LCCEA President’s Report – 1/27/15

LCC Faculty Colleagues,
This is the second section of my report on current matters. Today’s topics:

1. Board of Education Meeting, College Budget, etc
2. Shared Governance and Diversity Education Policy (a.k.a. Cultural Competency “Training”)
3. Oregon Educational Reform (“Deform”): Dual Credit expansion efforts
4. Emails

1. Board of Education Meeting, College Budget, etc.
The Board of Education held its January meeting last Wednesday, at which President Spilde had been asked to provide a list of “expense reductions” in lieu of tuition adjustments and also to significantly reduce the size of the college in response to low enrollment projections (see my previous report for details). President Spilde responded by providing an Excel file that provides Board members some budget numbers and a means to project the effects of different choices used to balance next year’s budget, but did not provide specific expense reduction proposals. Mary also restated her support for passing the annual tuition inflation adjustment.

The Board received the report, but took no action on it and had little discussion of it (likely in part because three of the seven board members left the meeting before that agenda item). Therefore it’s difficult to know where the Board currently stands on its December calling for major cuts to the college. But with no clear change in their position, we will continue to prepare to educate the Board and the community about the value of our programs, and to organize to defend our college.

One step that we are preparing for is to bring together representatives of all divisions (and hopefully each department/program) to study the “economics” of the college so that each program has at least one faculty member that can demonstrate just how much tuition/fee revenues and state reimbursement it receives and how that compares with the costs of the program. While this certainly isn’t the only measure to be used in evaluating programs or determining their worth, since virtually all of our programs more than cover their costs through tuition and state reimbursement revenues, it literally makes no sense to try to “balance the budget” by cutting programs when it would reduce revenues more than it would expenses. And while you would think this would be an obvious point that all would accept, the Administration Excel file referenced above shows the Administration’s current thinking on the matter: see cell B19 where each program cut is estimated to save the college “$100,000”, which besides being incredibly simplistic*, clearly is inconsistent with this fact (*by that logic I guess that if one wanted to save $1,000,000 we’d just cut “ten programs.” Think how much we could save if we cut ALL our programs!).

Now, I don’t think that the Administration or the Board actually thinks the economics of program cuts is quite that simple, but we have years of arguments and similar tables from the administration that project the college holding onto all or most of the tuition and state revenue that programs generate even after closing them. Since the Administration continues to resist making this logical change, we need to SHOW the Board and our community how each of our programs helps the college’s bottom line, along with helping our students and community’s educational needs of course.

On a related issue, the Oregon legislative “Co-Chairs Proposed Budget” was released last week and it is a slight improvement on the governor’s proposal; the latter proposed only $500M for the Community College Support Fund for the FY15-16 biennium, while the former proposed $535M at a minimum and $550M if state revenue reports come in higher, as expected. This is still far below what is needed, just to cover the costs of inflation in recent years, let alone to reverse the “balancing of the books” on staff and students’ backs; but it is an improvement, both over the current biennium allocation and the “pro-education” governor’s proposal. Work to strengthen this proposal will start soon, with college and OEA efforts currently being organized. More on that as it develops. In the meantime, decent state funding and adjusting tuition rates for inflation should allow for reasonable processes this year to balance next year’s budget, without reactionary calls for massive cuts to the college, especially some of the cuts the Administration typically considers would actually hurt the bottom line.

Finally, you’ll notice in the Administration’s file that they label COLAs, steps, and insurance rate increases as college “investments” and break these out for special treatment. I note that they don’t break out paying for other types of inflation (which is what COLAs and higher insurance rate hikes are). As I’ve noted to Brian, protecting employee compensation from inflation should be a normal part of the budgeting process and not presented as an exceptional cost (let alone an opportunity to protect students from public cuts in education; employees should and can NOT be considered responsible for picking up the costs of public education for students).

In short, with some Board members unwilling to consider adjusting the tuition rate for inflation (the proposal is $1.50 per credit, or $48 a year or $2 a month for the average full time student), but willing to call for “massive” cuts in programs, and Administration budgeting practices that ignore the revenue that our programs bring in and falsely state that cutting programs saves $100k each, we have our work cut out for us this year.

2. Shared Governance and Diversity Education Policy (a.k.a. Cultural Competency “Training”)
The Administration and Board have taken another step in undermining “shared governance” within the college governance system with the Board passing a policy last week (see attached) that would give the Administration even greater ability to simply ignore shared governance processes at our college. Under this policy, written by President Spilde and reflecting “Board concerns” that were based almost entirely on (self-serving) Administration claims about the governance system, Administration representatives on governance councils would be even more able to stonewall issues, then unilaterally declare a “lack of consensus” and decide for themselves what to do. It’s one more nail in the shared governance coffin, with the Administration walking further away from its commitment to make the governance system the base of key college decision making. In this case, the Administration exploited (and exacerbated) the tensions in the debates over the proposed diversity education policy, an examination of which is necessary, both to update faculty and to clarify how the Administration used it to divide students and faculty and to weaken the shared governance system.

We’ve reported on this issue numerous times in the past; a summary of the history of this policy debate can be found here.

Update
After the Administration blocked passage of the Diversity Education Task Force’s proposal last spring, the Association proposed that the College Council commit to finally resolving this matter this year, but President Spilde opposed even including this issue on the College Council’s Work Plan for the year, and the Administration is proceeding unilaterally to create its own program, which is ignoring all elements of the task force proposal that we all agreed to. The only aspect of the Task Force’s proposed policy that the Administration opposed was its provision that the diversity education program be a joint program between the Administration, faculty and other parties. Formal faculty involvement in the program is key part of that proposal, for several reasons, including:

•  Faculty professional development, which “diversity education” clearly is, is the responsibility of the faculty, including the Faculty Professional Development program; the faculty must be structural partners in this work, not simply individual members in an Administration chartered program.
•  While members of all employee and non-employee groups on our campus have vital contributions to make to this program, faculty members are the primary group on campus whose formal education and professional jobs make us experts in the core subjects of this program, which are central topics within many of our disciplines and the courses that we teach. Compare that with the way that many people calling for this program have framed it: “The Administration needs to provide required diversity training of faculty members,” a model that comes straight out of corporate America, and which makes no sense at all at college.
•  Research shows that these corporate “you shall attend” models simply don’t achieve their goals, and can actually undermine them; employee work group participation in the work is vital.
•  Students calling for a “required training policy” cited only faculty members as “the problem.” Certainly, if what is mainly driving this proposed policy is student concerns about faculty members, we must, structurally, be part of the “solution,” especially since the majority of the examples of problems that students cited took place in classrooms, settings that are primarily our responsibility. Such calls for the “Administration to provide faculty members training,” while our only responsibility would be to attend such “trainings,” grossly misunderstands the role that the faculty and the administration play in a college and our classrooms.

Nonetheless, Association demands for inclusion as partners in this work have consistently met a simple “No” from President Spilde, who then says “trust me, it will be participatory.” But “input” and “participation” in an Administration structure is a far cry from a joint program between faculty, the Administration, students, and other parties, not to mention the record of previous Administration “participatory processes” which simply meant “get together and talk and then the Administration will decide what to do.” The idea of giving the Administration unilateral authority over a faculty professional development program while agreeing that faculty members can be required to attend it “X hours per month” is not only inconsistent with our contract and our roles as professionals and faculty members of our college; given the Administration’s record on “participation” it would be incredibly naive.

The Association recognizes, of course, that a number of people have joined the committee that the Administration established, including several faculty members with significant expertise in this matter; the issue is NOT whether there are faculty members on the committee, and certainly not what they can individually bring to the work. The issue is the structure of the committee, the program, and who makes decisions over such matters, especially when they impact the classroom. The Association has asked Adrienne Mitchell to attend committee meetings and represent faculty interests, given her role as Faculty Professional Development Coordinator and Vice Chair of the Association Bargaining Team. But with the Administration preventing the Association from being a partner in designing and developing this program, the Association has reminded the Administration that without changes to our Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Administration cannot simply add “18 (or whatever) additional hours of work” to our workloads each year, as was proposed, and that by contract faculty members individually control what “non-teaching work” they do:

Article 35.2: “Voluntary Nature of Non-Teaching Work.  The workload of contracted teaching faculty is intended to include an amount of non-teaching work. The choice of specific non-teaching faculty work shall be the decision of the faculty member and can be made without prejudice…”

The Board may pass any policy it wants, but contract language is controlling over all College and Board policies. The Administration can exclude the Association from being partners in a program it develops; but they have no authority to compel faculty attendance at it when doing so would the workload language in our contract. And they’ve made a very bad start if they’re hoping to negotiate changes to such language when they have continued to refuse to include the Association (and Federation) as partners in this work, while continually portraying our opposition to a proposal because it excludes us, as opposition to establishing a program.

We do hope, as we have always hoped, that the faculty members who have chosen to work on the committee can, along with others, do great work and build programs that many faculty members will want to attend; but the Administration cannot support claims that the faculty are “the problem,” oppose Association participation in the “solution,” and then expect us to agree to compulsory attendance, especially of an educational program whose subject many of us teach here, and that addresses practices that take place in our classroom.

Finally, this position is not simply the position of “one person,” as the Administration and other anti-union critics continually claim; it’s been the unanimous position of the Association Executive Committee, the Faculty Professional Development Oversight Committee, the Association committee charged with developing a policy proposal supporting diversity education, many members and leaders of the Faculty Council, and many other faculty members and others involved in this policy deliberation. We respect the views of others to disagree with our approach, but we ask that our position be respected as well and not maligned as being evidence of “unions being a barrier to change” or worse, as they consistently claim. Those questioning our position should review what we have actually proposed, the positions we’ve taken in writing, rather than relying upon claims from union critics that our position has been unreasonable, let alone one of opposition.

3. Oregon Educational Reform (“Deform”): Dual Credit expansion efforts.
Recent years have seen significant interest in Salem to increase “dual-credit” programs and outcomes in Oregon, programs in which high school students earn college credits while still in high school. While there is broad support for having students getting a “head start” on college, the actual practices involved in such programs are another matter. While there are a number of good options available to Oregon to increase high school student earning of community college credits, several of the options being promoted have serious downsides; the OEA Community College Council (of which I serve as president) will be publishing a paper this week that examines the various options, ranks them in terms of their strengths and weaknesses, and makes recommendations on how to make some the options succeed. We will forward this document when it is published, and encourage all to read and consider it, and find ways to help ensure that efforts to expand “accelerated learning” actually does accelerate “learning,” and doesn’t undermine educational quality in our schools and state.

As part of that effort, we are also concerned about an effort being led by the governor’s office to strip authority from colleges and faculty members to establish the minimum qualifications for faculty that teach its courses; the governor’s office (Ben Cannon and others) is proposing a “maximum minimum” (my term) that the state would set for determining high school faculty qualification to teach community college courses. They argue that high school faculty are discouraged from teaching dual credit courses when they are judged “qualified” at one community college, but “not qualified” at another, due to different qualification standards at the schools, and so are proposing legislation that would set a “maximum minimum” that would be set by HECC (Higher Education Coordinating Commission) that no school could exceed. Such interference in the centuries-long recognized right of college faculty to establish the standards for collegiate teachers is a false solution to a false problem. Part-time community college faculty have long accepted that minimum qualification standards vary from school to school; while it can create challenges, the solution can never be that the State steps in to set faculty qualifications.

On a related topic, we hope to soon see the state’s proposal regarding “performance based funding” (a.k.a. “outcomes funding”) for community colleges. Unlike dual credit programs, performance based funding has no upside; it’s a zero sum game, where some win and some lose, based upon specious measures, and “justified” by the claim that colleges and its employees “don’t care about student success” because state funding isn’t based upon it. Once we have a chance to see and analyze the actual proposal from the “pro-education” governor’s office (a proposal that the public and college faculty have been kept in the dark about), we will analyze the proposal and publish a similar white paper and will invite public input into the program. If Oregon wants to expand education in Oregon, it needs to fund it, not use funding gimmicks that offer no analysis or support for actually improving “outcomes,” that in fact threaten educational quality.

4. Emails
I’d like to quickly make two points in response to issues raised in some recent critical emails:

First, it’s become clear in recent emails that what has been motivating a number of “critics” are concerns about the Enrollment Capacity MOA. In a separate report we will provide some more background on that topic, and address a number of questions and arguments that have been raised. In the meantime, please know that we believe that while a number of the claims regarding that issue are simply inaccurate, nonetheless the concern is genuine, the issues are real, and that the Association shares such concerns about the agreement and its implementation and that we have been pursuing and advocating for changes in its implementation. We are scheduled to meet with the College on February 2nd to continue to negotiate changes to protect faculty and our classes, and we will continue to work with faculty, as we have been, to address the concerns and issues raised by faculty and by the Association.

Second, there’s no question that we are all facing many challenges these days, at many levels; from concerns about the Enrollment Capacity MOA to the many assaults on faculty (and staff) from the increasingly neoliberal policies pursued by even “pro-education” politicians like our Governor; to increasing numbers of “professional Administrators” that have little or no background as educators and who have little respect for the role of the faculty in our departments and our college; to Board members (and Administrators) who want to run our colleges like businesses and who (understandably) want to protect students from higher tuition costs but do so by supporting Administration efforts to drive down our wages and turn faculty jobs into part-time assignments at much lower wages and benefits; etc., etc., etc. These and many other challenges (which by no means are unique to Lane or Oregon) absolutely require that we continually strengthen our union and continually critique and revise our strategies to defend our college and our rights. I believe we are always doing so, and I am extremely proud of the work of our committees, our representatives, our union Board, and the work that we all do together. I also welcome calls and proposals on ways we can do better, just as the union always welcomes and encourages all faculty members to become more active in our union. The more members we have involved, the more earnest debate we have about how we can improve our work, the stronger and more effective our union will be. And of course I don’t expect that everyone will agree with all union actions, that everyone will support all of our positions and efforts, let alone that all members will support me and everyone of my efforts. I think everyone understands that comes with the position, and I have defended the right of members to think and speak and write critically of our work.

However, I also hope and ask that members use methods of doing so that strengthen us as a union, and that are fair and respectful to all parties. I suspect that most members will agree that expecting union representatives to respond to every mass emailed claim, no matter how inaccurate (or defamatory), would set a terrible precedent for all union committee members, elected officials, and appointed representatives, requiring one to continually prove one’s integrity and value in “trials by email flame.” Surely, few can think that’s a reasonable or productive model for a union. Similarly, I ask that everyone avoid anything remotely ad hominem, and address each other as colleagues and union brothers and sisters. As previously noted, we have very serious issues confronting us, from layoff threats to contract issues to “deformist” college and state policies and practices that threaten our disciplines and the integrity of our programs and our work, etc., etc. We need to work together, and develop common methods to respond to these challenges, if we hope to successfully address them. I ask that we all commit to doing so.

Finally, we will, immediately, work on reestablishing the LCCEA listserv that includes only LCCEA members and allows members to remove themselves and otherwise control how they receive emails sent to the listserv. I ask those who want to engage in this conversation to hold their emails until we have announced that the listserv is operating.

Thank you,
Jim Salt
LCCEA President

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