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The Learning Conference 2003

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Presentation Details


Effects on Student Learning when a Majority of Teaching Faculty are Contingent: The Case of the California State University System (CSU) between 1992 and 2002

Dr Elena V. Dorabji.

In the 1990’s the State of California’s financial problems and a switch to a corporate management style transformed the character of faculty in the CSU (California State University). As America’s largest public university system, the 23 campus CSU employees 20,000 faculty and serves upwards of 400,000 students, with a doubling of that number projected for the next decade. Since the inception of the California Master Plan for Education Plan forty years ago, a fundamental purpose of the CSU has been to serve as a teaching institution, providing access to quality higher education for all Californians who so desire it, irrespective of their socio-economic situation. Supported by a strong network of community colleges, the 23 CSUs have educated and trained the bulk of California’s teachers, nurses, engineers and other professionals who are the backbone of the California economy. The CSUs are also the primary institutions of higher learning for working-class students, especially those who are the first in their families to attend a university.

This paper will evaluate the effects on student learning over the past decade when the ratio of permanent to contingent faculty has fallen so dramatically that today the bulk of instruction – especially for basic, core courses – is performed by temporary, marginalized, second tier faculty.

Does the increase in contingent faculty mean an automatic decline in student learning, as conventional wisdom supposes? Are students actually learning less? What are the statistics and measurements used? What do the studies say? What some of the possible likely causes beyond who constitutes the faculty?

While the primary focus of this paper is on assessing the use of temporary faculty as a variable for student learning, it will also provide data and some analysis to consider other factors which are often linked to student learning: preparedness for college, student/faculty ratios, compensation for and funding of instruction, student expectations and so on.


Dr Elena V. Dorabji  (United States)
Lecturer in Political Science
Political Science Department
San Jose State University

I received my doctorate in political science from UC Berkeley in 1979 in comparative and third world politcs, emphasis on South Africa. Completion of this degree co-incided with the birth of my second child. I took a few years off from teaching. When I began teaching again in 1985, I started working part-time at Santa Clara University. My divorce necessitated that I teach more but full-time university jobs well almost non-existant, though there was plenty of work teaching classes. I added on courses at De Anza Community College in 1986 and San Jose State University in 1988. For over a decade I taught at these three institutions, averaging 13 courses a year including summer session. I dropped Santa Clara in 2000, as I became more active in my state-wide faculty union at SJSU, the California Faculty Association, CFA. As a contingent faculty member in three universities, I know the teaching and learning conditions created from an institutional reliance on temporary faculty labor. My union work as an activist and member of the CFA bargaining team has given me hard evidence as well. My paper will reflect my academic training and experience as well as the wealth of information our union has uncovered about teaching and learning conditions in California highter education.I received my education in the 60’s and 70’s at a time when California’s educational system was the envy of the world. I graduated with a Ph. D from world-renowned UC, Berkeley, debt-free, having paid no tuition and with full graduate fellowships.

When I began teaching in 1986, I faced a completely different educational environment. While work was plentiful, tenured jobs were not. With no TT positions available, for the past 15 years I have taught as a “temporary” political science faculty in the same departments at the same 3 universities. I have averaged 6 large classes per term plus a summer school course the entire time. And I could have had more!

Since 1998 I have worked actively in the California Faculty Association, the union which represents all 20,000 faculty in the CSU. Both at the campus and at the state level, I advocate for temporary faculty, who now constitute the majority of CSU faculty.
As part of the CFA bargaining team, I signed in April 2002 an historic contract which ensures lecturers significant improvements in both job security and basic benefits.

  • Use of contingent faculty
  • Effects on student learning

(60 min Workshop, English)