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Denver Post: Football Coaches and College Teachers

February 28, 2012

Completing coverage in a trifecta of Front Range newspapers, last Sunday’s Denver Post printed, in its online version, a slightly revised version of Ray Hogler’s op-ed about “Football Coaches and College Teachers.”  This version incorporates the results of a Colorado House Committee’s deliberations of HB 12-1144 dealing with contingent faculty employment. The column is here and also reprinted below.

by Raymond Hogler

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, was owed $830,000 in salary, and Fairchild, the coach, could have gotten $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 their contract rights. The introduction to Section 24-19-101 of the Colorado 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 legislative solution was to declare that agreements for a fixed term were not really binding but could be terminated with or without cause at the whim of either party.

The legislature bowed to reality and made an exception for a limited number of employees in higher education 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 who need enforceable agreements that specify the terms of their employment. People who teach at the institution are not.

Given the conditions in higher education, most undergraduate students at our major research institutions and almost all community college students are taught by non-tenure track or “contingent” faculty. These individuals typically sign a document agreeing 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 a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all. Likewise, they can quit at any time with no further obligation to the institution.

Representative Randy Fischer, a Democrat from Fort Collins, introduced a bill to correct the situation. His proposal, HB 12-1144, is a simple one. It says that if the parties — the institution and the teacher — agree to terms of employment, it will be a legal commitment on both sides. This is hardly a novel concept, since it makes up one of the fundamental principles of our economic system.

Rep. Fischer’s bill came before the House State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee on February 15 and was voted out with a favorable recommendation. The four Democratic members of the Committee and Rep. Mark Waller (R-El Paso) made up a majority in favor of the legislation. It now goes forward to the House.

At the Committee hearing, a group of contingent faculty members offered eloquent testimony about their dedication to teaching and the measure of security that legitimate contracts would provide to them and the institutions. Provost and Vice-President Vicki Golich of Metropolitan State College assured the Committee that she supported the bill, pointing out that binding contracts helped to guarantee continuity and stability for students and administrators as well as teachers. Her explanation made clear that the bill protects all interests at stake in higher education. No one appeared at the hearing to speak in opposition to the bill.

Given the logic and intent of HB 12-1144, reasonable citizens should advocate its adoption. Most of us believe that in dealing with others, we should be honest and trustworthy and live up to the commitments we make. If members of the legislature share the same values, HB 12-1144 will move effortlessly through the legislative process this session.

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