Letter to the Editor: faculty wages

President Rule and Board of Trustees:
We the undersigned are new faculty in our first year of the tenure process. We are writing to express our support for our colleagues who have spoken up in recent weeks about the inequities on our campus. It appears to us that the college’s stated goals are not aligned with its practices.
The college proposes to be a leading institution in the state, attracting and retaining the best educators and fostering student success. Indeed, the core theme “Teaching and Learning Excellence” in the college’s mission statement lists the following goal: “To maintain an effective teaching environment by supporting the teaching and professional achievement of all faculty.” However, the widespread dissatisfaction among BC faculty is evidence that the college has no succeeded in carrying out its mission.
A key concern is compensation for both full- and part-time faculty. These salaries are far from competitive. Indeed, the National Education Association reports an average full-time nine month faculty salary of $66,154 for instructors at two-year public institutions in 2011-2012. The average full-time salary at BC is $56,903, one percent higher than the Washington state average ($56,336), whereas the cost of living in Bellevue is 30.6 percent above Washington state average.
It also appears that there is no working system in place for receiving regular pay increases, even to keep up with the cost of living and rate of inflation.  We hear from our colleagues that their salaries have not changed in the past eight years. We are worried that these pay inequities are impacting BCS ability to recruit and retain the best educators.
Not being paid a living wage has forced some of us, as well as many of our colleagues, to moonlight: taking on additional classes at a lower pay rate in order to make ends meet. Not only does an inequity in pay impact morale, our families and our personal lives, but it also impacts the amount of time and attention we can devote to our students. Faculty who are overworked, working well beyond the hours in the contract, are simply unable to give their best to their students. This is clearly detrimental to student success.
We have also come to understand that the ratio of part-time to full-time faculty is the second highest in the state at 58 percent. Many “part-time” faculty teach as much as, or more than, a full-time load, and juggle classes on multiple campuses. Many do not have offices, and none are compensated for holding office hours.
Finally, a lack of pay and job security means that part-timers cannot be expected to maintain the same level of investment in the college as their full-time counterparts. Full-time faculty, therefore, have to shoulder a greater load of governance. Clearly, part-time faculty are not receiving the support they need to provide students with a top-tier educational experience, and the inadequate full-time to part-time ratio shows a lack of commitment to “teaching and learning excellence.”
As new members of the full-time faculty at BC, we share the concerns of our colleagues. A recent survey of first-year faculty demonstrated the most of us have student loan debt, and 33 percent of us owe more than $50,000 in loans. 36 percent of us are spending over half our take-home pay on housing.
Further, the high cost of living has forced many of us to live a significant distance from the college: 54 percent of us live over 15 miles away, and 42 percent of us face over an hour of commute time a day.  The majority of us drive to work (67 percent); taking public transportation would even further increase commute time.
An additional financial burden comes in the form of dependents: the majority of us (66 percent) have more than one dependent, and 25 percent of us have more than five people in our household, while 55 percent of us reported that we are the sole financial contributors to our household. Many of us are worried that we will never be able to own a home or afford to support a family. It is difficulty to imagine a stable life based on the salary at BC.
We came to BC in part because of the school’s reputation for teaching excellence and commitment to students. BC makes a huge investment in the recruitment, training, mentoring and vetting of its new full-time faculty. Through this investment, BC gains educated, experienced individuals who are dedicated to their fields their students and the college’s mission. However, we are disappointed to learn that we have joined an institution whose support for education seems to exist more in words than in practice.
The most obvious evidence is the lack of support for instructors. The exceptionally low morale among faculty on this campus has been apparent to many of us since our first day on the job. One of our greatest concerns is that many of our best faculty members are now on the job market. These are our mentors, our role models, our most respected and trusted colleagues and a major reason why we want to be a part of BC. We are in danger of losing many people who make significant contributions to this college. These people want and deserve employers who respect and reward their efforts.
It seems we have reached a breaking point. Faculty on this campus cannot continue operating at their current level with such poor pay. When our salaries do not accurately reflect the work we do and the time and energy we spend serving our students and the college, our confidence and faith in the institution are undermined. Lack of equitable treatment by the college also affects how we feel about ourselves, which in turn affects our families and interpersonal relations.
We hope that the school to which we dedicate the bulk of our time, energy and talents can at least recognize our service with an appropriately competitive salary. We strongly support an immediate raise to bring our pay in line with colleagues at similar institutions, along with regular, contractual increases for both full- and part-time faculty. Doing so would help us and our families to feel secure in our futures and safe in remaining at this school.
We want to make it very clear that we love our jobs and we want to continue working at BC. We hoped, and still hope, that this is a place where we can make a difference in students’ lives. But we cannot accept that this is a place where highly dedicated, educated hardworking people are not paid enough to live in the area, to pay off their student loans, to afford a home, or raise a famkly.
We write to you in the hope that you will make the substantial changes needed to save our college before we lose valuable mentors and colleagues. We urge you to take meaningful action to shape Bellevue College’s future for the better.