Respect — Just a Little Bit

Between negotiation sessions, a Federation team meets monthly with the administration to discuss contract issues as they arise. The hope is to prevent issues from piling up between the official bargaining every two years. These are called “Contract Administration Meetings.” (CAM, for PCC acronym collectors!) The Federation Grievance Committee tracks problems we hear from members, and meet before CAM to prioritize the issues and plan strategy for bringing our members’ concerns forward. The administration team also adds items, and the agenda reflects the concerns of both teams.

Bargaining over wages and benefits took longer than usual in 2017 – at least in part because the administration team was willing to put a good deal of research and thought into the Federation request for equal pay for equal work. But that means our first CAM of 2017-18 wasn’t held until February 2018.

Our Grievance Committee voted to put delivery of a report on the “students of concern” process as it impacts “part-time” faculty as our highest priority for CAM. 294 instructors responded to a survey sent in Spring 2017 asking about their familiarity with the process for reporting concerns with student behavior, and any experiences they had from using it.  We then conducted in-depth follow-up interviews over the summer. A draft of the report was widely circulated for comments during Fall 2017. The final report was presented to the administration at the February CAM. You can read it here.

As background, since the Umpqua Community College shooting in  2015, administrators in community colleges have taken extra steps to address the question “could that happen here?” At PCC, 4 new Academic Professional positions were created — the student conduct and retention coordinators — and the process for reporting “students of concern” was revised and streamlined. Training has been held at inservice events and through the TLCs to help familiarize faculty and academic professionals with the process. Since campus safety is a shared concern, Federation leaders have applauded these measures.

But many “part-time” members contacted the Federation, asking for help, over the past two years. We discovered that the lack of onboarding for “part-time” instructors, their marginalization in faculty committees, and pervasive insecurity about future employment meant that the measures the administration had put in place were not adequate to keep us safe. Concerns were presented at nearly every CAM session since Winter 2016. Our concerns did not lead to any changes, however. So we decided to devote many, many hours to the survey and interview process, to document the problem.

We believe our survey shows problems that present serious threats to the safety of all PCC students and staff. In a time of “evidence-based educational practice” and President Mitsui’s desire to make PCC a “learning organization,” we hoped our report would be received with an open mind by the administration team. That did not happen.

The administration team was — to quote the descriptors used by members of the Federation team who were present —  belittling, disrespectful, dismissive, and condescending.

The report documents the pervasive trepidation “part-time” instructors feel at voicing their sense of unsafety and concern “out of fear of repercussions from the administration” (to quote a response to our survey). The administration response to the presentation of our report was a dramatic display of the very kind of concern documented in our report. It was as if the administration wanted to punish any “part-time” employee who dared to question DOIs and Division Deans by being sure to put us back in our place.

We take the tone of the administration response to itself be evidence of the findings of our survey.

The administration did, however, have two substantive responses:

  • The descriptions used in the survey for “students of concern” was too broad, making the results invalid. (A footnote has been added to clarify the source of the description used.)
  • A counter-claim: the Administration has successfully created a “culture of reporting” at PCC.

No evidence was given for the counterclaim. We believe the survey shows the administration team is simply mistaken about the success of their work, at least as it relates to the majority faculty. The administration has made a wonderful start, which we applaud. But there is major work left to do to ensure staff and student safety.

Several Federation team members said they believed the behavior of one of the administrators in CAM amounted to bullying. We also heard from many people who made the time to attend bargaining sessions over the summer that they believed the administration team were disrespectful and bullying toward members of the Federation team. We will be consulting experts on bullying in the workplace before the next CAM and negotiations to try to ensure the important work done stays mutually respectful.

Most chilling was a remark made in reference to our request for mandatory and paid training for the majority faculty. One administrator mentioned training was offered at in-service. When asked how many “part-time” instructors attend “part-time” inservice events, he said very few — but if “part-timers” who opted not to attend have a problem with students then that is “on them.”

The teacher of the Umpqua Community College class who was killed, along with 8 students, was reported to be an “adjunct.” I do not believe that it would be an adequate consolation to the families of the dead that the administration had offered an optional training which the teacher had failed to attend. Safety is a mutual obligation. We must all do our part. The part of the administration is to design and implement a system of training and support for the majority instructors that they are not afraid to use, lest there be employment repercussions.

Additional items discussed at the February CAM included:

  • a review of the current practices relating to students who threaten faculty members, a problem brought forward by two “full-time”faculty. The administration team was respectful and agreed to look into making changes.
  • a long and stalemated conversation about the scope of Weingarten Rights, which guarantee Union representation when discipline is possible.

We need to find a way to make these meetings more consistently collaborative and productive. A start would be an agreement to treat each other with respect — just a little bit.

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