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Colorado House Education Committee Kills Adjunct Faculty Protections

The Colorado state House Education Committee killed a bill in February that would have given adjunct faculty some job security at institutions of higher education.

Representative Randy Fischer, who sponsored the bill, said he was disappointed the committee indefinitely postponed the bill but said the 7 – 6 vote was not unexpected.

He said the issue of adjunct job security is one that needs to be addressed, but he doesn’t know what the solution is because the makeup of the majority-Republican state House would have to change in order for such a measure to have any chance of succeeding.

“I just think we really need to address the issue of fairness for our adjunct or contingent faculty,” Fischer, a Democrat from Fort Collins, said in a phone interview.

Under current state law, most public employees –– including adjunct university and college faculty –– are employed “at-will,” meaning either the employer or the employee can terminate employment at any time for any reason.

Although adjuncts are usually hired under contract for a specific term, such as a semester or school year, their at-will contracts are not legally binding, so an adjunct can quit or be fired, even mid-semester.

The at-will status also means universities do not need to provide justification for firing a contingent teacher. Teachers have no means outside of the court system of contesting what they believe to be an unjustified or illegal firing.

The bill killed by the Education Committee would have required institutions to provide a legitimate, written reason for terminating or not renewing a contingent teacher’s contract and would give both the employer and employee the right to go through an arbitration process to seek a remedy if either party violates the terms of a contract.

As with many committee votes, Fischer said most committee members did not offer reasons for their vote, though he said Representative Carol Murray, a Republican representing Douglas County, was concerned the bill would open the door for lawsuits against higher education institutions.

Fischer has no immediate plans to introduce any similar proposals in the legislature, but CSU management professor Ray Hogler, who testified in favor of the bill last week, said he hopes CSU can pass its own policies to offer similar protections.

The current system, he said, is not consistent with good employee relations practices even in the private sector, where large companies such as Anheuser-Busch and Frito-Lay offer employees access to arbitration procedures to dispute firings.

Hogler said providing adjunct faculty no grievance procedures or job protection doesn’t feel fair and goes against the very notion of contracts. Helping employees feel they’ve been treated fairly, he said, is a good way to maintain high morale and prevent lawsuits.

“I think it’s a very short-sided and negative way to go about maintaining relationships,” Hogler said.


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