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Football Coaches and College Teachers

January 21, 2012

Raymond Hogler, Professor in the Department of Management at Colorado State University and the Colorado Conference’s Vice President for Legislative Matters,  published the  following opinion piece in today’s Boulder Daily Camera regarding the status of contingent faculty at Colorado’s public colleges and universities.  Link to the Camera piece is here, and we reproduce it in its entirety below.

When Colorado State University fired its athletic director and its football coach late last year, it was liable for some $1.18 million for terminating their contracts. Kowalczyk, the athletic director, is owed $830,000, and Fairchild, the coach, could get $350,000.  Strangely enough, if CSU administrators fired a non-tenure track teacher in the middle of the school year, they wouldn’t have to pay her enough to buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Why the difference between the teacher and the coach?

Colorado legislators some years ago passed a law expressing their dislike of using taxpayer money to pay employees who were discharged in violation of a contract. The introduction to Section 24-19-101 of our statutes says that the “payment of compensation to government-supported officials or employees after such officials or employees have ended their employment creates unnecessary costs, which ultimately are borne by the taxpayers of this state.”

The legislature bowed to reality and made an exception for a limited number of employees if the contract was “necessary for the hiring or retaining of the employee in light of prevailing market conditions and competitive employment practices in other states.” Football coaches and other athletic personnel, of course, are highly-prized talent. People who teach at the institution are not.

Given the conditions in higher education, most undergraduate students at our major institutions and almost all community college students are taught by non-tenure track or “contingent” faculty. These individuals typically sign an agreement to work for a period of time, such as a semester or an academic year. But their contracts are merely a sham. They are employees “at will” under the statute and can be fired at any time for any reason. Likewise, they can quit at any time with no further obligation to the institution.

Representative Randy Fischer, a Democrat from Fort Collins, is introducing a bill to correct the situation. His proposal is a simple one. It says that if the parties – the institution and the teacher – agree to an arrangement, it will be a binding commitment on both sides. This is hardly a novel concept, since it makes up one of the fundamental principles of our economic system. Who could oppose it?

In fact, Rep. Fischer introduced his bill in the last session, and it died in committee. Administrators in higher education can rely on their lobbyists to defeat anything they don’t like, and they don’t like limitations on their power. At the committee hearing, a representative from a community college testified she would have to “spend too much time” justifying why she fired an instructor and she had other things to do.

If all the contingent faculty in the state decided to walk off the job at once, administrators might think twice about their fake contracts. Presumably, in that case, it would take more time to find replacements and make up missing instruction than to spend a few minutes explaining to a teacher where his or her performance was deficient and why it was necessary to end the relationship.

Ethical employers these days think it’s appropriate to give employees fair treatment and tend to do so because it’s the right thing. Higher education institutions purport to instill civic values as part of their mission. They should start acting like they have some.

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