Volume 44, Number 4 - June/July 2009
Renewed vitality of union results in more clout
Imagine a place where the faculty selects its own chancellor.
A place where, for the most part, administrators and faculty work out their differences without threat of a labor action.
A place where there's open communication both among faculty and with district management.
A place where full and part-time faculty feel they have a voice.
Such a place might be called Shangri-la, but it isn't.
It's Riverside Community College.
"Now, when we go to the district, we go as a united front, and we've earned the respect of the administration."
Change on campus
There's been a definite change in the culture on the three colleges of the Riverside College District, and it's largely due to the renewed vitality of the local CCA/CTA chapter.
Unlike faculty on some campuses who worry that the administration may be reading their email, the Riverside faculty union zealously emails its members weekly via the campus server and posts its executive board minutes as well.
What's more, the two Moreno Valley and Norco colleges, which once felt "second class" to the Riverside City College, now have their own CTA vice presidents and college representatives that serve on the chapter executive board and are included in regular monthly meetings with the chancellor – another new phenomenon.
The changes started to occur when the chapter added more board members to its executive board, under the previous chapter president, Karin Skiba.
"We began then to emphasize transparency, inclusiveness and communication," explained Dariush Haghighat, a longtime political science professor who was elected president of the Riverside Community College District Chapter of CTA a year ago.
Not only did the membership respond to this outreach, but the administration responded as well. The union leaders also began reaching out to the board of trustees, making it a point to always attend board meetings and have a regular report to present. The chapter also began taking individual board members to lunch to discuss events on campus.
"It's made a difference," Haghighat said. "There have been a number of times when the board has come to our rescue."
Because of this new open communication, the faculty union and the administration have been able to work more collaboratively.
"We've gained respect from the administration and respect for the administration," said Mark Sellick, a colleague of Haghighat, and chapter vice president.
Sellick doesn't take the view that college administrators are necessarily "behind closed doors, sharpening knives."
"It's just that sometimes they have found the paths of least resistance, and then that becomes enshrined under past practices," he said.
Instead, the faculty union has been instrumental in changing those practices.
The faculty has also proven to be valuable to the college in the expertise and research skills it brings to the table. Recently, for example, when the administration proposed changes in a benefits plan, the union was able to counter with a more acceptable plan that had been produced by faculty researchers.
Perhaps its greatest success, to date, is the role played by the union in selecting a new chancellor. Initially, after the former chancellor retired, a search firm was engaged and the board of trustees presented three finalists — none of whom met with the faculty's approval. After the candidates were rejected, the union called for the creation of a new search committee that would be faculty-driven and would include staff and stakeholders. The committee did its research and was able to select a candidate that everyone agreed upon. As a result, the college community is now awaiting the arrival of a new chancellor. What's more, the selection process has also become board policy.
"This was a process initiated by the association, developed by the association and presented by the association," Haghighat said. "The comment we got over and over was that this was one of the best things that has happened."
Part Timers included
Another action that has boosted the union's presence on campus is the inclusion of part-time faculty union members as full voting members, a move that was first promoted under Skiba's tenure as chapter president.
"Karin saw to it that there was one part-time representative from every campus," said Dorothy Reina, a part-time history instructor who represents Norco. That move went a long way to improve relations among the faculty, according to Reina, who noted that contingent faculty members are also represented on the Faculty Senate.
"I really feel that I have a say. I've gone to faculty meetings and I feel I'm listened to," Reina said.
The chapter recently held its first ever dinner reception for part-time faculty in the beautiful setting of Riverside's Mission Inn. About 40 part-time faculty were honored in front of their guests, the chapter's executive board members, and three trustees.
Haghighat maintains that the committed members who stepped forward for their union have helped change the culture on campus. He particularly credits his executive board, including his three vice presidents; Mark Sellick, Fabian Biancardi and Joe Eckstein as well as the chapter Secretary Shari Yates and not to mention the three part time and full time campus reps.
"Now, when we go to the district, we go as a united front, and we've earned the respect of the administration," Haghighat said. "Instead of constant fighting, now it just takes a phone call or an e-mail."