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updated: 4/6/2012 5:30 AM

Showdown between COD and its faculty

Breuder says well-paid educators need to give back on summer pay, other issues

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  • College of DuPage President Robert Breuder is trying to get the college's 295-member full-time faculty union to agree to contract concessions that would pay them less to work during the summer and require some professors to spend more time in the classroom.

    College of DuPage President Robert Breuder is trying to get the college's 295-member full-time faculty union to agree to contract concessions that would pay them less to work during the summer and require some professors to spend more time in the classroom.

  • Robert Breuder

    Robert Breuder

 
 

College of DuPage President Robert Breuder says, unlike most educational practitioners, he thinks like a businessman.

"Education is going in a direction that if you don't run it like a business, you're in trouble," he said during a meeting with the Daily Herald editorial board this week.

And that's why Breuder has been trying to get the college's 295-member full-time faculty union to agree to contract concessions that would pay them less to work during the summer and require some professors to spend more time in the classroom. But he argues those givebacks are in exchange for salary increases over the next four years that would keep COD's instructors the highest paid community college faculty in the state.

But it's clear the faculty union isn't backing down, and negotiations are now at a standstill after 13 months. The two sides are expected to meet with a federal mediator Friday in the first of two scheduled mediation sessions during the month of April.

While Breuder has said he's not treating full-time faculty differently than the college's three other unions representing adjuncts, police and engineers, he acknowledges he's asking them for more than he did the other groups. That's because he believes the current agreement, negotiated in 2007, was "pretty much working off of the wish list" of the faculty union.

"Because they generally were able to be more aggressive and more loud, they were generally fed better than any other employee group at the institution," Breuder said.

And he says economic conditions today make much of that agreement "no longer in vogue" or acceptable to the taxpayer.

"We've created an unreal world in education. We've created an ivory tower. We've held the education community out from the realities of the world in which we live," he said.

Faculty Association President Glenn Hansen said faculty members aren't immune to the economic conditions, and think the old contract was "pretty much fair market."

"We're not any better off than anyone else. We're no more isolated than anybody else. We don't live in a gated community. We can't afford to live in a gated community," Hansen said.

The union has agreed to some of Breuder's proposed givebacks, including: paying 20 percent of health insurance premiums instead of the current 10 percent; paying one-third the cost of tuition for themselves and dependents, instead of none; eliminating so-called supplemental retirements, in which employees can earn additional compensation up to 100 percent of their salary after they retire; and reducing the number of faculty who take full-year or one-semester sabbaticals from as many as 15 to five.

The college has proposed salary increases of 2.85 percent, 3.15 percent, 3.55 percent and 4.15 percent over the course of the proposed contract.

Summer pay

However, one major sticking point has been compensation for teaching summer courses. College officials have sought to reduce it to "a more reasonable level," while still keeping it at "a premium" above what adjuncts, who are part-time, are paid.

Currently, full-time faculty are paid 23 percent of their base salary to teach in the summer. The average nine-month base salary at COD is $95,362, which comes out to $21,933 in summer pay.

By the end of the three-year contract, the college wants to pay faculty who teach summer courses 1.5 times the faculty overload rate, which is $951 per contact hour -- the amount of time an instructor is in the classroom. Under the proposal, a professor who teaches nine credit hours during the summer -- no matter the base salary -- would receive about $17,000 next summer and $13,000 in each of the following two years.

College officials said 85 percent of the faculty make more than $100,000 per year, but those numbers include benefits, and pay for teaching overload and summer classes.

Breuder said he's not trying to "go in and take away people's core income."

"If I were really a good business person -- and this is what makes full-time faculty paranoid -- we would go to all-adjunct faculty," Breuder said.

Most full-time faculty teach during the summer, and Hansen said many treat that income like a second job to help pay the bills. And while COD's faculty earns the most statewide, he said that's likely because many have been there for a long time.

He says they don't see COD as a business, per se.

"It is an education business, but it should not be run like a for-profit education business, which many of these lesser institutions are," Hansen said. "There are financial concerns and we're well aware of that. But our philosophy has been we're more of a custom craftsman shop as opposed to a production-like factory."

"Education is personalized. You have to approach students individually. Education can be costly, but it's hands on. You can still do it financially and efficiently."

More work

Another point of contention is a proposal to increase the amount of instruction time for faculty who teach lab or studio classes. Art, photography, automotive and chemistry instructors currently teach 16 hours per week, but under the proposed contract, the first three groups would teach 21 hours per week, and chemistry faculty would teach 18.

College officials have said the demands on a professor teaching a lab class is not the same as one who teaches a lecture class. And they believe the average base pay for art faculty, for example -- $120,056 -- is more than enough.

"There's no prep, no outside grading -- other than he finally grades whatever the drawing is that they do," said Joe Collins, the college's executive vice president, during the editorial board meeting. "It just seems like over time, we have gotten way out of whack with what we're compensating faculty at the community college."

Hansen, a photography professor, said lab classes are like "stump the teacher," with students asking questions, and professors providing one-on-one instruction. He says the administration is out of touch.

"What world have they been in? When was the last time any of them spent time in the classroom?" Hansen said. "They don't understand what that student interaction is about."

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