Columbia College in Chicago was sanctioned by the National Labor Relations Board last Friday for refusing to offer photography instructor and faculty union president Diana Vallera a course that she had expected to teach. This comes on top of a previous decision against the school concerning broad cuts in adjunct hours dating back to 2010. Many schools face the same dilemmas. Adjunct hours are dropping at campuses around the country, not because of declining enrollment, but Obamacare.
The private college has allowed adjunct faculty to organize under the Part Time Faculty Association, connected with the National Education Association. In the past two years, instructors at the college found their course loads sliced and filed a grievance. Many higher education institutions have been forced to cut adjunct faculty courseloads due to Obamacare mandates set to kick in next year.
Columbia was forced to reinstate the course hours to the instructors.
At the time, union president Diana Vallera was quoted by the Chronicle for Higher Education as saying it was "a tremendous victory for part-time faculty" that "recognized the severity of the situation." The most recent ruling against Columbia College concerned their attempt to cut Vallera's hours. An administrative judge found the decision discriminatory because of her role in the college's earlier legal setback.
Last fall, House Republicans held hearings to raise concerns about
the NLRB's apparent targeting of private colleges. At this hearing,
according to a Chronicle of Higher Education story, Representative Phil Roe of Tennessee characterized the NLRB as "utterly determined to advance a
culture of union favoritism. The chair of the labor subcommittee accused the labor board of "now exploring actions that could
bring significant changes to private higher-education institutions."
While Democrats at the time claimed the worries had little substance, the ruling last week indicates otherwise.
David Baime, senior vice president for governmental relations for the American Association of Community Colleges told the Chicago Tribune earlier this month, “With almost 70 percent of our (classroom) credits now taught by
adjuncts, the colleges are extremely concerned about how the law will be
interpreted and the extra costs they might get hit with.”
Clearly private colleges, like other businesses, need to shift labor costs. The NLRB ruling, however, penalized the college for shifting the burdens of Obamacare in such a way as to not harm student learning.
Obamacare has forced every college and university to make tough decisions about the future of part time faculty. The NLRB is forcing unionized private campuses to shift the burden of these costs somewhere other than labor. Adjuncts can get teaching jobs at more than one campus. Students are stuck with either skyrocketing tuition and debt or a less effective learning environment.
Blame, however, should fall on the campuses that allowed unionization in the first place. They should have known that this was a snake when they picked it up.