Provide equality for all who teach

P-Fac, Columbia’s part-time faculty union, settled its tense contract negotiation with the college in fall 2013. The staff union, United Staff of Columbia College, is currently bargaining for its contract, but one group of teachers is falling between the cracks: staff members who teach part-time.

Staff Who Teach, an independent group of Columbia staff members who teach classes, created a petition March 11 asking P-Fac to admit them to the union. The petition, which has gathered 578 signatures as of press time, claims that P-Fac excludes teaching staff because they also have full-time jobs as staff members at the college and they claim the union has dragged its feet about admitting them. Staff Who Teach is justified in its pursuit of representation and P-Fac should accommodate the group’s request.

P-Fac is currently trying to create a system through which it can legally represent staff members who teach, according to P-Fac President Diana Vallera. Full-time staff members whose job descriptions include teaching are currently covered by P-Fac, but that excludes the majority of staff who teach by choice.

P-Fac should equally represent all staff members who teach because its contract impacts class assignments. When the college strikes a bargain with a staff member to teach a class, the administration vets that person’s qualifications similarly to adjunct members. Therefore, staff members should have the same rights as adjuncts because they perform similar duties.

Including staff members who teach in P-Fac would also help bring some much-needed clarity to the way the college assigns classes, an issue the current P-Fac contract thoroughly addresses. Because the college is cutting costs, class offerings are reduced, leading to handwringing over who will teach. Full-time tenured faculty receive first preference when the college is determining who will do this, followed by the full-time staff whose job description includes teaching, according to Louise Love, interim provost and vice president of Academic Affairs. The adjunct tier system falls below that—members who have logged 51 or more hours of teaching receive first preference, followed by those with fewer than 51 hours and, lastly, new hires. As the adjunct professors continue to teach classes, they move up the tier system, but the same is not true for the staff members whose job descriptions do not include teaching. Staff members without a teaching clause in their contracts automatically fall to the bottom tier, regardless of how many hours they have taught in the past, Love said.

If the staff members were included in P-Fac, they would receive equal representation on the tier system and be ranked according to their experience. For those who have taught a particular class for multiple years, that would only be common sense and provide them bargaining power.

In the case of staff members who teach, their primary jobs are to satisfy their roles as staff members, of course, but they can offer more expertise to Columbia’s various departments and students. Allowing staff members to use their skills to benefit students in all the departments should not be a struggle for administrators or P-Fac.

P-Fac needs to give the teaching staff members equal representation because the college is determining class allocations for the fall semester. If the college continues to shuffle professors around, classes could be canceled at the last minute and students could suffer. It is unfair for staff members with years of experience in their fields to lose teaching opportunities because the seniority system does not accommodate them. For the benefit of all students, faculty and staff, Columbia should be a community, not bargaining territory.