The ongoing debate about online learning and submission of course requirements has been a hot topic in colleges and universities for the past few weeks. Here at De La Salle University, we have heard the voices of administrators, students, and representatives of the Faculty Association weigh in on the issue. However, I would like to advocate for a group whose stake in this matter is equally important but not openly discussed: that of the part-time faculty (PTFs).
PTFs usually outnumber full-time faculty (e.g., 60% versus 40% at DLSU). They are the academe’s version of “endo” or “end of contract” employees, as their work contract only covers the semester/trimester/quarter they are assigned their respective teaching loads. If they have no teaching load, they are not officially connected to the university. They are engaged only when their services are needed. They are paid by the number of “contact hours” they have with students. This usually translates to the face to face engagement they have with students inside the classroom. For a 3-unit course, they are paid for 3 “lecture hours” every week. Any work which they do outside the classroom, such as preparation of lesson plans, assignments, and quizzes; checking and grading course requirements; student consultation hours (except for thesis advising and being a panelist in thesis defense), among others, are all unpaid. They do not have security of tenure despite their years of service. This has been a widely accepted compensation scheme for PTFs in any university around the world.
PTFs are some of the most hardworking and highly educated, yet underpaid, workers in the academe. Yet they are glad to be part of the teaching profession. While some are well off and have high paying jobs in the private sector or have their own businesses, many also live under challenging circumstances. Some may have to take care of elderly parents, or ill spouses or children. Some juggle several part-time teaching jobs at other universities to make ends meet, and still, others have barely enough to live on despite their hard work. These are the circumstances that people do not talk about in the exchange of accusations about school administrators’ alleged “hardline” position on online classes, teachers’ alleged “callousness” in imposing course requirements, and the students’ alleged “threat” of mass transfers or leaves of absence. Yet PTFs stand to lose the most in this issue. When a university decides to cut costs, or when the student population takes a drastic plunge, PTFs will be among the first to be let go and thus be left behind in the “new normal” of our educational system. Yet, ironically, they will also become the backbone of online education, should schools and students continue to need their services.
In advocating for PTFs to have a seat in the table of redrawing the path of learning in the time of Covid-19, I propose that all parties concerned make use of three C’s. The first is communication. Students, please engage your elders and do not stop communicating with them, although it may seem to you that they are not listening. Perhaps they are still getting used to hearing your voice uttered with so much passion and conviction. Administrators and sector representatives, please consider reframing your stand when you communicate with young people. Perhaps it is not so much the “voice of authority” approach that is needed at this time, but more of peers or equals, explaining where you are coming from and guiding them through your thought process. We need to understand each other because surely both educators and students have an equal stake in the outcome.
The second is compassion. All parties need to give and receive compassion from each other. We are all operating under extreme and unprecedented circumstances at present, which bring out both the best and the worst in us. Let us strive to understand one another. And let us keep in mind that poverty and the various hardships of life touch us all, and it may well be that PTFs have the worst of it. A significant decrease in student enrollment and/or loss of revenue could mean that a beloved professor, who happens to be a PTF, may not be around next term. Would they manage to survive until students return next year? Similarly, would students who drop out next term be able to return? We do not have answers to these questions. Thus, it behooves us to extend a helping hand and be more willing to resolve any apparent conflicts while there is time.
The third is community. We must keep in mind that we are facing this crisis together. The school, the teachers, and the students need each other even more at present. Without the students, a school cannot be considered as such. Without the school, particularly the environment and the structure it provides, the students feel adrift. And without teachers, there will be no guides to learning.
We PTFs applaud our students’ endeavors to be heard, and recognize their right to protest – to transfer to another school with more lenient policies, or to file a leave of absence – although it may mean the loss of our jobs. But rest assured that as long as we are needed, we will not leave our students adrift. Difficult as it may be for us, even though we may incur more hours of unpaid work because of the challenges that lie ahead, we will strive to provide a good learning environment. However, we cannot do all this alone. We need the support of school administrators as well as the students. Only then will all of us truly “heal as one.”
Atty. Sarmiento is a part-time faculty at the Management and Organization Department, Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business, De La Salle University. She teaches Strategic Human Resource Management and International Business Agreements. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of De La Salle University, its faculty, and its administrators.