By Ron Topham, NJEA UniServ Field Rep. for Higher Education
The number of tenure track faculty continues to decline. Community colleges are hiring either lecturers or similarly-titled positions. These positions are usually 12 months and 35 hours per week. They combine faculty duties with some administrative responsibilities. The hiring of lecturers negatively impacts the hiring of faculty.
At Ocean County College during the last ten years, only three faculty positions were filled. During the same time, approximately 50 lecturers were hired. There has not been a faculty position filled at Warren County Community College since 2013, but numerous lecturers have been hired. All the health-related programs at Hudson County Community College are taught by lecturers.
In each of these cases NJEA has filed a Clarification of Unit Petition (CU) with PERC. It is hoped that PERC will rule in favor of these petitions and allow NJEA locals to bargain the terms and conditions of employment for lecturers. Recently this hope has brightened. There have not yet been any findings declared for these petitions. However, PERC has ruled on another CU brought by the Union County College Chapter of the American Association of University Professors concerning the same lecturer issue.
In the Union County College petition the association claims that the Academic Specialist fell within the recognition clause of the most recent contract because they are full-time members of the college’s instructional staff and are not among any of the provision’s “excluded” employees.
The college opposed the petition. The college argued that the recognition clause excluded the Academic Specialist. They argued that the Academic Specialists were supervisors and if placed in the faculty association unit would create a conflict of interest. There cannot be supervisors and the people being supervised in the same unit. The college also claimed the position should not be in the unit because it is managerial and confidential. They play a role in policy formulation, policy implementation, and budgetary needs. The college stated that the Academic Specialists were teaching only nine academic credits per semester, rather than 15. Therefore, their function was not totally instructional. Finally the college contended that there was no “community of interest.”
After an investigatory conference, PERC asked both sides for response to specific questions and to provide supporting documentation. Both sides provided the requested information.
On December 20, 2018, PERC ruled for the association’s petition. The commission rejected all the college’s reasons for not placing the Academic Specialist within the association.
The commission also cites the Workplace Democracy Enhancement Act (WDEA). The Act provides support for clarifying the existing unit to include Academic Specialist. Under WDEA, employees who “perform negotiation unit work shall be included in the negotiations unit represented by the exclusive representative employee organization.” This ruling did not give the lecturers (Academic Specialists) academic rank nor were they covered by the faculty’s contract. It gave the association the ability to negotiate the terms and conditions of employment for individual employees holding the title of Academic Specialist.
This is an important ruling. We hope to see similar rulings as it may discourage colleges from hiring lecturers and similar titles rather than tenure-track faculty.