Food stamps and three jobs: COC adjunct professors share their storiesSebastian Cazares March 27, 2019 0 COMMENTS
Last month, the College of the Canyons Faculty Association, which represents the college’s full-time faculty, managed to secure a 3.71 percent raise for the current academic year and a similar raise for the next academic year.
Adjunct faculty, who work part-time at the local community college, are still fighting for pay increases and more equitable compensation. AFT Local 6262, which represents more than 600 part-time faculty members at College of the Canyons, has recently started salary negotiations with the Santa Clarita Community College District.
The majority of the faculty at College of the Canyons are part-time employees. In 2017, just under 74 percent of the school’s instructors worked part-time, with 623 adjunct faculty and 220 full-time faculty. In order to work the equivalent of a full-time instructor and earn a living wage, many adjunct faculty teach at multiple community colleges throughout the region, driving anywhere between 50 to 100 miles per day, according to AFT Local 6262 Vice President of Negotiations and Chief Negotiator Warren Heaton.
However, working at several schools across the region does not provide enough compensation for many of the adjunct faculty to pay for their daily expenses without relying on outside assistance.
“In a recent survey, nearly 19 percent of adjuncts reported receiving public benefits while working at COC,” Heaton said. “The AFT negotiating team hopes that the district will recognize the plight of the adjunct faculty and agree to a fair compensation package.”
From working at multiple campuses to relying on public benefits such as food stamps, many adjunct professors that The Proclaimer talked to have reported struggling to survive on what they earn from the college. Some decided to publicly share their stories to raise awareness about their living and working conditions as their union moves forward with salary negotiations.
“There are 72 dollars in my retirement fund.”
Ashley Jean Granillo, a professor of English at College of the Canyons, is also the author of several books, including Love from the Barricade, which was a 2018 PenCraft Award 1st Place winner. She earned her bachelor’s degree and her master’s degree at California State University, Northridge. When she graduated from college, she was hopeful that her career as an English professor would at least be stable, if not prosperous.
“The first piece of advice that a college professor ever gave to me was ‘Don’t become a college professor,” Granillo said. “Of course, at the age of 18, I had to laugh. Professors had degrees and briefcases, were published authors and researchers. Not only were they highly regarded by the public, but they were admired by their students, and I aspired to be a symbol of intelligence and humanity – someone who made a difference in adult lives.”
Despite the optimism she had as a graduate years ago, Granillo is now struggling to make ends meet with the pay she currently receives as an adjunct professor.
“At 32, I still live with my parents, have to pay for my own medical, dental and vision care and drive a 2006 Toyota Corolla,” Granillo said. “There are 72 dollars in my retirement fund. I make $30,000 a year, less than most K-12 teachers, and I have two college degrees.”
Granillo also said that even her own parents have argued that since she is employed as a part-time professor, she shouldn’t be paid more. However, Granillo believes that the work that she puts into her role as an adjunct professor at College of the Canyons deserves better compensation.
“On a weekly basis, I am preparing lesson plans, attending professional development classes and seminars, creating workshops, composing emails, grading, attending eConferences and meeting students for on-ground office hours,” Granillo said. “Yes, even on weekends. Unfortunately, these hours are unaccounted for by payroll and aren’t reflected on my paycheck. To make ends meet, I work 12 months out of the year. If I didn’t, my annual salary would be much less.”
Since she lives at home with her parents, Granillo has a house to return to after classes are done for the day. Other adjunct faculty are not as fortunate.
“Many other adjuncts develop unhealthy coping skills to manage stress, and some are homeless,” Granillo said. “I’m thankful I at least have a home with my parents, otherwise I would be living out of my 2006 Toyota Corolla, too.”
The 32-year-old adjunct professor hopes that conditions for her and her fellow part-time employees at College of the Canyons will improve soon.
“Adjunct faculty members are supposed to be the most effective teachers, or at least they’re expected to be,” she said. “However, I don’t see how they could when we lack stability in many facets of our lives. We give up so much of ourselves to be who we can for our students and our campus. At the very least, adjunct faculty should be provided benefits, better retirement plans and be paid for all work inside and outside of the classroom.”
“I rented out two of my rooms.”
As an adjunct and a parent, one part-time theatre professor — who asked to remain anonymous — has been forced to rely on public benefits to feed her family. While her youngest child was still less than 5 years old, she received Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) benefits, food stamps and some cash aid from the California Work Opportunities and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKS) program. To support her two elementary school-aged children, she taught the maximum load allowed for an adjunct professor for several years and earned only $23,000 annually.
“At the advisement of my dean, I looked for additional opportunities to earn stipends on campus,” she said. “I did every possible professional development program that could offer me an opportunity to increase my income. I participated in the mentorship program, the teaching strategies workshop, got certified to teach online, [sic] completed the Skilled Teacher Certificate program. I became the curricular coordinator for my department.”
Still, the compensation she — along with many of the 274 female adjunct faculty, a statistic provided by the college’s human resources department — received remained too little to support her children.
“I rented out two of my rooms in my home to students,” she said. “When things were really tight, I started driving Lyft on the weekends.”
Even though money was tight and she had to take on an additional gig as a Lyft driver, the theatre professor continued to look for more ways to advance her career at the college. Now, she teaches three classes at College of the Canyons, teaches several more at another school and teaches online classes for College of the Canyons during summer and winter sessions.
“I’m very lucky that my second campus offers health benefits to part-timers, so I’m able to get insurance for my children,” she said. “Previously, they were on Medi-Cal.”
In total, she teaches 10 classes per year between the two colleges and participates in extracurricular work at College of the Canyons. She is now able to pay off all her bills, but still qualifies for subsidized child care.
“It’s necessary because between the two different campuses, I often am teaching and driving from 8 in the morning until 10 at night,” she said. “Sometimes in between, I need to pick up my kids, bring them home, make them dinner, get them ready for bed, then leave to go back to campus when the babysitter arrives.”
Even though she has the highest degree an academic can earn in her field, she doesn’t feel as respected or valued as an educator.
“I am expected to have the same credentials, same expertise, same talents and qualifications [as the full-time professors],” she said. “The classes I teach have the same value on those students’ degrees as the same courses taught by my full-time colleagues. I am just as dedicated to my work. I am passionate about my teaching. The quality of my classes is just as high as that of my full-time colleagues.”
“I work at two other community colleges”
One adjunct librarian, who also asked to remain anonymous, has worked at College of the Canyons for almost 12 years and currently works at two other community colleges.
“I love working at COC and helping students with their research and supporting them so that they achieve their academic goals,” she said. “My biggest complaint is that I don’t have enough hours at COC. Because of this, I work at two other community colleges in the Los Angeles area. I know many adjuncts who have to work more than one job, either as an adjunct at another college or in another field, to support themselves and their families.”
Since she lives in the San Fernando Valley, her commute often adds hours into the total amount of time she dedicates to her job. On the day before Thanksgiving, the commute from San Fernando Valley to Santa Clarita took her two hours — and even longer to reach another college she works at.
“If I were working full time, it wouldn’t be as bad, but when you have to drive an hour or more to work a three to four hour shift and then turn around and do the same to get home, it wears on the soul,” she said. “Ultimately, I think the lack of hours and assignments comes down to the state budget rather than the individual colleges, but I’d love to see the college show its commitment to adjunct faculty, either by giving us more hours or by providing more generous benefits, such as more generous sick leave, subsidized medical benefits and even vacation time.”
“We don’t get medical, but if we did, it would comeout of our payroll.”
Mercedes McDonald has taught illustration at College of the Canyons for 18 years and is an exhibiting fine artist. She has earned several awards for her art, including the International Book Award for Best Bilingual Picture Book, the Southwest Book Design & Production Award, the Society of Illustrators LA Illustration West 48 merit award and the Maxwell Award.
McDonald also previously taught illustration at the California College of Arts, San Francisco for six years and at California State University, Fullerton. At one point, she taught at several schools simultaneously, and would drive from her home in Glendale to College of the Canyons, then to Riverside in the evening to teach a class at night.
“A lot of adjuncts drive that far,” McDonald said. “I won’t drive that far anymore. I was teaching two classes per semester, but there was something that happened with the full timers contract that affected our load so now we can only teach one class.”
McDonald hopes that the adjunct union’s contract renegotiation this year will yield much better outcomes than the renegotiations historically have resulted in.
“We don’t get medical, but if we did, it would probably come out of our payroll,” McDonald said. “We’re on the low end of pay and every time we negotiate, it’s a big deal just to try to get a raise.”
Salary renegotiations are only one part of the equation, McDonald argues. She also believes that if the local community offered more support to adjunct faculty, they could gain more leverage to fight for better working conditions and pay.
“If people care about education, they should really look into what they can do as community members and to vote for [elected officials and college trustees] more sympathetic to the adjuncts,” McDonald said. “People have the wrong impression that we get a lot of money and all teachers unions are bad. We don’t have that much power, and I think we barely get a cost of living raise when we renegotiate. We could use more community support.”
Sebastian Cazares is a lifelong Santa Clarita resident and student at College of the Canyons. He was heavily involved in Speech, Model UN, Rotary Club and journalism during his high school years. Sebastian is deeply interested in local politics and excited to report on the issues that impact his community.