Oakton adjuncts continue protest over coming firings

  • Faculty members at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines and the college administration disagree over the college's plans to no longer hire some part-time instructors who are collecting pensions.

      Faculty members at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines and the college administration disagree over the college's plans to no longer hire some part-time instructors who are collecting pensions. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted1/21/2015 5:30 AM

Some part-time faculty members at Oakton Community College continue to cry foul over their impending firings, but college administrators are standing by their decision.

As many as 80 Oakton instructors are teaching their final semester at the Des Plaines-based community college after school officials announced last fall that they will no longer hire those already earning pensions from the State Universities Retirement System.

 

A 2013 state law imposes penalties on public colleges that pay teachers who have retired from full-time teaching jobs at other institutions, depending on instructors' class loads and pension amounts. Colleges are required to pay a penalty equal to an instructor's full year of pension if the instructor is paid more than 40 percent of his or her highest pre-retirement salary.

Oakton was fined $166,000 last year after officials said three instructors exceeded teaching limits imposed by the law.

At an Oakton board of trustees meeting Tuesday night, part-time math instructor Barry Dayton gave a PowerPoint presentation titled "Annuitantgate: What Oakton knew and when they didn't know it."

Dayton, whose wife Barbara is president of Oakton's Adjunct Faculty Association, said he believes school officials knew ahead of time each instructor's earning limitation, and it was only because of a "clerical error" that the school was subject to fines.

"Then you went ahead and tried to fire all the annuitants," Dayton told board members. "You can't do that. It's against laws. It's against our contract."

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In an interview with the Daily Herald after the meeting, Oakton President Margaret Lee called Dayton's presentation a "vicious attack on the staff and on the integrity of Oakton."

Lee said Oakton was the only school to take a wait-and-see approach after the 2013 law was enacted, even though other colleges implemented hiring freezes of part-time instructors sooner. It wasn't until after the fall 2013 semester began that Lee says Oakton was notified by the retirement system that some teachers were exceeding teaching limits and the school could be subject to penalties.

"What did we know and when did we know it? We knew it too late," said Lee, adding that the college wouldn't have willingly hired anyone had they known the school would be fined.

Lee said she would have to hire at least another three human resources employees to be able to effectively track earnings limits, which she doesn't believe is the college's responsibility.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Some Oakton faculty have argued that they teach part time because in many cases their pensions are rather small, but Lee disagrees.

"Some adjuncts have large annuities. They're essentially doing what the state is trying to prevent: double dipping," she said. "We're not an employment agency. We're here for students."

The new hiring policy is slated to go into effect July 1.

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