Ruffled Feathers at Columbia College Chicago

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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  • Great article, Christine Rice! Thank you!

    A couple of thoughts:

    "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)."

    They haven't tried to hammer out anything. They have obstructed, stalled, and the last team was hostile during negotiations, and refused to bargain for a long time. They violated the law, and the NLRB ordered them back to the table bargain in good faith. The new team wanted to meet every few weeks for a couple of hours. Pfac pushed for more negotiations, which have met with stall tactics (we all know where it's coming from), and lately, outrageous statements such as proposing that the college hire/fire at will with no due process...

    http://myemail.constantcontact.com/KEEP-IT-GREEN--Important-Bargaining-Update.html?soid=1102745008142&aid=oupcBQzLhhQ

    ...and that adjuncts are retail workers (NOT taken out of context, as the negotiator weakly offers, as if there is an acceptable context in which to make such a statement).

    They have been reneging on items already agreed to. Last week, as another stall tactic, they insisted on wasting the mediator's time, avoiding the important issues, and instead sweating the small stuff because members were there. It was like watching paint dry, only I'd say WITH fumes, because what they're doing to our school sure does stink.

    "The negotiator who allegedly made the comment is stuck between a boulder and a hard, cold Board....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 true!

    "This is not the negotiator's fault. It's the current administration's fault."

    The negotiator IS part of the administration (the Interim --and who in the current administration isn't interim or acting? -- Associate Provost).

    One has to wonder: When these CCC negotiators make offensive statements, and make unethical, and on occasion, illegal proposals/actions as the College's position, just WHO is "the College"? The Interim Provost? The Real Estate Chairman of the Board? The outgoing president? The Interim/Acting president? The new President? No wonder there was a tuition hike.

    Yes, we are currently at three presidents, one of whom, along with the COB/"poet," really really really wants to form a Creative Writing Department, in a big hurry, without any understanding as to how measured and careful this process should be, how this selfish "legacy" concern will affect students, enrollment, retention, etc. How they will spend MORE money bringing in a new OUTSIDE chair, a new OUTSIDE dean, when people are already in place in these departments who can ably guide the transition, which requires lots of TIME.

    By treating Schultz and Shiflett so disrespectfully, cruelly, even, they really really really intend to send a message to everyone that innovative educators and learning programs, which are supposed to be the hallmarks of the college per its mission, are over. They want to be like everyone else. Yes, they certainly do need to read the mission. Then underline it. Then highlight it. Then put it under their pillows and dream about it.

    When Albers' and another chair's contracts were not renewed, people in the community-- students, faculty, staff, alumni, authors, people from other colleges -- stood up to the abuse of power, disregard for due process, and other attendant damage of Prioritization.

    These people, because they cared about fairness, best practices, and STUDENTS, have been besmirched as "cultists," by a handful of people at CCC, at least one among them a top administrator.

    That anyone at the college, let alone a top administrator would say this about Columbia supporters and STUDENTS who took a stand about something important to them is so wrong on many levels.

    They've all just really stepped in it. And they keep stepping in it. And they attempt to belittle the people who speak truth to power, who have the temerity to question authority in an institution of higher learning, of all places.

    Thank you so much for writing this important piece. Bravo!

  • Not that there's anything wrong with a CWD, that's all well and good, but it should be done over time.

  • Thank you for your thorough response. You made a whole slew of points that needed to me made and discussed more fully. Look for more about all of this. Soon. Very soon.

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    Chris, one word of advice - don't let trolls comment. My stepdaughter completed a study at UWMad, on the negative effects of insulting comments has gotten a lot of press. Her director in the program, Dominique Broussard, was just interviewed on Talk of the Nation. Ashley is a little shy and scholarly, so Dominique made a better radio guest. There was also a piece on it in the NYTimes a week or so ago, headed "This Article Stinks" or "This Story Stinks." Bottom line, trolls drive away sensitive, thoughtful readers and alienate the public from the subject being discussed.

  • In reply to Christopher Sweet:

    Hi,

    Unfortunately, I don't have control over comments. ChicagoNow controls that.

    You're right, though. Trolls, as you call them, do drive away thoughtful readers and alienate a lot of people.

    I will try to find the Talk of the Nation interview. This is an interesting topic, though. I agree with the premise. I just didn't know there was actually a name for it.

    Believe me. I'll keep it in mind.

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    I'm glad somebody is keeping the Trolls out. "Trolls" isn't a word I invented. The internets are so confusing, that it's hard to keep up.

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