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Oregon Legislature Passes Faculty Excellence Law

Both houses of the Oregon Legislature have voted to put the principles of the AFT's Faculty and College Excellence (FACE) campaign into a state statute. The state Senate's 30-0 vote on June 27 followed a nearly unanimous 54-1 vote in the state House of Representatives the week before on HB 2557, the Oregon Faculty and College Excellence Act. The bill is now scheduled to be signed by Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

"This is a great step for contingent faculty and for Oregon's higher education system," says David Rives, AFT-Oregon president-elect and a part-time community college instructor. "I'm thrilled that we're finally getting public awareness about the faculty staffing crisis."

The FACE campaign presses for more full-time faculty and pro-rata pay and benefits for contingent or adjunct faculty. AFT affiliates around the country have successfully drawn attention to the staffing crisis in higher education by having FACE legislation introduced and by testifying on hearings associated with the bills. This has generated discussion and has led to progress on such solutions as increasing pay-equity money for part-time faculty and dedicating money to convert part-time positions into full-time positions. In Oregon, dozens of AFT-Oregon members attended hearings and wrote their legislators in support of the bill.

Oregon's bill allows part-time faculty at community colleges and universities access to high-quality health insurance benefit plans through the Oregon Educators Benefit Board (OEBB) healthcare plan. It also holds colleges accountable by requiring annual reporting and tracking of faculty staffing and salary ratios for review by the Legislature and governor.

State Rep. Michael Dembrow carried the bill through the Oregon House, giving a passionate presentation on the bill on behalf of part-time faculty throughout the state.

"All of these faculty members are equally credentialed with their full-time colleagues, and most of them are excellent teachers. However, they are paid much less, with few benefits, and they have little job security," Dembrow says. "Many of them are, in fact, teaching full time-and more than full time-but their work is spread out over multiple institutions."

"Part-time faculty being excluded from healthcare in this country is a real scandal. Gaining access to the OEBB plan through HB 2557 will be a real victory," says Rives.

Rep. Dembrow adds, "This bill had its genesis in a nationwide effort to address this problem by a number of groups, under committed leadership from the American Federation of Teachers. It's a problem that was long in coming-tied to the erosion of public investment in higher education-and it's a problem that will not be solved overnight, certainly not in light of our current budgetary limitations. But there are some things that we can do in the short run at little public expense, and that's what HB 2557 is all about."

June 29, 2009