GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A new three-year contract for faculty at Grand Rapids Community College is causing a rift between some adjunct and tenured professors.
“Neither party is perfectly happy or satisfied, but I think both parties are thinking it’s fair and something that is beneficial to the faculty and the college as a whole,” said GRCC Board President Bert Bleke.
Hours before Monday’s vote, adjunct instructor Nathan Sneller and a couple of his coworkers asked a Kent County Circuit Court judge to delay the Board of Trustees vote on the contract. However, the contract was unanimously approved by the board before the judge could hear the request.
“It was a decent contract for the full-time faculty and not so much for the adjunct,” said Sneller.
Adjunct professors are supposed to be part-time and do not receive the usual perks of being a full-time professor, including tenure.
They outnumber full-time faculty and handle about 40 percent of the teaching load at GRCC.
Some teach as a way to supplement a career outside academics, others try to make a living often teaching at multiple schools.
The new contract reflects the administration’s conclusion five years ago that adjunct instructor pay was too high compared to their wages at other state community colleges. Since that time, the pay for incoming faculty has been reduced so GRCC’s adjunct instructors rank in the middle of the pack or even lower.
“The ones who have taken a slight decrease, in comparison to other institutions, are still doing OK,” Bleke said.
This year, there will be a 1.4 percent increase in overall salaries and a 1 percent increase over the next two years. However, the details reveal a more complicated picture.
The contract creates a separate pay scale for newly hired instructors that will be lower, but it also lowered pay for some long-term adjuncts.
Sneller says about 125 of the college’s 481 adjunct instructors will see their pay cut by 5 percent.
“In this contract, they said ‘No, you don’t need that bonus and we will pay you less than we pay our full-time people,’ and that’s not the way it typically works in professional ranks, at least not in the career I’ve made,” said Sneller, who also runs a small business.
Frank Conner, president of GRCC’s Faculty Association, views it a different way.
“Most adjunct either kept their pay the same or got a pay increase. I fully appreciate the perspective of those who got a pay cut. I didn’t want that to happen,” said Conner, who is also a psychology professor.
“There are some who do well and some who do not do as well. That’s not usual; that’s the way it is when you negotiate contracts,” Bleke said.
“The insult of being told we’re not worth enough when a lot of us can do the math and see we are is probably what riled the masses more than anything,” Sneller said.
The union was also unhappy.
Conner said the administration was determined to cut adjunct pay and nothing could have changed that. He says while full-time instructors voted by more than 2-to-1 for the contract, adjunct professors opposed it by higher margins.
Sneller says part of the problem is that adjuncts were cut out of the negotiating process. He says he would like to see changes, including make the vote time more convenient.
“Change the way we vote a little bit because adjunct faculty only get half a vote right now,” he said.
Sneller says he and other adjuncts will be meeting with union officials to discuss ways that they could have a greater voice in future contract negotiations.
However, the administration said there will be no further talks regarding the contract for the next three years.