Saturday, March 31, 2012

Legislative Triumph in Colorado!

A giant step forward for #ContingentFaculty everywhereHB 1144 passed the Senate, now awaits expected signing. The good news story we've been following has the ending we hoped for. In my opinion, it also speaks to future possibilities for Program for Change, authored by Jack Longmate and Frank Fosco. "Colorado Adjunct Project" team member and long time contingent faculty activist, Don Eron of the Colorado AAUP writes [emphasis and links added], 

Dear Colleagues,

You will be interested to learn that on Tuesday Colorado House Bill 1144, the so-called "Contingent Faculty Bill," was passed by the Democratic-controlled State Senate, 22-12. This followed on the heels of a dramatic, and surprising, 36-29 victory last month in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. House Bill 1144 is now on the desk of the Democratic governor, who is expected to sign it.

The law will give state universities and colleges the option of engaging in binding employment contracts with NTTF for up to three years. Previously, all faculty not on a tenure track had been declared by Colorado law to be at-will employees.

While the law will be "permissive"—a legislative term of art that means that it is optional—I predict that within a few years all state colleges and universities will provide binding contracts for faculty who serve at 50% time or greater. The provost at Metropolitan State University testified that her institution has every expectation of providing faculty with the security of binding employment contracts. I predict that other institutions will soon follow, if they want to attract the best teachers.

Randy Fischer, the state representative from Ft. Collins who wrote the legislation, met with faculty groups and administrators throughout Colorado to discuss the legislation. He did this with the help of the state AAUP. Representative Fischer has long understood that one way to improve the quality of undergraduate education is to improve working conditions for the faculty who actually teach the classes. But it was encouraging and moving to see that other legislators are now starting to "get it." One state senator called the circumstance of contingency an "open wound," a "malignancy," and referred to contingent faculty as the equivalent of "indentured servants." As has often been observed, it is when academia's "dirty little secret" is told and discussed outside of academia—when the conversation is with parents, alumni, employers, legislators—that progress will follow.

The questioning of witnesses, particularly in the House, was often contentious. A friend of mine, who is a lobbyist, told me that she had seldom seen witnesses treated with such disrespect by legislators. One witness was bullied by a Republican representative who later not only voted for the bill in committee (his change-of-heart swung the legislation) but, at the risk of alienating his caucus in an election year, spoke persuasively on the floor of the House on its behalf. An unlikely hero, he would convince three other Republicans to cross partisan lines and support the contingent faculty bill.

These contingent faculty testified for HB 1144: Suzanne Hudson, Mary Long, Douglas Duncan, and Don Eron of CU at Boulder; Suzanne Cook and Susan Finger of CU at Colorado Springs; Michael Harper of CU at Denver; Laura Thomas of Colorado State University. Sue Doe, the contingent activist (and New Faculty Majority board member) who is now an assistant professor at Colorado State, also testified, as did Ray Hogler, a professor of management at CSU who is a labor lawyer and federal arbitrator—and it is nice having someone on your side who knows labor law better than any legislator or lobbyist. As mentioned, the provost at Metro State testified. At the Senate hearing, the chief financial officer at Colorado State spoke on behalf of the legislation. Steve Mumme, a professor of political science at Colorado State, also showed up to testify.

Many of the above, as well as numerous others who were unable to testify, worked very hard behind the scenes to make this happen. In particular, this victory is a triumph for the Colorado Conference of the AAUP, in my view the most progressive state conference in the country.

This bill is not the remedy—as long as faculty are required to continually reapply for their jobs, meaningful academic freedom will remain an abstraction—but it is a very good step. In the future, there will be other steps. 

As many of you on this list can attest, it is not often in academic labor that we get to report good news. I am pleased to report this good news. In Colorado, a remarkable team worked together and changed state law.

Don Eron
CU Boulder

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