Thursday, April 25, 2013

As American as AAUPple pie

by Caprice Lawless 

Last week, we sent our press release to the college PR office, announcing that adjunct faculty had formed a multi-campus chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). 

While still waiting for official publication of our news, we heard from one of our community supporters, a finance director from one of Colorado’s largest corporations. At our request, she has been studying the recently published auditor’s report from our college’s governing board. She is finding the report illuminating, especially one pie chart depicting expenditures. She refined the pie chart, distilling from the data supplied the value of adjuncts as reflected in the expenditures.

So this week, to celebrate both her fact-finding and our chapter formation, we shared with adjuncts several super-sized apple pies (a gift from another community supporter) and copies of the finance director’s pie chart. We visited several different adjunct offices on campus with pies, plates, press releases and membership forms in hand. It’s always so much fun to watch their faces when colleagues realize how, especially to those outside the walls of our campus, they are seen as valuable professionals in league with peers across the country. 

Like chummy policy wonks then, adjuncts stood around chewing data and nibbling pie. The data is disturbing; it shows only 11% of the $548 million spent last year went to the adjunct faculty who now teach two-thirds of all courses offered. Even more disturbing is how the pie chart shows that the 4,012 adjunct faculty comprise nearly half of all the employees within our college system. Those were cold facts shared on a cold day. Yet the pie was delicious and the conversations warm. Many adjuncts left with copies of the chapter press release and AAUP membership forms.


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Finding a bus out of the abyss

Finding a bus out of the abyss
By Caprice Lawless

Things are coming up roses for Colorado's community colleges, judging from recent announcements of the hiring of an architect, additional administrators, on-site construction managers, etc., and we are thrilled to know of it. Revenues for 2012 topped $579 million. More than $378 million in revenue flowed back into the system through instruction.  Foundation support has quadrupled. As evidenced by the literal buzz of construction projects, the community colleges are knee-deep in clover. We’re hiring deans, directors, vice-presidents, coordinators and specialists faster than they can be minted. We have to walk carefully to our classes, amid all the construction trailers, saw horses, painting set-ups and dumpsters of debris.Last year, more than $55 million was spent on construction alone.  We are puzzled, therefore, why only a tenth of this multi-million dollar budget is earmarked for the adjuncts who teach 70-75% percent of the classes the colleges offer.

Will the faculty majority (adjuncts) benefit from this river of abundance through a pay increase? Few realize, for example, that 4,012 of the 8,600 employees within the state’s community college system are adjunct faculty earning below-poverty-level wages.

For the purpose of argument, let’s imagine there would be a 1.5% increase for adjunct wages ($105 more for the typical, three-credit-hour course).  This half-a-snow-tire raise would bring the current $2,060/per 3-credit-hour course to $2,165.

At that rate, even adjuncts who teach the maximum number of classes they are allowed to teach (10 classes across 3 semesters), would still earn $6,275 below the minimum to qualify as indigent under the Colorado Indigent Care Program. Notably, even with a 1.5% increase, the average adjunct (currently earning $15,500/year) would still earn several thousand below the minimum living wage in any of the four counties (Adams, Boulder, Larimer and Weld) where FRCC campuses are located. Indeed, so many adjuncts are looking for help to pay for food, rent, health care and transportation that we’ve devoted a new section on our site to connect them to those resources.

Surely a system flowing with millions from so many sources, and indeed, a system proud to announce last year that it returns $1.70 for each dollar Colorado taxpayers invest in it, can do better for its majority faculty.

What would benefit our students, their parents and Colorado taxpayers now would be a 25% pay hike; a $515/per-course raise, or $2,575. That figure only seems large because community college adjunct wages have been so low for decades. To keep the community colleges strong, we need to bring our adjunct wage closer to the wages earned by adjuncts in other Colorado institutions of higher education.

For example, adjunct faculty at nearby Metropolitan State University of Denver will receive this fall the across-the-board 2% pay hike, as they do every fall. That will bring their wage for a 3-credit hour course up to $3,133.  FRCC adjunct wages are not just a little lower; they are more than a third lower.

A tangible pay raise is needed now, as it is clear the monies are available. A recent e-mail from campus leadership mentioned there is $16 million remaining unspent from the current bonanza of funds. Let’s use a portion of that windfall to fund a 25% pay increase for the faculty majority, to ensure the delivery of the high-quality instruction for which our college system is known.

Wage-and-benefit packages for exempt employees on our campuses are codified formally through the Colorado State Department of Personnel & Administration. Wage-and-benefit packages for the classified staff of specialists, custodians, groundskeepers, dining service personnel, etc. are negotiated through the Colorado WINS collective bargaining unit. Compensation terms for community college presidents are researched, studied and receive advocacy through the Washington D.C.-based American Association of Community Colleges.

No one negotiates or advocates for Colorado’s community college adjuncts. State legislators tell us that community college leadership has stymied measures in the past that might have improved the situation for adjuncts. Historically, adjunct wages have been set arbitrarily, at the whim of leadership at the time, and given only passing mention in massive CCCS salary surveys.  Now is the time to change that pattern.
The Colorado constitution gives the state’s college presidents broad powers in this regard. This is why adjunct wages vary from college to college. Adjuncts in the CCCS have been assigned abysmal wages, even those CCCS adjuncts who teach guarantee-transfer courses that feed into the state’s four-year, degree-granting colleges and universities. Our campus president has urged us, repeatedly, to work with the state legislature, and so we have been doing so.

“You adjuncts need to understand that in the whole country, Colorado is at the bottom in its support of higher education,” we were told recently by an education-committee legislator who met with us at the capitol.

 “And, throughout the state of Colorado,” the legislator continued, “you adjuncts in the community colleges are at the bottom in the whole state. You are at the bottom of the bottom. What you’re going to have to do, so to speak, is to push the rock off the mountain and make it hit the bus,” was his advice.

So, how do you push a rock from the top if you are the bottom of the bottom, not only in salary but in spirit? How do we get up there to do that? 

Maybe this will motivate you: Consider the salaries and benefits of those who walk the hallways you do. Their careers, it seems, have been predicated on your ongoing relationship with poverty. Consider these CCCS average salaries, in comparison with yours.*

Community college president:  $151,172 + benefits*

*Colorado Adjuncts thanks Rhonda Bentz, Director of Media and Government Relations, Colorado Community College System, for contributing these salary details. 

What do you think of a 1.5% increase for the classes you teach, given the fuller picture supplied here?  Here is your chance to add an anonymous comment to this issue.