The struggles in higher education mirror those of PreK-12 IEA members with regard to increasing benefits and salary and having a voice in decisions that impact members.
Recruitment and Retention
As state funding for colleges and universities in Illinois has declined, faculty and staff salaries have failed to keep pace with inflation. Due to the salary decline, recruitment and retention of highly qualified faculty and staff have been problematic. Higher education faculty and staff are often recruited nationally and Illinois has lost pace with the salaries and benefits offered in other states. Recruitment and retention of people of color has become even more critical and more difficult to accomplish due to the budget decreases. Thus, Illinois has become less competitive in terms of recruitment and retention.
Most college and university faculty and staff in Illinois fall within the State Universities Retirement System. SURS has been a healthy and viable pension plan for many years. Recent changes in SURS are being analyzed to determine how changed policies and practices will impact higher education faculty and staff.
Academic freedom applies to both teaching and research. College and university faculty and staff should be free from institutional censorship or discipline for what is published or spoken.
Morteza Daneshdoost, a professor in the Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC) Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is a former president of the SIUC Faculty Association, one of the largest higher education IEA locals. Daneshdoost believes the structure of colleges and universities is both a help and hindrance in efforts to organize and improve conditions for students.
“Increasing efforts by administrations to limit academic freedom has proven to be a great organizing tool at colleges and universities,” he said. The SIUC faculty negotiated a “no layoffs” provision for faculty for the length of their contract and a student ratio of 1 teacher per 26 students, items not usually addressed on non-organized campuses.
Part-time faculty, who represent from 30-80 percent of the faculty in colleges and universities in Illinois, are typically underpaid and unrepresented. That trend is changing as more and more part-time faculty groups are being organized and are enjoying gains at the bargaining table. The IEA successfully lobbied for the passage of two laws making it easier for part-time faculty to organize on campuses throughout Illinois, clearing the way for significant improvement in compensation and working conditions.
Two of the first higher education locals established in Illinois were the Oakton Community College Adjunct Faculty Association (OCC-AFA) and the SIUC Civil Service Association (SIUC ACsE), both established approximately 20 years ago.
Barbara Dayton, OCC-AFA president and a member of the IEA Board of Directors, recalls the early days of the association. “We thought that once we organized, other part-time groups would follow. We were unprepared for the opposition that the administrations in other community colleges would offer. Also, because of their lack of job security, many adjuncts were afraid to join the newly formed union. They were concerned that, if they joined and the administration found out they were members, they would be fired. It was not until we had bargained our first contract, and adjuncts realized the gains to be made from unionization (affiliation with IEA), that many became actively involved.”
The OCC-AFA contract set the stage for improved salary and benefits for the nearly 27,000 unrepresented adjunct faculty throughout the state who suffer with very low salaries and no benefits.
The Illinois Education Association has been aggressively organizing higher education faculty and staff throughout the state. These new and future members of the IEA value their rights and strive to improve working conditions on campuses throughout the state.
Recently organized locals include the Illinois State University non-tenure track faculty, the Triton College adjunct faculty and the Prairie State adjunct faculty. The University of Illinois visiting academic professionals won an election in the spring of 2005. Other organizing campaigns on college and university campuses are ongoing.
Higher education classified staff covered by civil service are learning that being organized can improve their working conditions and that organizing and becoming an IEA member can be a very healthy affiliation, according to Ruth Pommier, president of the SIUC ACsE.
“In 2003,” said Pommier, “the civil service community at SIUC was experiencing particularly difficult times. Budget cuts resulting from the state’s floundering economy impacted ACsE with the loss of 31 classified staff positions and the potential displacement of 70 other employees. IEA took a highly visible role by sponsoring a series of informational meetings as well as a stress management workshop to address the concerns of affected employees. Visibility and involvement resulted in ACsE/IEA/NEA gaining the respect of the university administration, the wider campus community and the people of southern Illinois.”
Kathy Phillips, an Elgin Community College Association (SSECCA) classified staff member, notes the growth of her local and the benefits gained as a result of being an organized higher education local. “SSECCA has made numerous gains since organizing our first contract. We have language that has helped to improve hiring practices; we have successfully conducted a job study for fair and equitable pay; we have bargained retirement benefits that were not available in the past; and members enjoy paid time off in conjunction with some of the holidays and breaks that faculty members also receive. These are issues that classified staff are not likely to achieve without a collective voice.”
Faculty and staff at higher education institutions are discovering that collective actions provide opportunities that individuals working alone cannot achieve. As Daneshdoost has indicated to the SIUC Faculty Association members, “By working together, by thinking together, by staying
united, we will achieve ambitious goals.”
Skills training and professional development are vital components of building a quality workforce. Profes-sional development for Higher Ed ESPs is clearly necessary and, in many cases, required by state or federal statutes. It is also the foundation on which the higher education institution builds a quality workforce in order to achieve its mission — enhancing student achievement. Furthermore, all employees should always have meaningful opportunities to be lifelong learners.
Meaningful professional development for Higher Ed ESP can be defined as:
- New employee orientation programs.
- In-service training programs.
- Relevant and current skill set training.
- Career-enhancing professional development programs.
Higher Ed ESPs have challenging professions that become more demanding and complex every year. Remaining current, informed and trained is difficult given the constantly expanding nature of the jobs they do. Relevant, appropriate, and current programs and information for Higher Ed ESPs are essential.
One effective method used by teachers in public school systems for many years is peer mentoring. Local association mentoring programs provide a place for employees to reach out for advice, support, information, and training and contribute to a results-oriented environment benefiting everyone. They can also raise the attention level and focus of the administration in order to better engage them in providing ongoing training and professional development for Higher Ed ESPs.
You Are the Local Expert: Local Talent/Local Training
When developing training and information programs, never overlook the special expertise already present among Higher Ed employees themselves. Many Higher Ed ESPs are residents of the community in which they work and have special skills, abilities and connections in their communities that make them particularly valuable and relevant in local training programs. They not only understand the higher education community, they live in it, work in it and vote in it! They are the firefighters, club members, parents, taxpayers, EMTs and local volunteers.
Local leaders should be aware of their members’ expertise. How many are EMTs or volunteer firefighters? Who is on a town council or county board or commission? How many speak more than one language? Who is a military veteran with specialized training? Who volunteers at the community hospital? Who has a spouse who is a police officer, nurse club member? Does anyone in their second career track have special experience from a former profession? Which members are community religious leaders? Which members are elected officials or have spouses or relatives who are?
These members possess unique and valuable skills and can provide special resources for training and professional development programs. They are already sharing their talents with students and the campus community every day as they do their jobs. This special, local member expertise is a vital component of Building a Higher Ed ESP Quality Workforce! Discovering, gathering, and then using all of this local talent should be an ongoing endeavor by all local Associations in order to enhance recognition of Education Support Professionals in all higher education environments.