In 2010, union President Frederick van Hartesveldt III told Grand Rapids Community College trustees, “We have become GRAC — Grand Rapids Adjunct College.” Van Hartesveldt said the college had about 260 full-time professors, but 940 adjunct instructors. The full-timers covered 4,470 contact hours — time spent before students — while part-timers covered 4,620, about 51 percent. Shortly after speaking to the trustees, van Hartesveldt backed away from his own insulting comments in a letter to the college’s part-time faculty, some of whom had taken exception to being being attacked by the union to which the contract requires them to pay dues. He wrote:
“Please don’t construe my comments to the board of trustees as an attack on adjunct faculty. To run our entire college that way is institutional mediocrity. It doesn’t mean that adjuncts who teach their classes at or above expectations with little support are mediocre. It means it’s a poor model to achieve institutional excellence.”
In November 2012, the president of the Grand Rapids Community College faculty union released data that showed GRCC employed about 257 permanent full-time faculty and 592 adjuncts. Union president van Hartesveldt claimed that the increase in adjunct faculty has “changed the culture of the college.” And not for the better. Learning was suffering, or so claimed van Hartesveldt. According to W-2 forms released by the college, van Hartesveldt earned $137,758 in 2010, earning more than 87 percent of the college’s other 256 full-time faculty. In fact, again according to W-2 forms, over 200 of GRCC’s full-time faculty earned over $100,000 in 2010. In addition to their six-figure salaries, full-time faculty at GRCC can be paid up to $3,567 per course for extra teaching called “overload” classes. It’s a popular option — 72 percent of the full-time faculty accepted the extra work in the fall 2010 semester.
The pay for the union’s part-time faculty members? Under the prior contract, adjunct faculty could receive between $650 and $1,354 per-contact hour, depending on when they were hired and what degree they hold. New adjuncts will be paid $937 per-contact hour, according to the contract. Now, after more than two years at the negotiating table, the Grand Rapids Community College Faculty Association has a new contract.
The college’s seven-member board recently unanimously approved a five-year contract for faculty, an agreement that freezes salaries for two years, eliminates pay increases based on longevity and creates a system where future raises are based on merit.
“There’s several areas where clearly over time we will see a reduction in total compensation to a faculty member,” GRCC President Steven Ender said following the meeting.
Doing away with cost-of-living increases and annual pay raises based on longevity – known as steps – will save the college $4 million over the duration of the contract, Ender estimated.
The contract – which runs through the 2015-16 school year – will affect about 257 permanent full-time faculty and 592 adjuncts. Because it was passed before March 28 – when Michigan’s new right-to-work laws go into effect – negotiators were able to inclue a provision requiring all faculty to pay union dues.
Several board members said they were pleased an agreement has finally been reached.
“It gives us the opportunity to move on,” said Trustee Ellen James.
A tentative contract agreement was reached last April, but faculty and administrators have since spent months developing an evaluation system that would base future pay increases on performance.
“When you do anything of this magnitude, there’s certainly concerns around implementation,” Ender said. “So we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the system we need to implement at this institution because we would like to have it and we will have it in place for our faculty beginning with this next academic year.”
Fred van Hartesveldt said the evaluation system represents a “cultural shift” at the college.
“The process is going to be a huge culture shift for everybody, both faculty and administration,” said van Hartesveldt, who’s taught at the college since 1984. “It’s a huge undertaking and it’s on a very short timetable because the college has to get that ready to roll starting July 1.”
So far, faculty members are seeking more information on the process, he said.
“When they see it, my guess is they’re going to look at it and try to figure out just what they have to do to comply with it,” van Hartesveldt said.
While Republican lawmakers in Michigan have voiced anger over lengthy union contracts recently signed at some K-12 districts and an eight-year agreement at Wayne State University in Detroit and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Ender said he doesn’t believe GRCC’s contract will draw a lot of scrutiny.
In part, that’s because GRCC hasn’t re-opened an existing contract for negotiation.
“What we’ve done here has been completely different,” Ender said. “Our faculty have been working without a contract now for two-years, and we’ve been negotiating a five-year contract for two-years.”
The new contract is one component of the administration’s attempt to put the college on more sustainable financial footing. A 2011 study commissioned by the college deemed full-time faculty highly compensated compared with their peers.