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Saving Faculty Jobs

Faculty unions at Point Park University and City College of San Francisco have found different means to the same end: preserving full-time faculty jobs threatened during COVID-19.

May 11, 2021
 
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Point Park University cut 17 full-time faculty jobs earlier this year, but an independent arbitrator just said it can’t do that. City College of San Francisco’s faculty, meanwhile, has been working with its administration to find a way to avoid more than 100 faculty layoffs.

For professors, neither the arbitration at Point Park nor the faculty pay cuts on the table at CCSF are ideal. But they represent two avenues for preserving jobs that are at risk, due in part to the pandemic.

Point Park

Point Park’s faculty union, which is affiliated with the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, says the recent arbitration win protects faculty jobs and workloads and demonstrates that the university can’t use COVID-19 to undermine the contract.

“This was just an opportunity for the administration to try and clean house, save some money and to replace full-time faculty with part-time faculty,” said Ben Schonberger, a lecturer in art at Point Park and a negotiator for the union. “It’s bad management. And it’s actually worse than just bad management. They chose to ignore the contract language and attack their faculty.”

Lou Corsaro, a Point Park spokesperson, said the university “respects the arbitration process and the decision regarding nonrenewal notices previously sent to 17 nontenured faculty members.”

In his decision, Matthew M. Franckiewicz, the independent arbitrator, said that what Point Park was trying to do was clearly a reduction in force, “couched” in contract language meant to deal with individual faculty separations of employment. Franckiewicz also rejected what he called the university’s “somewhat convoluted construction” of contract language surrounding seniority.

Franckiewicz’s analysis -- like the faculty union grievance that triggered it -- centers on two faculty contract provisions, Articles 18 and 31. Article 18, which is what the university cited in mid-February layoff notices to faculty members, says that the university doesn’t have to establish cause for not renewing someone who is not tenured if the nonrenewal is “due to a position elimination in accordance with Article 31, Seniority and Position Eliminations.”

Article 31, in turn, says that Point Park has the right to determine when and if a position elimination is necessary. Should it be necessary, the contract says, “the university shall eliminate all part-time faculty positions, faculty emeritae/emeriti positions and overload assignments in the affected department, program or major before eliminating full-time faculty positions.”

The faculty union argued that Point Park not only delivered the nonrenewals later than required, but that it was also trying to cut full-time faculty members in programs where their courses would still be offered by adjuncts. This, the union said, was not position elimination as outlined in Article 31, but cutbacks.

Point Park argued back that the seniority protections outlined in Article 31 were only applicable to faculty members who had 12 years of service at the institution or more, and that it reserved the right to make these cuts.

The nonrenewal notices, which Point Park sent to non-tenure-track lecturers as well as some tenure-track assistant professors, said COVID-19 necessitated “additional steps to ensure that students at Point Park can thrive now and into the future.”

In September, according to an email quoted in the arbitrator’s decision, Point Park’s provost told department chairs that the university’s governing board mandated that it “close the budget gap currently projected somewhere in the vicinity of $10 million. This will take two or more years.”

By December, there were serious internal discussions about short-listing nontenured faculty members for nonrenewal.

Losing 17 faculty members alongside the dozen others who took buyouts, would mean losing 20 percent of Point Park's full-time faculty in one year, according to the union.

Franckiewicz in his decision sided mostly with the faculty, saying that the “positions of the 17 affected faculty members are being eliminated, even though their courses are not. A part-time faculty member who teaches the same course formerly taught by an assistant professor cannot be said to occupy the same ‘position’ as the furloughed assistant professor.”

Schonberger said Point Park’s faculty union is soon entering negotiations for its new contract, and that this decision strengthens its bargaining position, even during COVID-19. He also said that it helps preserve diversity, equity and inclusion at Point Park. That is, while the university's formula for eliminating full-time professors isn't entirely clear, some of the targeted instructors were their programs' most recent -- and most diverse -- hires.

Kendra Ross, an assistant professor of sports, arts and entertainment, said in a statement earlier this month, "We often talk about DEI in terms of diversity and inclusion, but we forget the middle part, equity. In times of crisis, do we fall back on equity or do we lean in? I think we should be leaning in."

Point Park is one of the few private institutions with a full-time-faculty union.

Previously, the union rejected a suggestion from the university that it surrender raises secured in the last contract to help the university weather COVID-19, Schonberger said. He noted that those raises were hard-won through years of bargaining and that the new salaries represent a living wage for Pittsburgh.

Corsaro, the university spokesperson, said that Point Park in April found a way to rescind layoff notices to nine faculty members, the “result of tireless work by university and academic leaders to identify cost savings and revenue growth initiatives to offset the significant disruptions in higher education caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Going forward, he said, “Point Park will continue to bargain and administer the contract with full-time faculty in good faith.”

City College of San Francisco

Meanwhile, the faculty union at City College of San Francisco is this week considering another way to save threatened faculty: reduce faculty members’ salaries by between 4 and 11 percent.

CCSF sent layoff notices to 163 faculty members earlier this year, citing a projected budget deficit of $33 million due to long-term underfunding and enrollment declines. Faculty members and students have been fighting the layoffs, saying it’s unclear how the college will continue to serve the underserved -- including a significant immigrant population -- following deep cuts to the teaching force. In addition to the full-time faculty layoffs, affecting about 30 percent of full-timers, many more part-time faculty jobs were projected to be affected.

On Saturday, the college’s faculty union, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, said it had reached an agreement with the administration to stave off cuts for one year for full-time instructors. Most adjuncts also would be rehired to teach next year under the agreement. In exchange, the union tentatively agreed to the salary cuts of up to 11 percent.

The union’s full membership was voting on the measure Monday afternoon. Malaika Finkelstein, union president and an instructor who works with disabled students, said during the vote that she supported the deal. The union’s executive board also voted to recommend it to members.

“Pay concessions are awful. But the alternative right now is worse,” Finkelstein said, arguing that that the faculty cuts could displace thousands of students. “This is a short-term fix that will allow our college to continue to serve our communities while we fight for long-term funding.”

Beyond that, she said, “this deal includes a first-ever guarantee of funding allocated to our departments. That's how we keep adjuncts working and students in classrooms.”

The college declined comment on the deal Monday, citing a pending vote on the deal by the Board of Trustees.

The union previously wrote to the board, urging members not to “dismantle” the college. Similarly to the faculty union at Point Park, they argued that laying off full-time faculty members would by design mean hiring adjuncts en masse to take their place in many programs -- ultimately to the detriment of instruction.

“If CCSF implements these layoffs, entire departments will be left with no full-time faculty,” the letter days. “Our ability to write or update curriculum as required by accreditation standards, work with community agencies, bring in students, or do outreach needed to ensure San Francisco’s Black and Brown students know about the opportunities City College provides will be severely diminished. Students will lose access to office hours and faculty support. The structure that keeps our college going as an intellectual and community resource will be undermined.”

Tenure “guarantees academic freedom and keeps educational standards high,” the letter says, noting that the college would have to hire back full-time professors as part-timers to keep programs running. “Without it, all faculty are reduced to contingent labor, and faculty’s ability to fight for part-time parity and equal pay for equal work is diminished.”

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