Attorneys for Columbia College Chicago argued in a trial on Feb. 6 that charges by the adjunct faculty union were “much ado about very little” and “garden variety gripes.”
Attorneys for the part-time faculty union, known as P-fac, argued that the college had violated federal labor law by cutting adjunct teaching hours without bargaining the reduction with the union.
The trial was held in the National Labor Relations Board regional office. Administrative Law Judge Robert Ringler presided over the trial, which concluded Feb. 8. Ringler is expected to issue a decision in three to five months.
Laurie Burgess, an attorney representing P-fac from the Illinois Education Administration, focused on the Humanities, History and Social Sciences Department (HHSS), but said the changes affected all part-time faculty members.
P-fac has reported that part-time faculty members teach 78 percent of all courses at Columbia College.
Dan Murphy, NLRB attorney, argued that when some adjuncts’ teaching hours were reduced from three classes to two, faculty members saw their incomes cut by 30 percent.
Murphy said the college had been charged with regressive bargaining, unfair bargaining, harassment of members and intimidation of members. These charges were first filed on Dec. 15, 2010.
Columbia runs on a 15-week semester system. Adjuncts were previously allowed to teach up to three classes a semester, or nine credit hours.
But on Nov. 3, 2010, Dr. Cadence Wynter, acting chair in the HHSS Department, announced that adjuncts in her department would be limited to two classes, or six credit hours, a semester.
Lisa McGarrity, the attorney representing Columbia, said the reduction occurred after an 8 percent drop in student enrollment. She said only three adjuncts were affected by the cuts and added that the college has the “sole discretion to assign courses.”
Under the current contract, P-fac members are entitled to a $100 stipend for classes that are canceled due to low enrollment, according to Pfac.org.
McGarrity called the changes “more of a tweak than a change.” She said the college was not obligated to bargain over such a small adjustment.
According to Diane Adams, a part-time faculty member in the HHSS department who attended the trial, adjuncts feel “taken advantage of.” She said when part-time faculty members suddenly see their classes reduced, it is often too late for them to apply for jobs at other area colleges. They find themselves “out of the job market for the following year,” she said.
The first witness at the trial, Lisa Brock, PhD., was chair of the HHSS Department from 2003 to 2010, when she left to take a job as academic director for the History Department at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. While at Columbia, Brock oversaw both the hiring and class scheduling processes in the HHSS Department.
Brock said when she left, there were 20 full-time and 130 to 165 part-time faculty members in the department. During the years she oversaw the department, there were about 11,000 students enrolled in HHSS classes, which are required courses at Columbia, she added.
When preparing for each semester, Brock testified, the associate dean sent her confirmation of enrollment numbers. She then staffed the classes with experienced adjuncts who requested three classes. She said she was aware that, under the current contract, adjuncts received certain rights once they had taught 51 credit hours.
Asked if adjuncts with 51 or more credit hours could be fired, Brock said, “No.”
Brock also said she preferred to hire experienced adjuncts. “When you have a roster as large as I did, I wanted it to be stable,” she said.
She also said she wanted to rehire adjuncts who had worked the longest with Columbia and had formed positive relationships with students. “I knew I could count on them,” she said. “I was looking at their pedagogy and stability. That really mattered to me.”
Brock also said that while she was still employed by Columbia, Tomiwa Shonekan, HHSS academic manager, hired faculty in her department.
McGarrity accused Shonekan of “making a mess” of the hiring process and added that it had to be corrected by Wynter.
The next witness, John Stevenson, said he and other part-timers were very concerned about the cuts in their teaching schedules and “wanted to know how and why this change came about.” Stevenson said he, along with other P-fac members, sent a letter to Wynter asking for clarification.
Stevenson, a part-time HHSS instructor since 1991, said Wynter was told by the dean that classes needed to be cut and was instructed to find a way to “deal with” the situation.
Two charges were settled prior to the trial: HHSS improperly barring Stevenson from attending a department faculty meeting, and the Photography Department improperly disciplining P-fac president Diana Vallera because of her union activities. Columbia agreed to remove Vallera’s written warning and to allow Stevenson to attend meetings in the future.
Disclosure: This story was edited by Nancy Traver, an adjunct instructor in the Journalism Department who serves in a leadership role with P-fac. Traver’s students covered the trial as a class assignment.