Friday, December 19, 2014

Who is protected by the recent NLRB decision on the use of faculty email?

  Aaron Nisenson, Senior Counsel for the AAUP,
  explained what the recent NLRB decision might
 mean for community college faculty.

        When the five-member National Labor Relations Board announced on Dec. 11 its ruling that significantly expanded the rights of employees to use their employer’s email system for union organizing and other activities, community college teachers were cautiously optimistic. Might the ruling mean we can similarly use faculty email at our public-sector institutions? The short answer is no, according to AAUP Senior Counsel Aaron Nisenson.

        The ruling expands the rights of private sector faculty members to use email for union organizing, explained Aaron Nisenson, AAUP Senior Counsel. In his longer answer, he cautioned community college teachers of all stripes to understand the rules vary widely state to state, and college to college.

        “Folks see a headline and they want to run with it,” said Nisenson. “How it works in each state in the public sector is different and that requires organizers to research the laws in their own states and at their own schools,” he added.

        Even so, he explained, the ruling may yet influence public-sector protocols. “The fact that the NLRB recognizes the appropriate way to communicate in the private sector should inform policy in the public sector, or at least we hope it will,” he said.

            The 2014 NLRB ruling in Purple Communications, Inc., overturns the NLRB’s 2007 ruling in the Register Guard case. The latter allowed companies to ban workers from using email for non-business-related  interactions, including union-related communications. While the new ruling is a major step forward, Nisenson enumerated its limitations:

         “First, since the decision was issued by the National Labor Relations Board, under the statute protecting private sector employees, it only applies to private sector employees. Second, the Board only addressed employee use of work email, and did not extend the protection to cover use by non-employees. Third, the protected use was limited to non-work time, and absent discrimination against the union it does not give the employees right to use the work email during work time. Fourth, the employer may in certain limited circumstances prohibit or limit the use of work email on non-work time. Finally, this ruling will likely be appealed and could be overturned by the Courts.” 

        Nevertheless, the decision recognizes the reality that email is one of the primary ways in which faculty speak to each other in the modern world, said Nisenson. “The ability to use email to communicate is essential to faculty, particularly contingent faculty, who are often dispersed and may not be able to speak directly to each other regularly,” he said.

        The five-member NLRB comprises five presidential appointees, who serve in terms that stagger. Most are labor-law professionals.

        Nisenson brings more than two decades of experience in nonprofit and labor and employment representation to the AAUP’s legal department, including extensive experience representing unions and individuals before the National Labor Relations Board, before state and local labor relations authorities, and in collective bargaining negotiations and arbitrations. Prior to joining the AAUP, Nisenson was the in-house general counsel for the International Union of Police Associations; an attorney with the law firm of Zwerdling, Paul, Leibig, Kahn, Thompson, and Wolly; and a partner at Henrichsen Siegel, PLLC. He has provided training in continuing legal education to attorneys on constitutional and employment law for the Bar Association of the District of Columbia, the AFL-CIO Lawyers’ Conference, and the International Union of Police Associations Lawyers’ Conference.

# # #

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Standing Together

        Thanksgiving has come early this year for us. Two more colleges within the Colorado Community College System have formed AAUP chapters: Red Rocks Community College in Lakewood and Community College of Denver. We hear through the grapevine that others are about to be announced. Our work is bringing real community back to Colorado’s community colleges.  

        “I’ve been talking for a long time about leadership from the bottom and I’m convinced perfectly that it’s happening, and [that] the leadership consists of people who simply see something that needs to be done and they start doing it,” observed poet and activist Wendell Berry. “We don’t have a right to ask whether we’re going to succeed or not. The only question we have a right to ask is: 'What’s the right thing to do?'"

         We salute our colleagues for thinking like Berry and for taking to heart the lessons of self-empowerment, civil liberty, and social justice that we teach some of this state’s most disadvantaged students. As their teachers, we know that before they can be informed citizens, they must first know how to find necessary information and how to make sense of what they discover. As parents, we know that before children can walk, they must first crawl. As awakened activists, we know that before we can march, we must first stand.  

       CONGRATULATIONS to our colleagues, who stand with us to preserve the profession, to advocate for academic freedom, to insist on shared governance, and to fight for wage and benefit equity. We feel that much stronger, knowing we stand now with one another in Colorado, and shoulder-to-shoulder with thousands of others in this profession throughout the AAUP.

            “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.” – Mexican proverb

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Re: Gag Order in Sunshine State
         An article in the Nov. 13 issue of Inside Higher Ed  reports on an unfolding conflict at the 11,000-student Pensacola State College, where college President Ed Meadows has determined that the student newspaper cannot allow faculty members to speak with student journalists about contract negotiations,which are currently at an impasse. The faculty union, in turn, claims the college administration is harassing union members. Administration claims its only using a section of state code. However, IHE reports that code has been ruled unconstitutional by both a federal and a state court. 
         Meadows' rationale is that he worries that students will be "distracted" by the controversy.
         Don't students deserve to know more -- not less -- about their colleges? Why would more information be construed as "distracting" if we are teaching a generation to ask questions about the world around them? 
           Faculty are weighing in on the controversy. My .02, posted to IHE comments:
            "The most controversial topic to appear in our campus newspaper is a casual man-on-the-street report covering how many students in line in the cafeteria prefer decaf as opposed to regular coffee. Sometimes there might be the reworking of a student assignment on some aspect of international events. This can only be expected on a campus where the VP has to approve notices that appear on the few hallway bulletin boards that have survived our multi-million-dollar building remodel. We have 10,000 students per day in our hallways, and yet there is only one copy of the local paper, the "Denver Post," and one copy of the "New York Times" on our campus, and both stay inside the library. We have no newspaper boxes, because newspaper boxes aren't allowed on our campus (only the free zines nobody reads anyway). We have no novels or periodicals in our campus bookstore. They aren't allowed. Working professionals have no way of modeling the purchasing of newspapers or the reading of them in a community setting. Furthermore, we are barred from using campus e-mail and faculty mailboxes from communicating with our peers about our AAUP chapter or about our legislative efforts to change the poverty-level wages administration pays the adjuncts (half of our employees) who teach 85% of the courses our college offers. Neither the Fourth Estate nor the First Amendment have much importance on our campus. Administration's control of the student newspaper insidiously teaches young students that is the way it's supposed to be."

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Faculty Bill of Rights

 October 30, 2014:
        One faculty. 
        Unification, not adjunctification. 
        This week, the Colorado Conference of the AAUP  published the Faculty Bill of Rights for the Colorado Community College System.
 Faculty Bill of Rights
Colorado Community College System
Proposal by the American Association of
University Professors
Colorado Conference

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has set the standards for the profession of teaching in institutions of higher education since 1915. The mission of the American Association of University Professors is to advance academic freedom and shared governance; to define fundamental professional values and standards for higher education; to promote the economic security of faculty, academic professionals, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and all those engaged in teaching and research in higher education; to help the higher education community organize to make our goals a reality; and to ensure higher education's contribution to the common good.

In consultation with numerous instructors and faculty in the Colorado Community College System (CCCS), the Colorado Conference of the AAUP has noted two major areas in which professional standards and values are not being upheld: the two-tiered faculty, in which one tier is compensated in pay and benefits far more than the other tier for approximately the same work; and a faculty government that is not transparent and does not represent the majority of those who teach for the CCCS. These deficiencies impose working conditions on the majority of the faculty that inhibit them from delivering the highest quality instruction to Colorado’s community college students. The Colorado Conference of the AAUP, therefore, recommends the following practices with regard to the faculty of the Colorado Community College System.

  1.          Consider everyone with teaching responsibilities a member of the faculty, with all the rights and responsibilities of faculty.

Salary and Benefits
  2.          Have only one salary schedule for all faculty. Determine placement on the schedule according to the faculty member’s education, experience, and professional credentials.

  3.          Pay teaching and non-teaching duties at the same rate. Non-teaching duties include service, administrative, scholarly, or research obligations.

  4.          Administer benefits proportionally, according to each faculty member’s percentage of a full-time workload, to all members of the faculty, in accordance with state and federal laws.

Class Assignments
  5.          When class assignments are available, permit each faculty member to teach up to a full-time workload per semester.

  6.          If the faculty chooses, supplant the seniority system for assigning classes with a faculty-developed and faculty-approved merit system, once a faculty government and department/program bylaws are in place.

  7.          Require no faculty member to work more than a full-time workload per semester in teaching and/or non-teaching duties per semester.

  8.          Allow the faculty to determine what constitutes a full-time workload.

Job Security
  9.          Establish in policy that a faculty member may be dismissed or his or her contract not renewed for cause or reduction in workforce.

10.          Notify any faculty member in writing as to the reason or reasons for dismissal.

11.          Allow each faculty member, after he or she has completed the equivalent of three years’ full-time work in teaching and/or non-teaching duties, access to a grievance process in the event of dismissal, non-reappointment, reduced workload, or retaliation.

12.          Allow grievances to be decided by an objective faculty committee.

Faculty Government
13.          Establish a faculty government at each college, composed of elected faculty members from each department or program, whose responsibility will be to represent the faculty’s interests.

14.          Allow the faculty government to determine how its committees will be staffed and how committee work will be assigned.

15.          Allow department and program committees to make decisions in hiring, class assignments, and salary increases based solely on the candidate’s or faculty member’s qualifications.

16.          Acknowledge that the faculty’s decisions in personnel and curriculum supersede those of the administration, as these are the areas in which the faculty has the superior expertise.

17.          Allow the faculty of each department/program to adopt (by a majority vote) a set of bylaws that will define how the department/program will be governed internally, including the procedures for selecting a chair.

18.          Require department and program chairs to be responsible for representing the faculty’s interests to the administration. If the majority of the department/program faculty feels that the chair is not representing their interests, allow them to select a new chair.

Professional Development
19.          Establish a procedure for equitable distribution of professional development opportunities and funds to all faculty members.

20.          Publish policies, salary schedules and costs of benefits so that they are readily accessible by the public.

21.          Require that committee business be conducted in a business-like way. Publish the memberships of committees, committee meeting minutes, and committee decisions so that they are readily accessible by the faculty, excepting the proceedings and decisions with regard to personnel that legally must be kept confidential.

Academic Freedom
22.          Allow faculty members the freedom to teach the truth as they see it, without administrative, public, or political pressure, within the parameters of the best practices and principles of their respective disciplines.

23.          Allow faculty members the freedom to comment on matters of unit or institutional policy without fear of retaliation.

# # #

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Adjunct Cookbook is already making a stir!

Contact: Caprice Lawless, President
Front Range Community College Chapter
American Association of University Professors

By publishing a cookbook like no other, instructors at Front Range Community College (FRCC) are teaching peers, students, parents, and others in the community about a situation that has reached a boiling point. Interspersed amid dozens of what the authors call “food bank-friendly concoctions,” the text is a primer in how the Colorado Community College System (CCCS) is slicing, dicing and shredding collegiate-level teaching. Many pages of research, audit charts, and budget breakdowns document what the authors say is a recipe for catastrophe for 163,000 Colorado students enrolled in those colleges. FRCC has campuses in Longmont, Westminster, Ft. Collins and Brighton.
Included are recipe categories such as “The Frappes of Wrath” and “Nobucks Coffee Drinks.” Recipes calling for beef scraps, bruised tomatoes, orange peelings and chicken bones point to a workforce living on the edge. “Cracked Windshield” is a mint drink based on cracked Lifesaver candies. “If Only” is a gin-and-tonic sans gin. “Sliding-Toward-Despair Asian Sliders” are, perforce, small and inexpensive to make.
The recipes, say the authors in the introduction, reflect accurately the working conditions of the college’s faculty majority. There is also much humor sprinkled in amidst evidence of hardship and other ponderous but necessary facts adjuncts need to know about why they are experiencing hardship.
The group created the book when they discovered, after two years of organizing effort, that many of the downtrodden and demoralized adjunct faculty are too weary even to take a passing glance at hallway-table handouts and were similarly loath to read further the research on the academic labor movement.
The cheery cookbook, with the word "Adjunct" set in a fun style on the cover, is not intimidating, if the initial (sold out) print run is any indication. The authors believe that once teachers and students get the books home to read the recipes, they discover many startling facts about their college. Most of those facts are public information, albeit well-hidden information, about a bloated administration consuming most of the $576 million in CCCS annual revenues.
Along with its many photographs and insights from lawmakers, authors report, the cookbook readers “will see the faces of good people who know about the situation, will know who is already working hard to set things right, and will join us in addressing the rapidly expanding fault line in higher education.” The book also offers many local resources their AAUP chapter has found to help the adjuncts get through the workweek [food bank locales and hours, local contacts for food stamps, energy assistance, health-care, etc.). 
“We hope the book helps them realize they have not failed, but that the system has failed them,” said Lawless. The group did not copyright the cookbook, she said, because they want other adjunct groups around the country to use the model to promote their work on their campuses. Copies are available for a donation of $7.50 each (including shipping and handling), via the FRCC AAUP website:

#  #  #