City Colleges instructors protest outside Kennedy-King College. Credit: Deanna Isaacs

In late June, after three years of negotiations and with considerable relief, members of AFSCME 3506, the union representing the adult education faculty at the City Colleges of Chicago, ratified a contract that gave them modest salary increases.

The relief didn’t last.

Within days of the ratification, union officials say, they were hit with an announcement of an immediate, sweeping redesign of the adult ed program that will reduce faculty pay and result in a loss of health care and other benefits for many instructors, along with significant cuts in instructional hours for students.

Faculty members say they were blindsided. The changes include radical scheduling shifts—shortening term length by as much as 50 percent and lengthening some class sessions to as many as six hours. They don’t believe these changes can work for their students, who typically have to juggle job and family responsibilities along with their studies. And they say it will be harder to teach. With 16-week courses reduced to eight weeks, union president George Roumbanis asks, “How are we supposed to teach the same material in half the time?” He predicts that students will leave in droves.

Roumbanis says there’s plenty of research showing that for ESL programs, more instruction time amounts to greater success. With the changes, he says, ESL courses that previously consisted of 170 to 250 hours of class time will be reduced to 96 hours. For speakers of languages using different alphabets, he says, “This will close the door for them.”

Adult ed, which offers free, government-supported English as a second language and GED classes, is the CCC’s largest program, serving nearly 25,000 students with an entirely part-time teaching staff, paid by the hour. Last week union members and supporters, including some full-time faculty from CCC’s for-credit undergraduate program, took to the street in front of Kennedy-King College, where the board of trustees was gathering for its August meeting. Chanting “Chop from the top” and “Education, not deportation,” they paraded in a narrow loop on the sidewalk before heading indoors, where they took seats facing a long table of trustees and other officials, flanked on one side by two equally long tables of administrators. When CCC’s impeccably turned-out chancellor, Juan Salgado, reported that, due to declining enrollment that put pressure on the college’s budget, the administration had made “the difficult decision” to lay off 29 support staff, they responded with a resounding boo. (Total CCC enrollment is down 37 percent since 2010.) And when Salgado went on to talk about “improvements” in the adult education program, the clamor increased.

“Our adult education program is on probation. We must meet national and state benchmarks,” Salgado said as an explanation for standardizing hours and curriculum in adult ed classes across the six CCC campuses that offer them. He closed with a bit of unrelated but equally surprising news: the abrupt departure of Harold Washington College president Ignacio López, thanks to an inspector general’s conclusion that, after two years on the job, López was violating the city’s residency requirement.

CCC’s adult education program was put on probation last September by the Illinois Community College Board because students weren’t progressing quickly enough, at least based on standardized test results. The administration says that all the changes to adult ed are designed to fix that. Associate vice chancellor of adult education Maureen Fitzpatrick told me in an interview last week, “We are making sure course design and curriculum are set up for student success.” In an e-mail, the administration added that it had shared information about the probation and “corrective action” with the teaching staff and that going forward “we will be creating a process to engage diverse stakeholders . . . in an ongoing review of the new curriculum and pacing.” According to the administration, the loss of class time in the fall term will be 2,424 hours, or 2.9 percent.

But Roumbanis says the ICCB did not issue any such direct orders. And the union estimates that the lost instruction time for fall term will be closer to a whopping 18,000 hours.

AFSCME 3506 and other unions representing CCC employees want the college to put the brakes on this plan. Speaking in one of the brief time slots allowed for public participation at the trustees meeting, Cook County College Teachers Union Local 1600 president Tony Johnston asked the board and administration to stop the adult ed restructuring, do an impact analysis of the proposed changes, consult with the faculty, be transparent about expenses, and revise the budget (which will be balanced for fiscal 2020 thanks in part to the questionable use of nearly $13 million from the sale of the district’s downtown headquarters).

That got a cheer.   v