Amid the school-wide hiring freeze announced by President Jonathan Veitch via email March 31, the lack of finalization of non-tenure track (NTT) faculty union’s contract negotiations and COVID-19 budgeting issues, some members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 721 are concerned for their future at Occidental, according to philosophy professor Erica Preston-Roedder, member of the faculty bargaining team.
NTT faculty unionized May 2019, and the bargaining team has been negotiating with Occidental administration to establish changes to the NTT contract, which could include clauses on job security and healthcare benefits. However, Preston-Roedder said it was disappointing that the new contract was not finalized before the school’s transition to remote learning March 12.
“We’re currently exploring other options for contract,” Preston-Roedder said. “We are continuing, we took a pause, and now have continued to meet with the administration on a regular basis hoping to get some kind of contract in place despite coronavirus.”
According to Preston-Roedder, the coronavirus has had an especially bad impact on NTT faculty members.
“I think coronavirus as a whole is a tremendous blow both to negotiation and NTT faculty,” Preston-Roedder said.
Preston-Roedder said she hopes the hiring freeze will provide stability for current NTT faculty, as the upcoming academic year remains in flux.
In an email sent to check in with NTT faculty April 9, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the College Wendy Sternberg addressed several concerns of NTT faculty in regards to their positions at Occidental next year.
“The College is currently honoring all multi-year contracts. So if you are in the midst of a multi-year contract, you can expect that your position will continue into the 2020–2021 academic year,” Sternberg said in her email to NTT faculty. “Many of you are in contracts (either one-year or multi-year) that are ending at the conclusion of this academic year. Typically, contract renewal is based on performance, departmental curricular needs, and overall (and class-specific) enrollment.”
According to Preston-Roedder, all NTT faculty are hired under one-year or multi-year contracts, but can be let go for any reason, not limited to enrollment.
“We want to make sure that we provide job security for those long-term commitments that so there’s this reciprocity,” Preston-Roedder said. “Professors make this commitment to Oxy and the students, and we want Oxy to return a sort of long-term commitment and provide that security.”
Preston-Roedder said SEIU Local 721 has also been working to ensure that wages are high enough for people to live in Los Angeles, the eighth most expensive city in the world, in a comfortable manner.
Sternberg said that as next year’s student enrollment remains unclear, the impact the pandemic will have on staffing needs is unknown. Course offerings and schedules may change due to global health guidelines, according to Sternberg.
“Every effort will be made to keep full-time NTTs at their expected load, and in the event that courses are canceled, we will do our best to create course equivalents for administrative tasks that could make up for canceled courses,” Sternberg said via email.
According to Sternberg, more definite answers and clarifications will come after more time has passed.
Sociology professor Charles Potts, a NTT faculty member, said he has seen a great effort from the college to answer questions about next year.
“I think that the college is trying to figure this stuff out, and I think they’re doing a pretty great job, honestly,” Potts said. “Educational institutions are in kind of a tricky spot, an especially tricky spot.”
While there are difficulties associated with online learning and teaching, Potts said he is grateful to make online teaching work, as he has friends in other fields that have been laid off. Potts said that the pandemic affects quality of education but does not necessarily mean it is terrible.
“We can think creatively about how to move forward thoughtfully and in a way that’s informed by best practices,” Potts said.
Preston-Redder said she knows many NTT faculty are worried about the security of their jobs moving forward.
“We know that our members are tremendously worried about what this means for them and their families,” Preston-Roedder said. “We’re pushing every button we could think of to try to create more job security for the NTTs.”
Femke Teunissen (first year) said NTT professors often exceed expectations in their teaching and level of dedication.
“NTT professors I have had have been extremely supportive and put in effort to create interesting and engaging syllabi,” Teunissen said via email. “One NTT professor I have has been especially helpful during the pandemic and has provided a place of comfort, certainty and a version of normalcy through his virtual classroom discussions and office hours.”