LCCEA President’s Report: Board threatens layoffs; Enrollment capacity; Arbitrations

Jan. 14, 2015
LCC Faculty Colleagues,

I am writing to report on a number of matters, and will divide this report into different editions. Today’s topics:

1. Board of Education Threatening Major Faculty and Staff Cuts
2. WORKLOAD, CLASS CANCELLATION, AND ENROLLMENT CAPACITY MOA
3. Arbitrations and Unfair Labor Practice against the College

1.  Board of Education Threatening Major Faculty and Staff Cuts
At last month’s Board of Education meeting the Board was scheduled to approve the annual inflation adjustment to the college tuition rate, something they have done annually for over 10 years; instead, they voted to table the proposal and directed the college president to identify a list of major expense reductions for their consideration tonight, apparently both to offset tuition adjustments as well as to significantly reduce the size of the college and our programs in response to enrollment reductions this year. At the time, the Administration was reporting a reduction of 26% in enrollment for Winter term compared with the previous year, which one Board member responded to by concluding that the college therefore needed to similarly reduce the size of the college by 1/4.

As I argued to the Board then: the apparent 26% enrollment reduction for Winter term would very likely be reduced as enrollment proceeded (and it has, with the reduction falling to less than 17% the very next week), and there simply is no need start cutting programs and nor cutting our college by 1/4 or anything like it. Yes, enrollment is down, but only back to where we were in 2008, when we were virtually the same college we are now, since the vast majority of staff increases in response to the Great Recession’s student surge were hired on a temporary basis. We’ve already budgeted for a 12% reduction this year, and our enrollment this year is essentially the same as it was in 2008, before the recession and student surge. Simply working through the normal budget processes, lobbying in Salem this winter/spring and working together with others across the state for revenue reform is where we should strategically put our attention (in addition to responding to the opening created by President Obama’s call for “free community college educations for all” this week. While Obama’s particular proposal is highly problematic, it is raising attention and interest in doing something significant about providing greater public support for community colleges).

The answer is “not to run around cutting off our arms and legs” as I said to the Board last month; eliminating the programs that educate and support students, especially when the negative impact on college revenue would exceed the expense savings (something true for virtually ALL educational programs), is not only unnecessary, it would also be counterproductive. [* See below for additional detail on tuition and inflation rates]

However, that was also the case last spring, and we only stopped the Administration’s threatened layoffs with mere hours before faculty and staff were scheduled to receive layoff notices. While I do hope that the Board will table its consideration of such cuts at its meeting tonight, we can NOT assume that the Board will see the errors in their “logic”, or that the Administration will take the steps necessary to convince the Board of the great harm such a path would have. We need to take this threat very seriously and take all possible steps to protect our college from this assault. As such, the Association Board, Action Team, and Association representatives in the college budget processes are developing a comprehensive plan to protect our college from this looming disaster. Please plan on fully engaging this plan, and taking all necessary steps to protect our college from this latest attack. We will report on where matters stand after the Board meeting this evening.

2. Workload, Class Cancellation, and Enrollment Capacity MOA
As provided for in the “WORKLOAD, CLASS CANCELLATION, AND ENROLLMENT CAPACITY” MOA, Association representatives met with the Administration last fall, several times during winter break, and again yesterday morning, in order to review the implementation of the agreement and to identify and address concerns/issues. The Association made a number of proposals to the Administration based upon that review; these proposals and the Administrations’ response follow:

Association Proposal: Ensure that enhancements were not greater than agreed to, including classes increased above the number agreed to, and classes not on the agreed upon list that are above the assignable class sizes
College Response: Initially agreed; now opposing fixing the latter category

Association Proposal: Adjust for proportionality, including reducing the increase for classes of 24 or below to 3 students from the current 4.
College Response: Initially supported it, then vetoed by a higher ranked administrator.

Association Proposal: For winter and spring 2015, reduce all class size increases from “4” to “3”, recognizing the actual attrition levels of less than 50%; NOT required if would result in need to add additional sections
College Response: Administration initially said it would consider; apparently no longer willing to do so.

Association Proposal: Agree that departments may make adjustments to the initial plan that are consistent with the savings
College Response: Agreed

In summary, we’ve reached agreement on a couple of “process” elements, but where we proposed that details of the implementation plan be changed consistent with the spirit and the financial impact of the original agreement, the College either rejected the proposal, or initially supported it but had it rejected by higher ups. We continue and will continue to press for revisions to the implementation of the agreement this year.

Relatedly, a key part of the agreement calls for a workload survey to be completed this term of all departments, which will be followed by processes to resolve issues identified in the survey. This is vitally important work; we ask that all faculty members respond fully to requests for information they receive from either the Association — College Joint Workload Taskforce created by this MOA, or from their Association Department representatives as we complete this work this term. This is our opportunity to clarify and have codified in the contract all department workloads, a long time goal of the Association.

3. Arbitrations and Unfair Labor Practice against the College

a.    We’ve previously reported on the Faculty Vacancies Arbitration hearing held in early November; we currently await the Arbitrator’s ruling, and are optimistic that the College will be ordered to adhere to contract and not continue to turn contracted faculty positions into part-time assignments with lower wages, benefits, and working conditions.

b.    In early December we presented our case to an Arbitrator regarding the College’s failure to follow our Agreement regarding medical insurance deductions since 2010-2011, resulting in excessive deductions being made from many faculty members. Final briefs have been submitted this week and we await the arbitrator’s ruling on that matter as well.

c.    We have an arbitration scheduled for late February over the College’s failure to provide part-time faculty the “catch up half-steps” at the end of the year during 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, that were provided for in that year’s agreement and that came to light last spring. Our contract provided that faculty would only receive half-steps as they earned them those years, but ALL would receive the delayed half-steps at the end of the year so that the sacrifice was only a temporary one; the College provided the “catch up half-steps” to contracted faculty, but not to part-time faculty.

d.    We have two arbitrations currently being scheduled regarding the College’s failure to follow contract language regarding the complaint process, both by refusing to provide evidence gathered and a chance for the accused to respond, as explicitly provided for Article 25.9, as well as failing to adhere to the contract language on how long the College has to investigate a complaint, and (bizarrely) arguing that the twenty working day period to complete their investigation starts when the investigation is completed! We have also filed an Unfair Labor Practice against the College for egregiously and intentionally failing to follow our clear contract language on complaint processes and failing to respect the collective bargaining rights of the Association.

We will report on these matters as they proceed.

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* Several members of the LCC Board also strongly opposed any adjustments to tuition, including simple adjustments for inflation, and called for cuts to the college instead. Such opposition to inflation adjustments of tuition ignores the “normal” nature of inflation and how institutions address it. Inflation is a regular part of capitalist economies, a principle that is recognized and accepted by almost all people and one that is built into to federal and state laws, contracts, budgets, etc. (if anyone even threatens to reduce social security inflation adjustments, they are immediately criticized for “attacking seniors and the disabled”). Similar to recent Administration and Board opposition to Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) for faculty and staff, opposition to inflation adjustments of tuition simply ignores this normal component of our economy and the mechanisms all institutions use to deal with this, including the regular increases in federal financial aid awards in order to cover the costs of inflation.

Similarly problematic, several board members have opposed any tuition adjustments citing the economic challenges that our students face (one Board member said he wouldn’t “support an increase in the tuition rate of a single dollar in the future so long as there is one student in poverty”). While student poverty and debt are obviously very serious concerns today, budgeting based upon such a “principle” could never actually work in practice so long as the state and federal government refuse to fully fund education. Colleges would either have to keep cutting programs and services year after year, or declare college employees somehow responsible for funding students’ education, and cut our salaries and benefits year after year (or both, as the Administration has pursued in recent years). The appropriate strategy, of course, is to work to restore public funding for higher education, and until successful, balancing tuition increases necessary to make up for reduced public funding with financial aid, scholarships, and work study positions to protect students access to college, both financially and to the programs they come here to attend.

Jim Salt
LCCEA President

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