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Missoula College

The new Missoula College building.

After a stalled discussion with the administration, the union that represents Missoula College faculty filed a grievance alleging the University of Montana is leaning too heavily on adjunct instructors.

Under UM policy, adjuncts — part-time, non-tenure-track faculty — can't exceed 25% of any department's or college's total faculty FTE, or full-time equivalents. But the Missoula College Faculty Association, MCFA, alleges that, at the start of last academic year, up to 80% of their workforce was made up of adjuncts.

Last April, after months of trying to fix the problem informally, the Association filed a grievance. This past Thursday, Association president Pam Boyd told UM's Faculty Senate the grievance remained in the preliminary phase, and she voiced hope that it wouldn't head to arbitration.

In an emailed statement, UM spokeswoman Paula Short wrote, "the University of Montana administration believes we are compliant with the faculty bargaining agreement and UM policies, and we’re working cooperatively with the Missoula College faculty union to reach a positive outcome.”

The dispute started over a year ago, according to the grievance. At a Sept. 26, 2018, meeting with Provost Jon Harbor and a representative of the Missoula College dean's office, "MCFA advised Provost Harbor that 78 percent of faculty in the Department of Applied Arts and Sciences and 80 percent of faculty in the Department of Industrial Technology were non-tenurable instructional faculty, far exceeding the 25 percent specified by (UM) Policy 350.”

A month later, at Harbor’s direction, the Association and Missoula College Dean Roger Maclean started working on a plan and then a budget to bring the ratios back into compliance. Both were completed by December 2018.

For the next three months, the complaint alleges, Harbor took no action on the proposal. Then, in March 2019, “the Provost stated that he was unable to provide a decision (on the plan), and that he had turned over the matter to the Missoula College dean.” In turn, Maclean, the interim dean at the time, “did not express an intent in preparing the plan or budget other than providing assistance to MCFA.”

“MCFA believes that this dispute will not be resolved without filing a formal grievance,” said the complaint. The grievance requests the university adopt the three-step plan proposed earlier.

The formal complaint remains at the first stage, association president Boyd told the Missoulian. “We are working collaboratively with the administration to try to resolve it,” she said.

As this dispute has unfolded, the percentage of non-tenurable faculty at Missoula College has continued to fluctuate. In April, Missoula College counted 52% of its instructional faculty as non-tenurable. At Thursday’s Faculty Senate meeting, Boyd said the statistic was 57%. As of Monday, 27 of the college's 59 instructional positions were listed as adjuncts.

The Missoula College Faculty Association cannot represent employees whose appointment is less than one-half of a full-time academic year appointment.

Nationwide, adjuncts’ role in higher education has been growing for years. According to the American Association of University Professors, the proportion of non-tenure-track and other “contingent faculty” rose from 55% in 1975 to 70% in 2015. Across all two-year colleges, tenure-track positions make up fewer than 20% of all faculty.

In recent years, this trend has drawn increased criticism, fueled by adjuncts’ reports of low pay, unstable scheduling and a lack of workplace protections. In September, about 60 to 70 UM employees — primarily adjuncts — did not receive a paycheck on schedule, purportedly due to paperwork delays. 

Once a grievance is filed, UM and the Faculty Association must attempt to resolve it themselves before proceeding to arbitration.

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