Adjunct Faculty Compared to Seasonal Retail Employees
During union negotiations at Columbia College Chicago, a CCC negotiator compared the college’s adjunct faculty to 'seasonal retail employees' (CCC negotiator says comment was taken out of context).** This, as you can imagine, ruffled a few feathers. It ruffled feathers because many adjuncts have decades of teaching (often more teaching experience than some full-timers) under their belts. It ruffled feathers because part-timers have been patiently working without a contract since 2010 and because they are professional, knowledgeable, thoughtful, intelligent and hard-working. It ruffled feathers because many part-timers have concentrated on teaching as opposed to publishing (not that teaching and publishing are mutually exclusive).
It ruffled feathers because part-timers are the pistons in CCC’s motor. Without part-timers, CCC would be on the roadside calling AAA for a tow.
There are about 1,200 part-timers teaching at CCC. So, by not agreeing to a fair and equitable contract, is the administration saying that 77% of their faculty – faculty who teach tuition-paying students -- could be easily replaced by anyone with a pulse and the ability to neatly fold a sweater?
I would imagine that most people (and parents of current students) might be perplexed by the ongoing and contentious union negotiations and might be wondering what all the fuss is about. Before 2008, I would have been, too. I was lukewarm, at best, about CCC's P-Fac (Part-Time Faculty Association). Our department chair treated us fairly. P-Fac? I could take it or leave it and, honestly, didn't pay it too much attention.
Then, in 2008, CCC's student enrollment started to decline. This, as you can imagine, put a crimp on cash flow. A good management team might have been prepared for such a setback. They weren't. Instead of fund-raising their little behinds off before 2008, the administration bought up a good deal of the South Loop (whose idea was that?) at the height of the real estate bubble.
Then – enter strings – the recession hit.
In 2012, the administration also tried pushing through a poorly planned and hastily implemented ‘prioritization’ plan that aimed to consolidate academic departments and cut costs. Good idea, right? But, instead of making thoughtful changes based on a college-wide prioritization study, the administration used ‘prioritization’ as an excuse to implement decisions they’d made prior to the process. Department Chairs’ contracts were not renewed and part-time faculty started losing teaching assignments.
Here's a tip. If you're a college administrator thinking about implementing a prioritization initiative, take a page from CCC's playbook. Then rip it up.
In the end, the administration convinced many of us -- many of us who were ambivalent, at best, about the union -- that P-Fac plays a crucial role in assuring that part-timers are treated equitably and fairly at CCC.
Shabby Treatment of Professors Emeriti
Not long after part-timers were compared to seasonal employees, another curious thing happened. John Schultz and Betty Shiflett, both founders of the Fiction Writing Department and professors emeriti, were told to vacate their long-held offices. Not a big deal, right? Moving offices happens all the time.
But where did CCC move them? They didn’t. They simply took away their offices.
Professor emeritus is a title that many colleges and universities bestow on long-serving professors. It’s a title of distinction. It’s a title that says, You worked your ass off for years to make this institution great and now we’re rewarding you. There are no hard and fast standards for bestowing the title; it's an honor that often includes certain privileges like an on-campus office, the opportunity to continue teaching and the use of institutional facilities.
CCC nearly gobbled up the whole of Chicago’s South Loop at the height of the real estate bubble. It seems curious, then, that they suddenly find themselves without office space for two distinguished professors.
Some might call the decision to leave two professors emeritus without offices downright shabby.
I’d have to agree.
I HEART Columbia College
Don’t get me wrong. I love Columbia College. My students amaze me every single time I walk into the classroom. And I wholeheartedly believe in our mission. And part of our mission statement is
to give educational emphasis to the work of a subject by providing a practical setting, professional facilities, and the example and guidance of an inventive faculty who work professionally at the subjects they teach
An ‘inventive faculty who work professionally at the subjects they teach’ describes CCC’s full- and part-time faculty. It also describes John Schultz and Betty Shiflett – both of whom have mentored hundreds, if not thousands of CCC fiction writing students. Both have worked for decades building the best and one of the only Fiction Writing Departments in the country.
Traditionally, colleges hire part-time faculty to pick up the slack, carry the heavy load. Traditionally, colleges respect faculty -- including those they honor as professors emeritus. Perhaps the CCC administration and Board of Trustees should take a good look at CCC’s mission statement. Maybe they should take a field trip to every academic department, talk to students, talk to full- and part-time faculty.
Talk to a few professors emeriti.
CCC is great because of three things: students, staff and faculty. Administrators? They come. And they go.
Maybe the CCC administration should take a good, long look at their faculty and at the unique programs that make CCC one of the greatest liberal arts colleges in the world. Maybe they should slow down, see things more fully, recall what makes CCC tick.
And then consider their next move.
**You couldn't pay me enough to represent P-Fac or the administration in these negotiations. I admire both sides for trying to hammer this thing out (I've only sat through a few hours of negotiations...I would compare it to watching paint dry...without the fumes). The negotiator who allegedly made the comment is stuck between a boulder and a hard, cold Board. Regardless, the sentiment sums up the current administration's dismissive attitude toward adjunct faculty. It's exactly the way we feel we're being treated. This is not the negotiator's fault. It's the current administration's fault.
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Tags: Betty Shiflett, Columbia College Chicago, Columbia College Chicago Fiction Writing Department, Columbia College Chicago Mission Statement, Columbia College Chicago prioritization, John Schultz, labor unrest Columbia College Chicago, P-Fac Columbia College Chicago, professors emeritus