Amarillo Profs to Keep Jobs

Amarillo Profs to Keep Jobs

The Amarillo College board of regents has determined that two professors will be allowed to stay employed with the school, after the pair received letters of termination several months ago. It's covered by Robert Stein, in the Amarillo Globe-News. Please read the entire article. 

The reason cited in the termination letters involved financial exigency due to low enrollments. The two professors are sports and exercise science instructor Trent Oneal and associate professor of nutrition Pamela George. The termination recommendation came as "the college was in the midst of a financial crisis due to a $3.5 million-plus shortfall that college leaders have attributed to statewide budget cuts to community colleges," the article states.

The two tenured (and this is important) faculty members called for an impartial committee, made up of five faculty members, to review the college’s decision, under institutional policies. After hearing two days of testimony in April and deliberating for two months, the committee ruled in favor of the professors, whose attorney argued that AC policy requires administrators to "first try and reassign tenured faculty—even if it involves replacing a non-tenured faculty member—or to allow them to earn six credit hours per year until qualified to teach another class."

The conclusion of the piece:

George, in an impassioned speech to regents, said moving forward with the terminations could set a dangerous precedent.

 “With your decision, Amarillo College faculty are going to know either tenure and the policies that surround it mean something at Amarillo College, or they’re not worth the paper that they’re written on,” she said.

Ultimately, board members recognized that there were two open positions that Oneal and George could fill and handed the responsibility for resolving the issue back to college administrators.

[Amarillo College President] Lowery-Hart said in a statement following the board’s recommendation, “At the time of these decisions in September, we had no other positions or options available. Now, we do. I am thrilled with the board’s suggestion to try and find alternative solutions. This is a win for all of Amarillo College.”

A few key observations are worthy of mention.

First, such a positive result can turn out differently without the existence of tenure—along with representation of an attorney. 

Second, although most community college teachers do not have tenure in the classic sense, many schools offer continuing contracts, with a requirement of due process in cases of termination. Non-renewal or contingent extension of employment contracts can be another matter, legally speaking. In all situations, however, financial exigency is often cited in downsizing positions. Entire departments can be eliminated, even at colleges and universities with tenure, for reasons of financial exigency. 

Third, all colleges have internal manuals stipulating institutional policies and procedures. Reviewing these documents carefully is an important consideration in such matters. Many times attorneys employ a strategy to help faculty members by determining if the actions of an institution square with its own policies. 

Finally, one reason some faculty members are especially vulnerable these days is due to recent trimming of required courses under the new core curriculum. If you teach a subject that does not make the cut at your school, the situation can be perilous.

Please plan to attend the 2016 TCCTA Fall Conference for Faculty Leaders. You will note that one of the presentations involves legal issues in higher education—and this is a big one these days.