Staff members petition for union voice

By Campus Editor

After asking for representation last semester, Staff Who Teach started an online petition to join P-Fac, Columbia’s part-time faculty union. 

Staff Who Teach, a group of more than 70 Columbia staff members, posted a petition online March 11 calling for representation in P-Fac.

The group collected 500 signatures on its online petition within the first 3 1/2 days of its launch, a number that has reached 579 as of press time.

Staff members are currently represented in The United Staff of Columbia College union, but members who teach classes at the college want the same protections afforded to adjunct professors under the newly negotiated P-Fac contract, which stipulates how classes should be assigned. Adjunct faculty are assigned courses based on a three-tier system according to the number of hours they have previously taught at Columbia. 

Adjunct faculty who have taught 51 or more course hours at the college choose the courses they want to teach first, followed by the second and third tiers, according to Louise Love, interim provost and vice president of Academic Affairs. 

Staff members whose job descriptions include teaching can choose their courses before first-tier adjunct faculty. 

However, staff members whose jobs do not require teaching are placed in the third tier no matter how long they’ve taught. 

Lauren Targ, assistant director of the College Advising Center and part-time faculty member in the Television Department, said prior to P-Fac signing its new contract, staff members and adjunct faculty worked closely, adding that some staff members feel unappreciated because they are no longer able to teach courses they previously taught. 

Targ said Staff Who Teach wants to continue working with P-Fac to ensure that students are exposed to a variety of instructors. 

Mary Rachel Fanning, coordinator and college advisor in the College Advising Center and part-time faculty member in the Photography Department, said Staff Who Teach reached out to P-Fac and administrators in October 2013 to discuss joining P-Fac, but P-Fac has yet to accept or deny the request.

Diana Vallera, P-Fac president and adjunct faculty member in the Photography Department, said P-Fac is currently in the process of conducting a legal assessment to determine if allowing staff members to join the union is legal. She said the college, not the union, has the authority to limit the number of courses staff members can teach. 

Vallera said she met with staff members about the issue and that the current contract helps enforce accountability and stability when assigning courses to adjuncts. 

“Without a clear process, it’s very arbitrary [determining] who gets courses, [but] now there’s clear evaluations, clear process [and] everyone has accountability,” Vallera said.

Full-time staff are hired as staff members and have benefits, whereas adjunct faculty do not have benefits, Vallera said. 

“Full-time staff … have a full-time job with benefits and health insurance,” Vallera said. “We still have many [adjuncts] that didn’t even get one course. In other words, they have no income.”

Although some staff members and adjuncts were not able to teach courses this semester, there are always fewer courses available in spring due to a drop in enrollment, Love said. According to statistics from Academic Affairs, classes were reduced by 4.2 percent between Fall 2013 and Spring 2014. Love said the decision to run certain courses lies with the department chairs and is often determined by curricular and  student needs. 

“There’s always been a decrease in fall to spring because fewer students enroll,” Love said. “If a class that’s scheduled to run has low enrollment, it’s likely to be canceled. But there is no particular number of students or no particular percent of the maximum that dictates whether a section is canceled.”

Megan Capps, a junior photography major, said she thinks it is important for students to have a variety of instructors and she is surprised staff members’ inability to teach certain courses is not widely known. She said having instructors with diverse expertise is important. 

“If you’ve put in your time for this long, you’re obviously dedicated … so why are they the ones being reprimanded?” Capps said.  “Just because a teacher has been teaching a certain class or subject matter for a long time doesn’t mean that they’re dated.”