Thunder in the Rockies

BY CAPRICE LAWLESS

The work of our AAUP chapters in Colorado’s community college system has been in the headlines recently and will continue to be so. It shows how the small, sparky things we do (staffing hallway membership tables, distributing our crossword puzzles, bookmarks, fliers, cookbooks, etc.) can lead to lightning bolts of change. Briefly, here is what is happening.

In September, Nate Bork, an adjunct faculty member at Community College of Aurora, was dismissed well into the fall semester. The circumstances of that dismissal have sparked a Committee A investigation of CCA. As outlined in the AAUP press release announcing the investigation, “The stated reason was a lack of effectiveness in implementing a required ‘curriculum redesign’ for the introductory philosophy class he was teaching. Bork’s dismissal occurred soon after he asked his administrative superiors to review a letter he sent to the Higher Learning Commission, the college’s accreditor. The letter he sent conveyed his serious reservations about the mandated changes to the course, which he claimed degrade academic standards, with potentially adverse effects for students.”

Bork has taken a courageous stand in defense of academic freedom, and it is inspiring the rest of us as we move forward. As Steve Mumme, Colo. Conf. Co-President put it: “… the Nate Bork investigation has far reaching implications. It promises to spotlight due process protections for adjunct faculty statewide and nationally. And it highlights the need to honor the freedom to teach, for regular faculty and adjuncts, statewide and nationally. And it points to the stakes for Colorado’s community colleges, four colleges, and research intensive institutions in insuring that academic freedom and academic quality are not compromised by the GT-Pathways program.”

Although the primary focus for our organizing efforts remains one another, and our primary method  remains greeting one another in the hallways and out in the parking lots, press coverage helps bring into the fold those we have not yet met, and helps us tremendously in our legislative efforts.

Following AAUP’s announcement of the Committee A investigation, the Colorado Department of Education announced on Oct. 31 it was going to investigate the Community College of Aurora in regard to the quality of the guaranteed-transfer courses as well. However, we learned yesterday that the investigation by the CDHE was concluded by Nov. 2 and that the college had not violated any standards. A one-day “probe” is more of a poke or a pinch, of course, and is characteristic of “fact-finding” by some in Colorado’s governing bodies. That is partly why Colorado earns the low grade of D+ by the Center for Public Integrity.

These developments come directly on the heels of our filing a Request for a Legislative Audit. Over the summer, we had been meeting with lawmakers one on one, in anticipation of another try at legislation in the 2017 session. We have developed a small portfolio of reports, background materials and, of course, a copy of The Adjunct Cookbook we present to lawmakers when we meet them. It’s important to leave with them the correct materials so that they and their staffs have the facts at the ready, largely because of the afore-mentioned scarcity of available facts otherwise. In the course of those meetings, and as we are increasingly frustrated by the loss of several more stellar faculty members (and AAUP members), lawmakers urged us to file the audit, for numerous reasons. After we sent our request, we let the press know and so received front-page coverage in the Boulder Camera and Westword. The local NPR affiliate, KUNC, has deployed their education reporter to do a series on the employment inequities facing the adjunct faculty in the CCCS.

My colleagues and I continue to teach, even so, day and night in, and day and night out. In our scarce spare time, we advocate for this profession in all the ways we can manage. I watch them as they pull files from their car-trunk offices, rushing into the building, their coffee thermoses under their arms, ready for another long evening of teaching. I see them often during the day, working their second jobs at coffee shops and copy centers. They are evidence to the contrary of any headlines that indicate a dark picture of education today. They are, indeed, the light in it. To know that the flash of lightning figures now into that picture is making those long evenings feel a little shorter.

 

 

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