AAUP to Investigate Firing of PTer at Colorado Comm College

by Quincy Snowdon

The American Association of University Professors is going to bat for a former Community College of Aurora employee who alleges he was unfairly fired, the association announced Oct. 24. Past AAUP investigations on behalf of part-time faculty who’ve alleged unfair dismissal include ones at CUNY and North Idaho College.

In a news release, the association said it will send an investigating committee to CCA Dec. 2 to conduct interviews with staff in an effort to learn more about the firing of former adjunct philosophy professor Nathanial Bork.

CCA adjunct faculty member Nathanial Bork alleges his college employer demanded he lower academic standards. (Photo N. Bork)
CCA adjunct faculty member Nathanial Bork alleges his college employer demanded he lower academic standards. (Photo N. Bork)

A professor at CCA for about six years, Bork was allegedly let go from his part-time position for failing to implement a “curriculum redesign” in an introductory philosophy class, according to the association. They claim Bork was released Sept. 13, “soon after” he sent a letter to the Higher Learning Commission — CCA’s accreditor — that took issue with the proposed curricular changes.

Those changes allegedly included a 20 percent reduction in course content, a required 80 percent student success rate, a reduction in writing assignments, the required use of a paper-grading rubric, and mandatory group instruction every other class, according to a Sept. 20 letter AAUP Associate Secretary and Director Gregory Scholtz sent to CCA President Betsy Oudenhoven.

Internal CCA documents provided by Bork appeared to confirm those requirements.

The curricular changes have been put into effect in six introductory humanities classes — two in philosophy, two in history and two in English — with high enrollment and low performance, particularly among minority students, according to CCA officials. The changes, which exist under the moniker “gateway to success,” stem from House Bill 14-1319, which called for the state to alter its funding formula for state colleges and universities in an effort to bolster performance and transparency.

The curricular tweaks first took shape at CCA in the fall of 2015, and were fleshed out by adjunct and full-time faculty over the course of the past year, according to Bobby Pace, chair of social science at the college.

Pace said the Colorado Community College System awarded CCA a $48,000 innovation grant to implement the new curricula in the aforementioned six classes this school year.

The association asserted that Bork’s dismissal violated his academic freedoms.

“The AAUP holds that ‘dismissal will not be used to restrain faculty members in their exercise of academic freedom or other rights of American citizens,’” the organization said in a press release.

Pace said teachers have been able to retain their autonomy in implementing the curricula, but did not elaborate on the various contingencies outlined in the Sept. 20 letter.

“As a person who has overseen some of the implementation strategies in history and philosophy, we in no instance mandated specific individuals to be taught, (or) specific scholars to be mentioned or not mentioned,” he said. “We really believe that we have allowed for the academic freedom of our instructors … to choose how they are going to implement this authentically in their own classrooms.”

Bork refuted Pace’s claims.

“I was told, ‘here’s the text book you will teach from…here’s how you will teach, you will not assign hard papers, you will not make the class difficult,’” Bork said. “Basically, they turned the entire class into a unit that could be done by anybody. There was almost no freedom involved whatsoever by the time this program got implemented.”

Scholtz said the goal is to get Bork a hearing with the CCA administration, and that the professor should be reinstated until such an inquiry occurs. Bork said that while he doesn’t plan to pursue additional recourse, he is working with state Sen. John Kefalas (D-Ft. Collins) on crafting new legislation that would further protect adjunct university professors.

Bork was serving as the association’s chapter president at CCA when he was terminated, according to Scholtz. He said the AAUP chapter in Aurora does not function as a union, though some of the association’s chapters at other universities across the country do represent their members during collective bargaining.

Despite being let go about three weeks into the current CCA semester, Bork was paid his complete wages of $2,559 for the three-credit course, according to Scholtz’s Sept. 20 letter.

The association only sends committees to investigate claims, “in which severe departures from widely accepted principles and standards on academic freedom, tenure, or governance have been alleged and persist despite efforts to resolve them,” according to a statement.

Scholtz said this case piqued the association’s interest largely because of Bork’s status as an adjunct professor.

“One thing that makes it salient and makes it stand out is the fact that the faculty member here is part time … we’ve done cases of part-time faculty before, but not very many,” he said. “Another element that makes it interesting is this question of standards versus student success.”

The committees are comprised of academics from unrelated institutions. Scholtz said the group headed to CCA in December will include professors — who are also AAUP members — from University of Wisconsin, University of Missouri and a community college in Texas.

If the AAUP determines that violations have occurred and the group is still unable to find “an appropriate resolution” with CCA, the organization could put the institution on a self-published censure list, according to a press release. Updated regularly since 1969, the list currently contains more than 50 universities.

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