HCC eyes pay cuts for adjunct faculty

  • Holyoke Community College. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 11/24/2020 8:31:17 PM

HOLYOKE — Adjunct faculty members at Holyoke Community College could soon receive lower pay for classes that do not have at least 12 students enrolled, though a faculty and professional staff union is urging the college to hold off on this measure until at least next fall.

Under the college’s contract with the HCC chapter of the Massachusetts Community College Council (MCCC), the administration is allowed to prorate adjunct instructor pay for classes that are considered underenrolled. College officials say that the pay cuts would be instituted in an effort to preserve courses that would otherwise be canceled, but the union says that this change would have a particularly detrimental effect on its most vulnerable faculty members amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re opposed to it happening, period, but we also realize that by contract, the college can do it,” MCCC president Laura Schlegel said of the measure. “We would just like them to hold off during the pandemic.”

According to HCC President Christina Royal, the pay cuts are part of “a discussion about improving the student experience so we can minimize disruptions to the course schedule due to low registrations,” she wrote in a statement to the Gazette.

“We are having conversations about offering our adjunct, part-time faculty a different rate in order to teach courses that might otherwise be canceled due to low enrollment,” she said. “First and foremost, our students’ success and their ability to complete their degree remains a top priority when we are having these conversations.”

Schlegel said the possibility of these pay cuts was also raised last spring, but the union successfully appealed to the college to halt the measure for the fall 2020 semester. But last week, she said, college officials informed her that they would pursue the proration for the upcoming spring semester.

Pay differences would vary based on an employee’s position on the contract’s wage scale, Schlegel said, but in an example, she said an instructor teaching a class of 11 students could be paid between $800 and $1,000 less than they would otherwise receive for teaching a fully enrolled class of 12 students.

But, she added, “I think in the time of COVID, you need to think about the instructors and the fact that the most vulnerable people are the adjunct faculty members, but also students who might benefit from a lower enrolled class where they have more instructor time.”

Adjuncts are the lowest-paid faculty members, do not receive benefits and have no guarantee of a position from semester to semester, according to Schlegel.

“It doesn’t cost anything different to prepare a class for 11 than it does for 22,” she added.

Schlegel said the union’s current understanding is that the college will move forward with the pay cuts for next semester, but she hopes that the union’s conversations with administrators next month can persuade the college to push this measure back once again.

In April, the college announced that it would lay off 33 part-time, non-benefited employees “whose jobs simply do not translate to remote work environments,” Royal said at the time.

Royal declined to say whether any additional furloughs or layoffs have been instituted since this time, stating that the college is “not at liberty to discuss ongoing personnel decisions until such discussions are concluded” in bargaining with the union.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.

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