June 12, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

LCC faculty members express anxiety, fear of retaliation

15 min read
Wendy Simmons: In my 26 years at Lane, I've never seen morale so low... and so many faculty so fearful to share their thoughts. For many, Lane has become an unfriendly and hostile place to work.

Lane Community College hears of low morale among faculty and allegations of retaliation against those who speak out or ask questions. During public comment Jan. 4, the board also hears about the cost of living in a severely rent-burdened city.

Sarah Erickson: I’m a full-time mathematics instructor here at Lane, and I wanted to share with you my challenges related to housing affordability. I try to live below my means with my plant-based diet, child-free lifestyle and electric car, which keeps maintenance and fuel costs low. But housing costs remain a constant source of economic anxiety for me.

[00:00:34] I currently live in a small two-bedroom apartment with my husband. In Oregon, landlords may legally increase rent by 10% or 7% plus the CPI (Consumer Price Index), whichever is lower. Accordingly, my rent has consistently increased by somewhere between 7% and 10% pretty much every year. For my upcoming lease renewal agreement, my rent will again increase by 7% from $1,660 to $1,777 per month for an 850-square-foot apartment.

[00:01:05] Unfortunately, my cost-of-living adjustments and step increases do not keep up with these rent hikes. It’s discouraging to watch the percentage of my pay that goes toward housing go up every year. My husband and I would like to purchase a home to have more financial security and to build equity rather than throw money away on rent.

[00:01:23] Unfortunately, my husband and I don’t know if home ownership will be possible for us. According to Zillow, as of Nov. 30 of last year, the median list price of a home in Eugene was $496,300 and the current average 30-year fixed mortgage rate in Oregon is 6.14%. Like many of my fellow millennials, I don’t have a lot of savings.

[00:01:46] According to bankrate.com, if I paid a $30,000 down payment for a median-priced home in Eugene and got a mortgage at the average APR (assuming a credit score above 740), my housing costs would jump to $2,837 per month, not including taxes, insurance, PMI, or HOA fees. That’s almost 40% of my gross monthly income.

[00:02:13] The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development considers a household to be housing cost-burdened if they spend more than 30% of their income on housing. If housing is unaffordable, even for a child-free, contracted faculty member, it’s much more challenging for faculty who have dependents and for the majority of faculty here at LCC who teach part-time.

[00:02:35] Those who cannot afford to make a down payment and purchase a home are stuck paying ever-increasing rent, another example of why it’s more expensive to be poor. According to last year’s LCCEA all-faculty survey, 18% of respondents said that they relied on government assistance while working as a faculty member at LCC, including 11% of contracted faculty and a staggering 40% of nonretired part-time faculty.

[00:03:01] We’re not looking to be rich or live in mansions. We just want the dignity of being able to afford to live where we work.

[00:03:07] Jessica Alvarado: I’m Jessica Alvarado, one of three BIPOC faculty counselors identified for retrenchment as a cost-saving measure and response to a budget crisis. As we approach this next budget cycle and bargaining, I’m here to share concerns and ask for your support for positive action to right the future.

[00:03:25] The decisions to cut counseling services were based on subjective opinions rooted in retaliation for the work group that had spoken up on behalf of students of color. We could not support administrators’ directives to enlist the use of Public Safety and Lane County Sheriffs to respond to crisis situations with students of color.

[00:03:44] Our moral and ethical perspectives are have been centered and using the least intrusive but effective interventions. This included the use of CAHOOTS’ reputable community service in Lane County. When concerns about this and an additional matter were communicated to (former) President Hamilton, she launched an investigation that eventually went external. We participated in 15+ hours of interviews, but were not provided the results, as was our right.

[00:04:10] By spring of ‘22, we had duties and responsibilities removed from us, and these were reassigned to MHWC (Mental Health and Wellness Center) clinicians. All relatively new employees and our effective retention programs were discontinued—counseling internship and academic progress standard interventions. These decisions were based on minimal data collected during the pandemic and not compared with overall academic performance of all students in Lane.

[00:04:35] During the ’22-‘23 academic year, one counselor was hired into a coordinator position but was not allowed to coordinate. This was considered grievous and the counselor was returned to their original position. Oddly enough, this individual was wrongly identified for retrenchment for the following fall term of ‘23.

[00:04:53] It’s been difficult and life-altering to be the subject of erasure and devaluation, especially while those responsible have not been held accountable for their actions. They have not had to face job insecurity, censorship, and ongoing scrutiny. It’s also been scary to observe retaliatory acts towards two key figures who have done their best to protect our rights as faculty and people of color.

[00:05:17] I was disheartened to learn of the leadership’s response to these acts as well. I’m not usually this forthcoming and scared to share my truth. However, it’s not known and if the actions described by LCC at last month’s board news are not suppressed, how can we all move forward in good faith for making responsible decisions?

[00:05:35] What will it take for us to all return to upholding our true mission of transforming lives with those who support students who are not well cared for? Please carefully understand what has transpired and commit to making decisions that truly benefit our community.

[00:05:49] Peggy Oberstaller: I’m Peggy Oberstaller, a part-time faculty member, and I’m reading a statement written by another faculty member.

‘Respected members of the board, distinguished colleagues and esteemed guests: As a faculty member of color committed to fostering an inclusive, supportive, and engaging learning environment, I bring forward a perspective on some concerning trends in education that affect job security and retention, particularly for educators from marginalized backgrounds like myself.

[00:06:19] ‘It is believed by some that enacting policies that affect job security, such as removing continuing contracts, will help to increase diversity within the workplace. In my experience, that is not the case. Several years ago, I relocated from another state that removed the ability to receive continuing contracts for educators.

[00:06:41] ‘For three years, I worked on an annual contract. Each year, I received great marks on my evaluations, meeting or exceeding all expectations. As an educator with no previous experience, I had several conversations with different members of the administration about my future and potential growth within the district.

[00:07:03] ‘Yet each year in May, I would nervously wait and read through school board meeting notes to see if I would be offered a contract for the next year. At the end of my second year, I actually was not offered a contract until about a month after school had ended, and I had already anxiously spent several months applying for every teaching job possible within a one-hour radius.

[00:07:27] ‘It was very clear that my hard work and dedication were not valued or a priority in maintaining employment. I did not want to spend every spring worrying about whether or not I would have a job to support my family in the fall. So, even though I had deep roots in my hometown and a recognized family legacy in education, the removal of continuing contracts meant it was time to move on.

[00:07:52] ‘Offering job security shows educators, especially those from diverse backgrounds, that they are valued and respected. Removing elements of job security reduces the number of qualified applicants who are willing to consider available positions. It also unnecessarily increases the risk factors of employment with our institution, especially for those who are already at risk of oppression.

[00:08:20] ‘I strongly believe that if you are truly looking to recruit and retain people of color to work at LCC, offering job security will be a key factor.’

[00:08:32] Anna Scott (Chair, LCC College Council): Hi, all. I wanted to just give you the College Council report. Our third College Council meeting of the 2023-24 academic year was held Thursday, Dec. 6 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Moving through our agenda, members performed the following actions:

[00:08:47] 1. We approved the revised and updated classroom food and drink operational policy submitted to us by the infrastructure council after second reading.

[00:08:54] 2. Discussion of a failed motion, a lack of a second, about College Council government manual update, to clarify College Council chair and member by position when transitioning from another council’s chair position.

[00:09:08] So the failed motion, I think is important for you guys to understand what’s going on on our realignment of our governance systems. It was balancing employee represent—representatives from employee union groups within Lane Community College’s governance system is a function of the employee union leadership and or their internal nomination process.

[00:09:28] Therefore, when the nominated and approved College Council chair is a current governance chair or governance member that has membership in the governance system as a representative of an employee union group, the balance of representatives from employee union groups on the College Council shall not inhibit their ability to vote as a member—

[00:09:46] Lane Community College: Oh, Anna, really quick, you muted.

[00:09:48] Anna Scott (LCC College Council, chair): We’ll be talking about that one more. I’m going to keep going (Appreciate it).

[00:09:52] 3. Passed a motion to establish 2023-24 policy deadlines. (Yay.) Two members volunteered to bring a sample timeline back to the College Council for implementation.

[00:10:03] 4. Conducted a discussion of Lane’s new funding formula and student success.

[00:10:07] 5. College Council chair (that’s me) requested and received feedback on the 2023-24 council work plans.

[00:10:15] Members of the Lane Boards of Education, you are invited to join College Council to observe our college governance in action at the next regular meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 10, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the main campus boardroom building 3 or via Zoom, details available on BoardDocs.

[00:10:34] Wendy Simmons: I teach in the P.E. department. In my 26 years at Lane, I’ve never seen morale so low amongst both faculty and classified professionals and so many faculty so fearful to share their thoughts. For many, Lane has become an unfriendly and hostile place to work due to the actions of the administration.

[00:10:51] Tonight, I’m providing a voice for those who feel threatened and feel they will be retaliated against should they speak to you during public comment at a Lane Community College board meeting. One faculty member stated recently, ‘I am worried that I may become a target of the cabinet and board. Should I speak out for any reason? I have been nervous these past few months about job security and I’ve been increasingly quieter for this.’

At the end of last term, another faculty member said, ‘I feel I cannot voice many of my concerns out of fear of retribution or retaliation.’

[00:11:22] One more said, ‘I would not have accepted a job at Lane if I had known what I now know. I feel a great deal of stress about job security. I have been hesitant to participate too heavily in advocacy on campus due to this anxiety.’

Well, the attempted layoffs at the start of the term only targeted a short list of faculty. Many others now feel they too could be targeted. Should they speak out? They’re concerned about possible retaliation from their deans and the administration, and feel they are risking their teaching careers at Lane if they speak up.

[00:11:51] LCC, our community’s college, stands for and was founded on democratic principles. Not feeling safe to speak freely goes against these principles. Our core values include learning, diversity, and integrity. LCC’s mission and values include:

(1) Fostering a culture of achievement and a caring community. (A caring community doesn’t instill fear in its employees.)

(2) Cultivating a respectful, inclusive, and accessible working and learning environment.

(3) Developing capacity to understand issues of difference, power, and privilege.

An antagonistic environment created by the administration doesn’t invite different perspectives, nor does it encourage teamwork and cooperation, or collaboration and partnership, which ironically is another core value meant to promote meaningful participation and governance.

[00:12:41] Another core value, integrity, is about fostering an environment of respect, fairness, honesty, and openness. Fabricating a budget crisis, closing our health clinic with no warning, and not discussing alternatives to layoffs are just a few examples of what an environment built on secrecy and dishonesty looks like.

[00:13:00] If we can’t measure up to our core values, we certainly can’t fulfill our mission. We are asking for direct and honest communication, transparency, inclusiveness, and a return to democratic values where faculty can feel secure in having a future at Lane and where the administration works collaboratively with us to ensure student success. Only then can we truly be our community’s college.

[00:13:26] Adrienne Mitchell (President, LCC Education Association): Thank you to everyone who was involved in researching and posting the information on BoardDocs at the last work session about Titan Court, including disparities in rental rates charged to international students. As you are aware, students have raised some concerns about these disparities.

[00:13:42] I will follow up and share with you all some information which might serve as a model for how LCC might choose to provide information to our international students and campus community. The link that I will send to you is the OSU website that provides information about international students’ legal rights and resources, such as the Fair Housing Council in Oregon.

[00:14:05] I ask that you carefully review LCC’s practices as soon as possible in light of the recently publicized rent rates information. And in light of that review, take action as needed to ensure that LCC’s practices are in line with the requirements of the Fair Housing Act. I hope you’ll find the OSU website useful as a model.

[00:14:25] On a more personal note, I would like to follow up on the comments of my colleague, Wendy Simmons, who was sharing some quotes about faculty fears about retaliation and retribution.

[00:14:39] As you may be aware, probably where Titan Court is, is a topic that has raised a lot of questions. There’ve been many different board discussions about Titan Court over the years.

[00:14:51] When I first participated in a committee on campus and asked questions about Titan Court (this was at a time when Titan Court was still part of Fund VI; it has since moved or it is still in Fund VI, but the international program was in Fund VI with it, and so the relationship between those two was more clear), I found out that someone had approached my daughter while she was at school, making allegations, personal allegations about me, and related to simply asking questions about Fund VI. And she was 12 years old.

[00:15:32] This is the kinds of experiences that faculty are sharing with you. Yes, they have increased dramatically recently, as we have shared. They’re not new, they’re not entirely new, but they are very concerning. And it’s impossible for us to work in an environment like this and serve our students.

[00:15:53] Eric Kim: My name is Eric Kim. I teach psychology in the social science division. I’m here to talk about what students learn in psychology and the social sciences. There are psychological processes that are unconscious and automatic that influence our thinking and behavior. When these processes are unconscious and automatic, they’re difficult to stop, notice, prevent or change.

(The following example, it involves a murder, but it has nothing really to do with murder, it’s just an example to show psychological processes.)

[00:16:21] To illustrate unconscious and automatic processes, I use the following example. A hotel detective was making his rounds through the corridor of a hotel. As he passed by a room, he heard a voice behind the closed door. The voice yelled, ‘Don’t shoot, John!’ Immediately afterward, the detective heard a gun discharge. He immediately broke into the room and encountered the following scene:

[00:16:40] A dead woman was lying on the floor. Next to her was a gun. Three people were standing around her. They were a judge, a soldier, and a mail carrier. The detective immediately arrested the mail carrier for murder. Based on the information provided, how did the hotel detective know to arrest the mail carrier?

Now, it’s common for people to have difficulties answering these questions. There’s no name tags, and the four people don’t know each other. And that’s the common type of answers that students give me.

[00:17:08] Now, let’s look at another example that comes from the television show, How I Met Your Mother. Mitch told the mother that he’s been a creep since moving to New York. He felt a little lost. He was living in his parents’ basement. He was playing video games. He was a mess during those games.

[00:17:25] Now in both cases, stereotypes were activated. The second time you’re able to recognize the activation of the stereotype and possibly prevent yourself from continuing with that stereotype. The first example involves stereotypes as well, but it wasn’t as obvious.

[00:17:40] The judge and the soldier were women and the mail carrier was a man. When the woman said, ‘Don’t shoot, John,’ he knew to arrest the only man in the room. Our stereotypes of judges and soldiers were unconsciously activated and impaired our ability to solve the problem.

[00:17:53] It didn’t take a lot to activate these stereotypes. Historically, if children were asked to draw pictures of a scientist, it was usually a drawing of a man. More examples of scientists who are women are in the public mind, and this finding is a little bit less pronounced. Relating to last month’s board meeting, teaching diverse and culturally accurate history and narratives, such as critical race and gender theories, is important for civic engagement and the inspiration of students.

[00:18:24] Teaching these theories in anthropology, sociology, ethnic studies, human services, political science, and psychology can make people uncomfortable, which is why people protest them. But learning about diversity can make it easier to stop stereotype activation, like with Mitch, who is living in his parents’ basement, and can help aspire students to their full potential.

[00:18:45] Jennifer Sacklin: My name is Jennifer Sacklin. I am a part-time faculty member in English as a Second Language, Adult Basic and Secondary Education, and Career Pathways. I’m also a part-time classified staff member in Career Pathways and this is my first time speaking in front of the board.

[00:19:00] I’ve worked at Lane for seven years, and I hope to be here for many more years in order to contribute to my community. I often work far beyond my allotted paid hours to meet the needs of my students. And I know many of my colleagues do the same. According to the latest faculty survey, one-third of LCC part-time faculty report working more than 50 hours per week.

[00:19:23] (LCC President) Dr. (Stephanie) Bulger recently wrote in the Lane Weekly that we should focus on recruiting the following four groups of people: (1) Persons who receive Pell Grants and the Oregon needs-based grants; (2) Persons who are at least 25 years of age; (3) Persons attracted to career technical education and (4) individuals identifying as persons of color.

[00:19:40] And the three departments that I work in—English as a Second Language, Adult Basic and Secondary Education, and Career Pathways—directly serve these populations, and I am proud of the work that my colleagues and I do to ensure that Lane Community College is fulfilling our mission of serving Lane County.

[00:19:56] I wish our departments, especially English as a Second Language and Adult Basic and Secondary Education, would be allotted adequate funding in order for us to do our jobs. Two specific issues that I’d like to bring up. (1) We don’t have enough funding for printing, and (2) We don’t have enough space.

[00:20:15] Regarding printing, our students often lack the digital literacy required to have only digital freely-available online materials, so many of our faculty members print class materials at home because we don’t have enough department money to print on campus.

[00:20:32] And second, faculty and staff also don’t have enough space. My office is currently a shared open desk area with 11 other faculty members, so we each get approximately two feet of space. According to the latest faculty survey, 36% of part-time faculty do not have LCC-provided office space that allows us to meet privately with our students.

[00:20:54] The faculty union is starting the bargaining process, and I dearly hope it isn’t as horrible as last time. Last time, one former member of the administration (who is no longer at Lane), told the faculty bargaining team that part-time faculty didn’t deserve job security because we weren’t as valuable as full-time faculty.

Due to comments like this and hostile proposals by the administration, less than 40% of all faculty at Lane feel valued as a faculty member.

[00:21:22] I lost sleep due to stress and fear during the last bargaining process, and I very much hope that this time around, the administration can recognize the hard work that both full-time and part-time faculty do, and bargain accordingly. We faculty are carefully watching the bargaining process, and how it is conducted does significantly impact our morale.

[00:21:42] John Q: At LCC Jan. 4, faculty express concerns about retaliation. Adrienne Mitchell recalled, when she first raised questions about Titan Court and Fund VI, her 12-year-old daughter was approached at school. Since then, she says that retaliation and retribution have gotten even worse.

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