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Class not in session: On the uncertain future of part-time faculty

Financial hardships await the country’s private schools, colleges, and universities as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced academic institutions to adjust to changing times. Already, the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations has sought government help for smaller private schools as falling enrollment rates—as much as 50 percent by their estimate—are feared to cause widespread job losses among teachers. According to a Philippine Statistics Authority report published last June 5, an estimated 7.3 million Filipinos are currently unemployed.

A self-identified DLSU employee posted anonymously on DLSU Freedom Wall last May 16, claiming that employees would no longer be paid starting July. In an interview with The LaSallian, Dr. Antonio Contreras, President of Association of Faculty and Educators of DLSU Inc. (AFED), confirms that while regular faculty members continue to receive wages during the term break, part-time faculty members, who work on a contractual basis, are not paid any salary “due to the nature of their appointment”.

No work, no pay?

According to the 2018 Faculty Manual, part-time faculty are “contracted on a trimestral basis”, making their status in the University distinct from regular employees, such as full-time faculty and co-academic personnel like office assistants and laboratory technicians.

Part-timers’ contracts expire at the end of each term, but the faculty member can opt to enter into a new contract. The Department Chair may also recommend renewing the contract based on certain criteria, which may include teaching performance, length of service for DLSU, and compliance with school requirements. Vice Chancellor for Administration Dr. Arnel Uy notes that some faculty are “regular part-timers” whose contracts are consistently “renewed” to teach in DLSU every term.

Payments are made on a bi-weekly basis, as stipulated in the manual, and are calculated based on a fixed rate per hour of lecture delivered. Since compensation is tied directly to academic load, this essentially means that these faculty operate on a “no work, no pay” scheme, with DLSU bearing no legal responsibility toward them after the contract ends.

Uy points out, however, that the contractual arrangement is the result of a mutual agreement between the institution and the individual faculty. “Some of them have their own businesses, or they have their own professions, so they cannot really [work] full-time for us,” he elaborates. “There is no commitment [from] both sides, except when you sign that dotted line for that particular term.”

When Term 2 officially ended last May 19, some faculty were left in a bind: Term 3 would not start until July 1, meaning part-timers were left with no wage disbursements from the University for six weeks.

Nevertheless, Contreras reveals that DLSU had given part-time faculty an additional two weeks’ worth of salary to account for the extension of Term 2 from April 25 to May 19. A prorated 13th month pay, which covered the first four and a half months of the year, was also given in advance as financial assistance.

Meanwhile, regular personnel will continue to be compensated for 40 hours of work served per week during the term break following work-from-home arrangements, according to Contreras.

Maswerte din tayo kasi parang may mga mechanisms [that are] protecting the labor [of] both faculty and staff,” he says.

(We are lucky that there are protective mechanisms.)

The University also intended to apply for the COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program, a cash aid initiative under the Department of Labor and Employment. “But we were told that La Salle is not a [micro, small and medium enterprise], so hindi tayo qualified [for it],” he clarifies.

‘Always vulnerable’

Despite the University’s financial remedies to help tide over these difficult times, these instructors—in fact, all contractual workers—are still at risk due to a constant threat to their job security.

Though some faculty may have alternate sources of income, others earn purely from teaching, often in more than one academic institution. “Mga part-timers natin minsan, maraming school na tinuturuanyansa La Salle ‘yan, nagtuturo sa [St. Scholastica’s College], [at] nagtuturo sa Ateneo [de Manila University] para tumaas ang financial stability,” Contreras explains.

(Our part-timers sometimes teach in multiple schools—they teach in La Salle, in [St. Scholastica’s College], and in Ateneo [de Manila University] simultaneously to have better financial stability.)

He discloses that before the pandemic, it was not uncommon for part-time faculty to not be allotted an academic load, as some departments may offer fewer courses during a specific term. With quarantine measures bringing forth drastic calendar shifts, reduced enrollment rates, and prolonged class suspensions, teachers struggling to make a decent living for indefinite periods of time may become a grim reality.

Talagang part-timers [are] always vulnerable unfortunately, but La Salle is trying [its] best,” Contreras laments.

He, however, clarifies that it does not mean part-timers “will not be kept”, but he does relent that some departments may include “online teaching capacity” as a forthcoming requirement for hiring.

Meanwhile, Uy expresses that training faculty members for an online environment is absolutely vital, mentioning that sessions on how to conduct online classes were being administered during the quarantine period. “ASIST (Academic Support for Instructional Services and Technology), one of our units, [is] actually handling those courses, and they’re giving certificates to faculty who attend online webinars, seminars, or discussion forums,” he elaborates.

Additionally, the University has endeavored to provide connectivity support by disbursing a P1,500 subsidy to its regular employees, according to a Help Desk announcement sent last June 5. Part-time faculty are not covered by this arrangement.

Both the University’s teaching and non-teaching personnel are also encouraged to be “retooled” to prevent layoffs while at the same time arming employees with more relevant skills, Uy shares.

“There are now new jobs or new functions that are required, and some of the old functions may need to be readdressed or reevaluated,” he expounds. “For example, the librarians, if there’s no student in the library, what are they going to do?” As such, existing personnel may be redirected to perform different roles, though the specifics of these arrangements have not been disclosed.

Contreras asks for continued understanding amid difficulties also experienced by faculty members, saying, “We are here to serve the students. We have a mission, but at the same time like you and me, and your parents, we are also victims of  COVID-19, [and] we are stressed. ‘Yun nga sinasabi ko, magtulungan tayo.”

(Let us help each other.)

The LaSallian has reached out to multiple part-time faculty to gain better insight into their current state, but most have not replied for comment as of writing, while others declined to speak further on the matter.

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