Social Justice and Community College Part-timers

Phil Brocato, Ed.D. student, University of Southern California
 

Introduction
What began as gripe sessions, eventually led to the formation of the CPFA (California Part-time Faculty Association) in October of 1998.  Since then, CPFA members in over 40 districts and 50 colleges have been fighting for inequities in pay and job conditions.  Local chapters of CPFA in some districts are voicing their concerns more than others.  At PCC (Pasadena City College), part-timers say that the current conditions affect their morale and performance and, in the long run, will affect the well being of the college.
    I think that the conceptual framework of social philosopher John Rawls can be used to better address these inequities. Rawls' principles of social justice function in a liberal society where income and wealth are partially redistributed to benefit its least advantaged members (2524). If justice and morality are to be achieved, it is imperative that California Community College decision makers redress inequities such as pay, office hours, preparation time, retirement and health benefits, and job security.

Theory of Social Justice
    Rawls' theory of social justice is based on the social contract model, a model used to define moral conceptions (e.g., a theory of justice). The term, traditionally, has been used in arguments associated with the nature of political obligation.  Because the arguments explain political and social cohesion as a product of an agreement among individuals, it makes these individuals conceptually vulnerable to political and social units.  Rawls believes justice is fairness, and through the social contract model, he theorizes that when individuals produce social goods cooperatively--not for individual consumption--there will be enough goods for everyone (2524). But when individuals compete for those goods, the problem of "distributive justice" arises, hence, the "difference principle," a principle that redistributes inequalities justly to the greatest advantage of everyone.  When these inequalities are redistributed, this redistribution must occur in the "original position of the social contract," a position where individuals make rational decisions to further self-interest based on conditions of fairness.
    As Rawls further elucidates, these decisions are made in the "original position" through the "veil of ignorance" (2525).  When decisions are made through the "veil of ignorance," individuals will not know their class, social status, or natural assets (intelligence, strength and psychological traits) to ensure fairness.  However, during this process, Rawls assumes that individuals will understand basic facts about social life, take no interest in the advantages or disadvantages of other people, and, hence, not be motivated by envy or sense of superiority.  So, if individuals are unidentifiable by class, social status, or natural assets, according to Rawls, they will not shape principles, bargain with each other, or make decisions out of self-interest (2526).  Furthermore, decisions made in the "original position" can be risky since individuals cannot project possible outcomes.
    For Rawls, if individuals are going to deal with unknown factors in the "original position," they should use the "maximin strategy," a strategy where individuals choose the worst possible outcome in line with alternatives (ways of avoiding the worst possible outcome) (2527). This strategy results in an equal distribution of social goods.  This is what Rawls refers to as the "difference principle," a process where inequalities are allowed when everyone, including the worst off, benefits from them (2526). Simple put, individuals should make decisions as if those decisions were going to affect themselves.

Inequities Explored
There are 108 Community Colleges in California and 72 districts that serve 1.4 million students statewide. A Board of Trustees in each district is in charge of developing policies that include compensation of part-time and full-time faculty. According to Chancellor's Office, in the fall of 1999, the total of teaching faculty in California Community Colleges (CCC) was 41,754, of which 28, 180 (67 percent) were classified as part-time and 13, 574 (33 percent) as full-time.  Recently, credit teaching and teaching of core classes by part-time faculty (faculty teaching no more than 60 percent of a full-time course load within one district) has increased from 40 to 47 percent (California State Auditor No. 2000-107).  In addition, the California State Auditor reviewed eight districts where if part-timers were to teach a full load at their current pay, would receive an average of $13,042 (31 percent) less in annual wages than full-time faculty.
    This inequity is higher at some campuses.  For instance, at Pasadena City College in step 1 of the pay scale based on teaching 15 hours a week for two 17.5-week semesters, part-timer's pay is 51% to that of full-time faculty or $33.08 an hour compared to $65.45 an hour.  Like full-time faculty, part-timers are expected to teach, prepare for class, and stay current in their field, a duty expectation for which part-timers do not get compensation.  To make matters worst, after a decade of teaching, compensation for part-timers decreases to 41% to that of full-time faculty or $40.19 an hour compared to $97.01 an hour, a 10% decrease in hourly wage from step 1.  Currently at PCC, a Part Time Faculty Committee has suggested to union representatives and the Board of Trustees that inequities in pay, the 81% expectation (office hours and preparation time), retirement, health and dental benefits, and job security be dealt with to include a fair solution.

Application of Social Justice Theory
    Take the following, purely economic scenario: An order comes from the Governor and Board of Education that calls for extensive budget cuts in the California Community College (CCC) system.  The order requires everyone (administration, full-time faculty and staff) comply with this mandate to become part-time employees.  So, as a California Community College decision maker, ask yourself, if I had to be reduced to part-time, would I prefer having benefits?  If so, you may consider adopting the "difference principle" as a rule to prevent everyone (administration, full-time faculty and staff) from losing his or her benefits.
    To begin the process, the "original position of the social contract" establishes a theory of justice that constitutes the basis for an institution, i.e., the California Community College system in the above scenario.  In Rawls' "original position," for example, rational decision makers (representatives from administration, full-time faculty and staff) from the CCC system will decide if budget cuts are to include benefits or if the inequities will be permanent.  Such a position requires CCC representatives to make budget decisions through the "veil of ignorance," a process that furthers self-interest based on fair conditions.  That is, as decisions are made in the "veil of ignorance," CCC representatives will not know their class, social status, or natural assets (intelligence, strength and psychological traits); but they will be privy to facts about social life, take no interest in fellow employees, and not be motivated by benefits that other Community College systems may have.
    Because CCC representatives will not be able to determine possible outcomes, they must use the "maximin strategy" to guide them in choosing the worst possible scenario in line with alternatives (ways of avoiding the worst possible outcome).  Therefore, if CCC representatives were to choose a contract with benefits only for full-time employees, thus, negating the "veil of ignorance," then within the above scenario, everybody would loose their benefits, including them.
    Assuming that CCC representatives would rather have more than less (benefits versus no benefits) and are not jealous, they will choose a contract that is advantageous and includes the worst off (all part-time employees).  The net result of these propositions is the "difference principle," a process that ensures equal distribution of social goods or, as in this case, benefits for part-timers.
    So when Board of Trustees in each district make decisions that affect the whole CCC system, they should realize that consequences associated with these decisions may, very well, one day affect them.  If they choose not to be fair and if part-timers are held to the same standards as full-time faculty and continue to receive no benefits, part-timers may act in their best self-interest and look for work elsewhere.  Given that 67% of teachers in the 108 Community Colleges in California are part-timers, CCC representatives may find themselves facing a labor crisis if part-timers decide that "freeway flying" to make ends meet is not worth it.
    On the other hand, an ideological CCC administration may feel replacing "old part-timers" with "new part-timers," improves the quality of instruction.  Conversely, in a moral and just society, to build in the notion that inequities are part of the part-timer package, disadvantages part-timers from ever having benefits or succeeding as a professional in their field of choice.

Conclusion
    The California Part-time Faculty Association is, and will continue to be, the beginning of a movement that could eventually cripple a Community College system that services 1.4 million students statewide.  The formation of the Part Time Faculty Committee at Pasadena City College is "proof in the pudding" that individual districts are fed up with an unfair distribution of benefits.  If CCC administrators are going to deal with these inequities, it makes better sense to do so "where the inequities would work for the advantage of all and where all would have equal opportunity to attain the higher positions" (2524). The need for and processes of the "difference principle" must guide the California Community College system and individual districts to more equitable solutions for part-timers.
    As a part of this piece, I spoke with Dr. Scimeca, Director of the Philosophy Library at USC who further supported my point by saying that any contract that avoids the "veil of ignorance" will historically come back to haunt itself.  If human equality is to be achieved, CCC representatives must redistribute the inequities to the greatest advantage of everyone.
 
 

Magill, N. Frank (1982).  World Philosophy: Essay-Reviews of 225 Major Works. Salem Press: Englewood Cliffs, N.J.