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Columbia College and Part-Time Faculty at the NLRB

official seal of Columbia College Chicago

official seal of Columbia College Chicago (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Attorneys for Columbia College Chicago disputed Monday that charges brought by the adjunct faculty union before the federal government were “much ado about very little” filed by “garden variety gripers.”

In a trial before the National Labor Relations Board attorneys for the union, known as P-fac, Dan Murphy and Laurie Burgess argued that the college had violated federal labor law by cutting adjuncts’ teaching hours without bargaining the reduction with the union.

Administration Law Judge Robert Ringler is presiding over the trial, which is expected to conclude Wednesday afternoon.

The trial addressed the charges for the HHSS (humanities, history, and social science) department; however, the attorneys for P-fac argue the changes affected all part-time faculty members at the college.

The college’s attorney, Lisa McGarrity said teaching assignments were reduced because of dropping enrollments of eight percent. She said only three adjuncts were affected by the cuts and added that the college has the “sole discretion to assign courses.”

Diana Vallera, president of the 900-member union, said during a recess, “The cut did not affect only three people, it was originally 40, and then reduced to 15.”

Columbia runs on a 15-week-long semester system with adjunct faculty members teaching a total of three classes; however, starting Nov. 3, 2010 adjunct faculty’s classes were decreased to two, a 30 percent wage decrease.

“These cuts took part-time members out of the job market for the following year,” said Diane Adams, P-fac of HHSS department.

By cutting the classes in November, part-time faculty members had no chance to communicate with other college and universities to find work.

The charges Murphy, board agent for the federal government, addressed were regressive bargaining, unfair bargaining, harassment of members and intimidation of members. These charges against the college began Dec. 15 2010 onward.

Burgess’ first witness, Dr. Lisa Brock, Academic Director for the History Department at Kalamazoo was previously the Liberal Chair, known as the HHSS department now, at Columbia College.

Brock’s duties consisted of: ultimate supervisor, hiring, hiring staff, being responsible for everything that happened in the department and finally scheduling. She said there would be a notice of a “roll-over schedule” meaning the previous fall/spring semester availability sheet would be the following year’s schedule.

When employed, Brock said, there were roughly 9,000 students coming through the HHSS department since all students have to take six classes in the department. By the time she left “there were 11,000 students and enrollment was increasing.”

Under Brock’s department there were 20 full-time faculty members and 135 to 160 part-time faculty members. The majority of the department’s classes were taught by part-time members and if a position needed to be filled it was done so by adjunct members.

Once Brock left, Dr. Cadence Winter took her place. Tomiwa Shonekan, Dean at that prior time, was accused of “making a mess and Dr. Winter had to clean it up.”

John Stevenson, part-time faculty member in the HHSS department and officer of the union, said he had asked for documentation of how many and who exactly would be affected by the cut through a letter.

“This was very sudden and abrupt,” said Stevenson. “I wanted to know how and why this change came about.”

In response to his letter, he said Dr. Winter had received directive by the Dean to find a way to deal with the amount of classes and lack of students. This was her way of dealing with it.

“Why P-fac and Region 13 are taking this course is anyone’s guess,” said McGarrity in response to the trial.

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