Oakton candidates differ on whether to dismiss some part-time instructors
Oakton Community College in the coming months will be wrapping up the first semester of classes in a new science and health careers building, and welcoming a new president to succeed the college's longtime leader who is retiring.
But the Des Plaines-based school will also begin handing out pink slips to as many as 80 part-time faculty members to avoid state-imposed double-dipping penalties -- and it's that issue that separates the five candidates running for the college's board of trustees in next Tuesday's election.
Incumbent Trustees William Stafford and Theresa Bashiri-Remetio supported current President Margaret Lee's decision late last year to no longer hire instructors who already receive a pension from the State Universities Retirement System. Those affected instructors are in the middle of teaching their final semester at Oakton.
The college was fined $166,000 after officials said three instructors exceeded teaching limits imposed by a 2013 state law meant to discourage public colleges from paying those who have retired from full-time teaching jobs at other institutions.
Challenger Benjamin Salzburg agreed with the administration's decision, while fellow candidates Constantine Ress and Christopher Evdoxiadis are opposed.
Five candidates are running for two open seats on the board, each for a 6-year term. Whoever is elected will work with incoming President Joianne Smith, currently Oakton's vice president of student affairs. She was selected for the top administrative position this month by the current 7-member board, of which Stafford and Bashiri-Remetio are members.
On the issue of laying off some retired part-time instructors, Stafford, the current board chairman, said it's the school's fiduciary responsibility to avoid the state's penalties.
He disagreed with some Oakton faculty who said they teach part-time because their pensions are rather small in some cases. He cited examples of two "well-to-do" instructors: one who emailed the college while on a European river cruise, and the other who was using his Oakton salary to pay for his grandchild's education.
"These are retirees. These are people who are already drawing pensions. This is not a case of people who this is their only source of income," said Stafford, an 8-year incumbent from Evanston and chief financial officer for Evanston Township High School District 202.
Bashiri-Remetio, a two-year incumbent from Park Ridge, who is a financial analyst and an Oakton graduate, said it's unfortunate the state law led to the job cuts, but there's other teaching talent on which Oakton can rely.
"When the law has to prevail, there's not much we can do," she said.
Salzburg, a Northbrook optimization consultant and Oakton graduate, agreed the job losses were unfortunate, but it is the school's responsibility to keep up with changes in laws and protocols.
Ress, who worked as an adjunct at Oakton from 1999 to 2013, said instructors not being retained "have every right to be upset," especially the ones who aren't collecting lavish pensions.
"A lot of people who worked, that was their only income," said Ress, a Lincolnwood resident. "You cannot possibly survive with $7,000 a semester, or $14,000 a year. That's below the poverty line."
Evdoxiadis, an Oakton graduate from Evanston who is pursuing a political science degree at Loyola University in Chicago, said even though the college may take on fines, it "may be for the better" in the end.
"While it may be that there are some younger people out there who are just starting out that would like the opportunity to teach and may have the same passion, I think there's something to be said for the gained knowledge and wisdom of someone who's already been there and knows and sees what a lot of these kids need, and have dedicated their lives to education," Evdoxiadis said.
Oakton, based in Des Plaines with a satellite campus in Skokie, serves 17 suburbs primarily on the North Shore.