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Performance-Based Faculty Union Contract at City Colleges of Chicago

By Leo Welch

Illinois has implemented performance-based funding for the twelve public universities and forty eight community colleges in the state. This means that allocations to the public institutions of higher education will be based in part, upon performance metrics incorporated into budget recommendations to the Governor and General Assembly. This funding component is in effect for the current fiscal year 2013.

It is hoped that performance-based funding will allow the state to meet the Complete College America goal by 2025, that 60% of Illinois adults will have a college degree or credential. Performance-based funding is based on performance metrics designed to promote student retention and success in degree and certificate completion.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) is the state agency that determines these specific performance metrics that in turn will determine the monetary allocation to each public institution. To that end, the IBHE has appointed a Performance Funding Refinement Committee that determines the specific metrics that are utilized. Of the 25 members of the committee, seven are staff members of the IBHE, 17 are administrators from the public universities and one is a staff member from the Illinois Community College Board. No full-time faculty are represented on this committee - even though the burden of performance will have the greatest impact on faculty.

The impact on faculty is illustrated by a surprise announcement on September 2, 2012, that the Cook County College Teachers Union (CCCTU) had agreed to a five-year contract that emphasizes "pay for performance." The CCCTU represents approximately 1,500 full-time professors and professional staff members at seven City Colleges of Chicago. The contract was ratified by 72 percent of the voting faculty and 80% of the professional staff member.

A vocal minority, including union leaders at two campuses, recommended not voting for the contract. One of the sticking points was the elimination of pay scale "steps" from the contract. Steps in the contract incorporate an automatic pay increase based on years of service. Some of the opponents view this as an attack on seniority rights. Cheryl Hyman, the Chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago, has stated the goal of rewarding "performance over seniority." The CCCTU contract will take effect in July of 2013. Steps will be retained in the first year and be replaced with a cost-of-living increase in the remaining four years. The contract also calls for a one percent increase based on the following metrics: The number of students who earn degrees or certificates. The number of at-risk students earning degree or certificates. The number of students who transfer to a four-year institution within three years of enrollment. The number of remedial students who advance to college-level work. The number of new full-time students who earn 30 credits in their first year. The number of part-time students who earn 15 credits in their first year. The percentage of former students who are employed in the fields for which they received training.

The median earnings of graduates in fields that they studied. Larent Pernot, a Vice Chancellor at City Colleges, said that a joint faculty-administration committee will meet to discuss issues such as grade inflation. The contract states that grades will not be used to measure student success. The one percent "bonus" for student success is the current allocation that was established by the IBHE. However, an advisor to the IBHE recommended that performance-based funding should be much higher with a goal of 50% in the future.

A 50% goal for performance-based funding of Illinois higher education is not out of the question. Based on a 2010 law in Tennessee, nearly all of the higher education appropriation is based on credit completion and graduation rates. Since the 1970s half of the states have some form of performance based funding, with the prediction that other states will follow. For example, Ohio plans to award 30% of state funds by 2015, on outcomes. Rudy Fichtenbaum, Professor of Economics at Wright State University and President of the American Association of University Professors, had a negative reaction to the CCCTU contract. He stated that he does "not buy the argument that bonuses improve accountability." He also expressed concerns on holding faculty accountable for the earnings of graduates. Richard Boris, Director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College in New York City, indicated that the ideas in the Chicago contract may soon be seen at more colleges. The concern expressed by Boris could be prophetic. Linda Hefferin, a Professor of Business at Elgin Community College, stated that the administration at Elgin informed the faculty union that performance-based funding for faculty salaries would be on the table during the next negotiations.

Various speculations exist as to why the CCCT union agreed to these terms without a battle. One possible reason is the mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel. The trustees at the city colleges are all appointed by the mayor and are expected to do his bidding. In the rest of Illinois, trustees for public community college districts are elected by the general public. It appears that the city college trustees were following Emanuel's marching orders.

Based on the metrics adopted in the CCCTU contract, it appears that "performance" falls directly on the heads of faculty. Shouldn't the performance and accountability fall on the Illinois General Assembly, since they have reduced funding for public university and community colleges by approximately 6 percent? What are the metrics for administrators and trustees? They all play a part in performance and accountability as well.

The current climate for public sector unions is not favorable based on the results of severe attacks that have taken place in Wisconsin and Ohio. In Wisconsin and Ohio the attempts were to eliminate most collective bargaining rights for public employee unions. Is the CCCTU contract a way to help defray threats to unions in Illinois? Judgment will be withheld until the performance based funding component is implemented. It will remain for other higher education faculty unions to watch closely the impact on faculty in the CCCTU. Unions only exist as a need-based organization, and in today's climate they are needed more than ever. It remains to be seen whether the CCCTU contract meets the "need of the faculty." Time will tell.