Tenure Under Attack in Kentucky Community Colleges

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The AFT's higher education locals in Kentucky are looking for support, as they confront a grave challenge to their academic freedom and job security. In December, the board of regents for the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, citing financial concerns and a need for flexibility, took up a proposal to eliminate tenure at the 16 colleges across the state. The plan, which is likely to come to a final vote in March, would take effect July 1, 2009, when all new faculty would be offered either one- to four-year contracts or at-will employee status. The 168 faculty members currently eligible for tenure will be grandfathered in under the old policy.

The Kentucky Community College Faculty and Staff Alliance (AFT Local 6010) and the Technical Faculty and Staff Alliance (AFT Local 6083) are leading the mobilization to pass resolutions opposing the proposal in faculty senates, circulate petitions against the new policy and contact legislators.

The faculty senate at Jefferson Community and Technical College passed a resolution and has posted a petition online. The Kentucky locals have invited union members from around the country to sign the petition and help fight a pernicious policy that could spread to other states.

Kentucky's community college system employs more than 4,000 faculty and staff, and in recent years has been moving toward employment of more nonpermanent academic staff. An analysis of the system shows that, in the early part of this decade, 20 to 30 tenure-track faculty and only a handful of term-contract employees were hired, but by 2006-07, the number of term contracts had grown to 90.

Now, with this latest move, the faculty and staff organizations fear the system is moving so far into a corporatized model that quality and service to students, especially in rural parts of the state, will be diminished.

"In some areas, Eastern Kentucky, for example," says Connie Sanders, president of the TFSA, "it's already hard to get good, qualified faculty to come teach. If they're not guaranteed a tenure-track position, they're not even going to bother to try to apply."

Paul C. Callan, an associate professor at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, is one of two faculty representatives on the board of regents and is a member of the KCCFSA. In an article in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Callan reported that he is inundated with e-mails from faculty members who support keeping the tenure system.

On Dec. 10, Bill Londrigan, president of the state AFL-CIO, wrote to Michael B. McCall, KCTCS president, expressing "profound opposition to the elimination of due process rights for the faculty and staff." Londrigan challenged claims that eliminating tenure would provide flexibility; the system already hires a majority of its employees into part-time, adjunct and short-term contract positions. "The argument that this is the 'trend' in higher education does not indicate empirically in any way that this is actually in the best interest of the system," he wrote.

On the same day the Kentucky board considered the proposal to abolish tenure, the AFT released a report that documents the growing trend of increased use of temporary academic staff, "Reversing Course: The Troubled State of Academic Staffing and a Path Forward." It outlines an approach to ensuring fair pay for contingent professionals and to rebuilding full-time, tenured faculty lines.

January 5, 2009