GRAND RAPIDS—Full-time faculty at Grand Rapids Community College are speaking out against the school's rapid growth and the president's management and hiring strategy, specifically that part-time faculty now teach more classes than they do.
Faculty union leaders say they have become disenchanted with President Steven Ender in his second year at the helm, contending he doesn't work closely enough with professors and others before making big decisions.
"We have become GRAC—Grand Rapids Adjunct College," union President Frederick van Hartesveldt III told trustees at a meeting last week, speaking at the urging of the Faculty Council.
"We need to grow, but it's like we're on steroids," he said. "Both the rapid growth and the steroids are unhealthy. We don't have the support, the framework, the systems, the personnel in place for the rapid growth which we've undertaken."
Ender makes no apologies, saying the record enrollment prompted a rash of hiring. And he thinks he was hired in part to bring a fresh, outsider's perspective to the college.
"I believe that's my job, to make decisions," he said. "The buck stops with me, and I'm accountable to the Board of Trustees."
Van Hartesveldt said the college needs to slow down enrollment, now at a record 17,920 students, and a 5.5 percent increase over last fall. The administration has been hiring teachers to meet the demand, but largely part-timers.
Van Hartesveldt said the college has about 260 full-time professors, but 940 adjunct instructors. The full-timers are covering 4,470 contact hours—time spent before students—while part-timers cover 4,620, about 51 percent.
He said Ender last year said his goal was to have full-timers cover 60 percent of the hours.
"Human capital should be our first priority, our foundation," Van Hartesveldt said. "We're an institution designed and built on permanent full-time employees. The irony is that we are in the business of creating jobs for other people, and we need to be creating jobs here."
The number of adjuncts poses a strain on department heads, who van Hartesveldt said spend more time dealing with training and other issues tied to part-timers. He said full-timers also are expected to serve on committees and perform community service.
There also is no effective way to tell if the often inexperienced instructors are doing a good job, he said, because they are checked by student evaluations and an occasional observation.
Ender gets credit, Van Hartesveldt said, for doing a "tremendous job" raising money for the college, building a capital campaign to renovate buildings and purchasing the former Davenport University campus on Fulton Street.
But he said employees are disenchanted by his decision-making."
To be a productive institution, labor and leadership need to truly collaborate," he said. "We have become less so."
Salary comparison coming
The union is working with a contract extended a year while a consultant wraps up a comparison of GRCC salaries with those at other community colleges in the state and region.
The most recent union contract, approved in 2008, gave professors pay hikes of 2 percent annually, but also froze overtime pay for full-time professors.
A 2007 salary survey by The Press showed that nearly half of GRCC's full-time professors made more than $100,000 by combining base salaries with an extensive overtime plan.
Van Hartesveldt said the union will propose contract terms to cover both hiring and growth.
"Our desire is to raise quality and morale, maintain fiscal responsibility, and garner those esteemed marks of distinction -- not marks of mediocrity," he said.
Ender said the enrollment growth is based on "unprecedented demand" fueled by a bad economy.
He also said that the cost of attending a four-year school has risen to the point that many families can't send their children there the first two years.
"We're growing because we're responding to our community's needs," he said. "People are coming to us to be retrained so they can get a job or upgrade their skills so they can keep the job they have. These are real people with real problems, and it's our job to serve them."
Goal is 60 percent full time
Ender said his goal is to have full-time professors on a tenure track account for about 60 percent of faculty. But he said it's difficult to hire that many full-timers until he knows if enrollment will continue to grow.
He's also waiting to settle a the next faculty contract, which hinges on the compensation comparison.
"I can't continue to hire people while I'm still working with a contract that just do not believe is sustainable," he said.
Ender said the college hired adjuncts to make sure it could offer classes to the 3,000 new students, and said there were skilled people available to teach because of the region's high unemployment.
"And by doing that, we've created hundreds of jobs," he said. "That's a short-term solution, but we've got some great people in the adjunct ranks, and that helps the students. I look at it as a win-win-win situation."
By speaking out about adjunct hiring, van Hartesveldt raised the ire of some part-timers, and later sent a letter of "clarification."
"Please don't construe my comments to the board of trustees as an attack on adjunct faculty," he wrote. He said the staffing model is the issue, not performance.
"To run our entire college that way is institutional mediocrity," he wrote. "It doesn't mean that adjuncts who teach their classes at or above expectations with little support are mediocre. It means it's a poor model to achieve institutional excellence."
Two-year schools across the country are leaning more on adjuncts to meet demand, said Michael Hansen, Michigan Community College Association president.
"Clearly part of it is a cost issue, as we're all trying to do more with less," he said. "Grand Rapids certainly isn't unusual to have adjuncts handling more than 50 percent.
"But there's an advantage in flexibility and expertise. Many of these people are experts in their fields who want to teach a little."