About ten teachers met with Lane president Mary Spilde and other senior college administrators on Tuesday, Jan. 20 to air their concerns regarding last June’s bargaining agreement between faculty and the college administration. The agreement allows for an increase in class sizes from the previous maximum of 24 students to the current 28 maximum.
Spilde said that the meeting was a very cordial exchange of information.
“I shared some history [with the teachers] of how we got here from my perspective. I said we wouldn’t even be talking about this if the state hadn’t disinvested in the college,” Spilde said, adding that Oregon is 47th in the country regarding higher education funding. “Nor would we be talking about this if we didn’t have to align the number of classes we have with student demand,” she said.
Spilde commented that she didn’t know of any organization that wouldn’t be aligning staffing with demand. She explained that when the maximum class size was set at 24 students, by the first, second, third or fourth week of term, attrition led to class sizes of sometimes 22, 21, 20, or 19 students.
What that meant from a financial standpoint was that more classes were being scheduled than was needed to meet student demand.
“That was the driver,” Spilde said.
The decision, ratified by both parties, was to increase the maximum allowable class size by up to four students in selected courses. “We also agreed to a guarantee that we’d accomplish a reduction of 1500 credits over the course of the year,” Spilde added, explaining that the credit reduction would result in savings from offering fewer classes. Class sizes and credit reduction are inextricably linked Spilde said.
“This was very much a joint project,” she said, explaining that it was her understanding that the union leadership would go back and forth between the administration and people in various departments to discuss the impact of the agreement.
Spilde commented that, even though faculty ratified the contract, she heard that there wasn’t communication between the union leadership and faculty members. “I feel badly about that,” she said, explaining that administration does not communicate with faculty about tentative agreements.
“The union leadership is the exclusive representative of the faculty,” Spilde said. “I can’t go off and bargain with individual faculty; that’s called individual bargaining. It’s not legal.”
Spilde emphasized that the union leadership and the college administration both bargained in good faith to find a solution. “It solved multiple problems, and it allowed us to put money on the table. It allowed us to not lay off people. It allowed us to balance the budget without eliminating any contracted people or programs,” she said.
In fall term 2014, 552 sections were increased in size, and 483 of those were increased by four students – 51 by three – and seven by two. Of the 483 sections, 72 were writing classes, and they were increased by four. So writing classes represent 13 percent of the total classes that were increased, and 14.9 percent of those increased by four students.
Spilde said that while there has been attrition in some classes, not all classes have returned to the target number. “You do have writing classes that have 27-28 students,” she said, readily acknowledging the teachers’ complaint as perfectly understandable. She said that she is attempting to find a solution, adding that in doing so everything must be taken into account.
“We are looking for solutions, and I think the faculty are too,” Spilde said. “The solution is probably going to have to take place between the union and the college, because that’s who made the agreement in the first place.”
Spilde said that the problem is not a simple one, and there is no simple solution. “We need to think through the consequences, intended and unintended, if we’re going to change this,” she said.
“I’m going to meet with the union leadership, and we’ll discuss what is possible here,” Spilde said. “I admit I’m not sure what the solution is to keep all the pieces in place.”
Members of the Board of Education have asked for options and alternatives and Spilde said that she is looking for them. Regarding cutting programs she said that to make an impact, a lot needs to be cut. “My take is that they [the board] want to keep the comprehensive mission.” Spilde said.
The strands of that mission, academic transfer, career and technical, developmental education and lifelong learning would need to remain if the mission is to remain comprehensive. However, what might happen, she added, is that the college might offer less within the strands.
Solutions come from conversations and trying to figure out what is possible, Spilde offered, saying that possibilities often emerge that are worthy of further exploration, and they may lead to a solution.
“I’m just trying to figure out how to make it happen, how to make it work and make payroll and keep the college on an even keel,” she said.