

It was good news last week for the nearly 80,000 students who attend City College of San Francisco (CCSF). On Friday, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow rejected the request of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) to narrow the scope of the judge’s current injunction, the result of a trial that ended with the judge ruling that the ACCJC had broken four laws in its decision to terminate CCSF’s accreditation.
 
The injunction spells out a 10-point plan to ensure the ACCJC clearly and completely details each deficiency the agency has identified in the CCSF system.  One of the problems in the accreditation turmoil surrounding CCSF has been that the ACCJC, according to the judge’s ruling, failed to clearly communicate with the college about its supposed deficiencies, and failed to provide an opportunity for the college to respond to them.
 
“The ACCJC keeps trying to minimize its misdeeds,” said CFT President Josh Pechthalt, in response to Judge Karnow’s latest ruling. “The Judge correctly rejected their latest attempt to avoid responsibility."
 
City College of San Francisco faculty union AFT 2121 President Tim Killikelly added, "We are gratified that Judge Karnow rejected the ACCJC's latest attempt to escape accountability for its illegal actions."

The CFT represents over 25,000 faculty in thirty community college districts, and 120,000 educational employees at every level of the education system, from Head Start to UC.  More info: www.cft.org

The Capitalist Takeover of Higher Education

Conduits of Capital

by ROBERT ABELE

The great under-reported crime against education by corporate America is not the buying and selling of schools by for-profit corporations; that this is a significant threat to education is indubitable and well-documented. But the little-discussed threat to education is the deliberate “hollowing-out” of education from within—i.e. by the philosophy which views education, especially at and up through the community-college level, as preparing students to take jobs in the business world upon their graduation, rather than to learn the art of deepening their distinctly human character by engaging in learning and reflection through courses and content that cannot be bought or sold in the business world, such as philosophy, art, humanities, the history of human cultures, logic and critical thinking, ethical decision-making, etc. These are all activities the deepening of which has traditionally been seen as part of the very definition of a college-level education. These are the activities usually called “academic,” and their function was to deepen and expand the humans who engaged in them, in what, for many students, would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

There are three ways in particular in which this hollowing out is being done: emphasis on and money thrown into “basic skills” courses, used to get students to levels of reading and writing they need for jobs; emphasis on “student success,” defined as the numbers of students who pass a given course; and deliberately starving, reducing, and eliminating programs that widen student’s views and teach them to rationally reflect on and analyze their society and its trends.

The focal point of this corporate shift in educational philosophy is clearly reflected in President Obama’s so-called “community college initiative.” That Obama’s plan is not advocating academic education, but turning college-level education into job training, was put succinctly in a news story on PBS, which characterized Obama’s community college proposal as “a plan to better connect the training of students at community colleges with specific types of jobs in the marketplace.” Even more specifically, “the plan would offer $600 million in grants to support job-driven training, like apprenticeships, that will expand partnerships with industry, businesses, unions, community colleges, and training organizations to train workers in the skills they need,” said a White House statement. (April 14, 2014).

According to the White House’s own press releases, “The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act includes $2 billion over four years for community college and career training. These resources will help community colleges and other institutions develop, improve, and provide education and training, suitable for workers who are eligible for trade adjustment assistance. The initiative will be housed at the Department of Labor and implemented in close cooperation with the Department of Education.”

Note, too, that Obama’s plan also stipulates where students will see the most direct influence of that $2 billion: the offer of free tuition being touted by the administration would apply to students who maintain a grade point average of 2.5 or better.

So connect the dots of Obama’s plan: emphasis on higher graduation rates, minimal GPA (B average) requirements, teaching basic skills to be used for jobs, and focus on cooperatives between corporations and colleges so that the latter is used as a free (or very cheap) training ground for the former, and one can see the planned trend: community colleges are now to become the new vocational schools for American industry, not the traditional less expensive way to begin one’s collegiate-level academic studies before transferring to a four-year college. Add to that the increased pressure for grade inflation in order to increase the numbers of passing students per class, in order increase the graduation numbers, in order to receive more federal money under Obama’s plan for colleges, and the true academic experience of providing a college education all but disappears, replaced by a “get ‘em ready for the workplace—as quickly as you can (i.e. pass ‘em!)—so we can make our money” educational philosophy,” with the clearly implied enjoinder: “…and for godssake stop teaching them to think about things or to know human or cultural history!”

This latter phrase was not simply added for effect. Part of the process of corporatizing education through the philosophy of administrators currently running America’s colleges has been the deliberate shrinking or even the killing-off of philosophy and humanities departments in higher education, both at community colleges and four-year colleges, across the nation. This is a well-documented development, but it is not often tied to the philosophy behind it. But in brief, one cannot be a critical thinker, or engage in deepening one’s knowledge of human ideas or cultural development, if one is to be an employee of an American business. The corporate philosophy which is killing such programs does so primarily for two reasons: 1) such education does not have a monetary payback for the business world; 2) critical thinkers and those with knowledge are dangerous to corporate hegemony. (Former CEO’s have told me this directly, although not in these terms.)

For more evidence of the corporate philosophy that has infiltrated and changed college education, over-and-above this “reading and writing” and job training focus, note how the corporate “bottom line” mentality now prevails in administrative decisions concerning which courses and majors are maintained. For one example, in every college course now, there must be a pre-determined measureable outcome of student success—the latter defined as the numbers of students who pass the course—that justifies the retention of the course and/or its instructor. The goals are called “Student Learning Outcomes,” and the vocabulary of each such outcome must be specifically formulated in such a way that an examining administrator can quantify the “successful” outcomes by how many students pass the objective and then pass the course. Aside from the obvious fact that the education process cannot be so quantified—that there are significant elements of education that are qualitative in nature, such as expanding the student’s intellectual horizon, whether they pass the objective or the course or not—this “downward pressure” from the institutional custodians now in control of the education system results directly in grade-inflation and also in reduction in emphasis on content, the latter of which is certainly a part of the definition of “higher education.” Now, instead of focusing on students learning content, deepening their understanding of themselves and their societies, and developing a self-conscious worldview, college education is being measured strictly by its outcome in terms of total numbers of “successful” students.

Diane Ravitch summarized this new method succinctly. In her new book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools, she summarizes the situation quite well: “In recent decades, the utilitarian argument for higher education has nearly supplanted understanding the role of higher education in developing intellectual, cultural, political, and aesthetic judgements…These are the fruits of higher education as distinct from vocational education. It may be a vain hope, but we should continue to urge our policy makers not to lose sight of the intangible values of higher education as they promote higher college graduation rates” (p. 83).

Good advice, and something which needs to be done. However, since the proverbial horse has already left the barn, the chances are slim that simply urging policymakers not to capitulate educational philosophy to the capitalistic philosophy of means-ends quantification and profitability will stem the tide of a shift in American educational philosophy that began in the 1990’s. It is likely that more active measures will have to be engaged, such as nonviolent resistance to this devolution of education into a branch of corporate America through refusal to cooperate in the hollowing-out of education. It will have to start with organized faculty setting limits to such corporatizing by refusals to cooperate with it.

No one is arguing here that teaching basic skills and offering job training should never be a part of a community college’s mission. But when that type of training becomes the primary emphasis of community college education, as it does both in Obama’s “community college initiative” and in current administrative practice in colleges today, and when it is made clear that this corporate educational philosophy determines where the money for education will be funneled, then the mission and value of a distinctively academic education are clearly at risk.

Most importantly for our democracy, when students are perceived as “future laborers,” when the college curriculum emphasizes skills needed for the marketplace, with downward pressure put on human disciplines such as philosophy and humanities (to name but two), and with added downward pressure from the top for grade inflation in order to gain more money for the college, at the risk of an instructor and/or course being cut completely, then ignorance and irrationality come to rule the day, in education, in culture, and in politics. Contrary to that, witness the stark warning from Thomas Jefferson about drifting from studying the human arts and sciences in academia. Jefferson himself was a staunch supporter of what has been, until lately, the traditional definition of college education. He believed that such studies were inestimable in having a functioning democracy: “In a republican nation, whose citizens are to be led by reason and persuasion and not by force, the art of reasoning becomes of first importance.” He added to that the critical need for “an informed citizenry” in the democratic process. As he wrote to his nephew, an integrated, cross-disciplinary college education enhances just that process by providing the skills and information content needed for “the art of reasoning.”

The bottom line is that there is something in our humanity being lost when the national philosophy of education becomes a means-to-an-end capitalist-oriented enterprise. The understanding of who we are and where we have been as a country and as a species, along with being able to improve our ability to reflect and think, to learn new content that is interesting and informative rather than just useful for the directly practical end of employment, are all valuable and significant parts of being a human. But when students become simply commoditized as mere future job-holders, when education is defined as the numbers of successful passing grades in courses and in graduation numbers, when content-based education that deepens the human mind and widens the human perspective are downplayed as “irrelevant” to the marketplace, and when education is hollowed out into a matter of creating new or better employees, as Obama’s plan clearly states, then education is clearly in trouble in America. Note that this danger to education is not due to teacher incompetence, as the media and right-wing politicians like to portray it. It is because of a lack of vision from those politicians and college administrators who cannot see anything but the flow of money, and who are allowing the revered institutions to be hollowed out and die by using them as conduits of capital.

Robert Abele holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Marquette University and M.A. degrees in Theology and Divinity. He is a professor of philosophy at Diablo Valley College, in California in the San Francisco Bay area. He is the author of four books, including A User’s Guide to the USA PATRIOT Act, and The Anatomy of a Deception: A Logical and Ethical Analysis of the Decision to Invade Iraq, along with numerous articles. His fifth book, Rationality and Justice, is forthcoming (2016)

www.counterpunch.org

Adjunct Action Day

Palomar Professors Engage in National Adjunct Action Day

Plight of Part-Time Professors Draws National Attention

San Marcos, California – (February 20, 2015) – Palomar Community College professors are joining forces with their counterparts at community colleges nationwide to lead the change in North County San Diego for better working conditions for part-time faculty.  A teach-in is planned at Palomar’s Clock Tower at noon on Wednesday, February 25.

Part-time instructors teach over 50% of all community college classes today.  Although these professors are highly trained professionals holding the same qualifications and delivering the same instructional services as their full-time colleagues, they receive only 50-60% of the financial compensation earned by full-time faculty.  As a result, part-time faculty typically teach at multiple institutions, carrying heavier workloads than their full-time peers – but without offices, benefits, or job security.

These conditions limit professors’ availability to students, their ability to provide feedback on student work, and time to adequately prepare for classroom instruction.  This negatively impacts student retention and graduation rates; over the last six years, the number of students either earning a two-year degree at a California community college or transferring to a four-year institution has fallen by 2.6%.  Studies at the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute show that this is a direct result of the inequalities currently existing in the full-time and part-time teaching hierarchy.

These inequalities negatively affect taxpayers, as well.  The financial duress under which many part-time professors survive force them to regularly rely on food stamps or state unemployment, creating a paradox in which some of our society’s most highly educated people must rely on welfare programs paid for by taxpayers.

As the situation gains national attention, California professors are asking Governor Jerry Brown to allocate additional funds for the categorical line items that currently exist for parity/equity compensation and paid office hours for part-time temporary faculty in the California Community College system in the amount of $30 million for paid office hours, and $50 million for parity/equity compensation.  Additionally, they are asking Brown to allocate $100 million for the conversion of existing part-time temporary faculty to full-time faculty status in order to help create fair and equitable working conditions that will benefit our students, our institutions, and our taxpayers by building today the basis for an educated tomorrow.
The peaceful demonstration is scheduled from 12:00 – 1:00 pm, Wednesday, February 25, at the Clock Tower on Palomar’s main campus in San Marcos. 

About Palomar Faculty Federation (PFF)
AFT Local 6161, PFF, is the faculty union of Palomar Community College.  It has been supporting full-time and adjunct colleagues since 2001.  Learn more at palomarfacfed.org. 

Contact
Christina Moore    lafenix2000@gmail.com    (760) 473-1365