City Colleges Walks Back Threats of Class Cancellations at Harold Washington College

harold washington college
Harold Washington College. Marc Monaghan / WBEZ
harold washington college
Harold Washington College. Marc Monaghan / WBEZ

City Colleges Walks Back Threats of Class Cancellations at Harold Washington College

A top administrator at Harold Washington College warned department chairs and associate deans this week the school would have to cancel more than 100 classes for the fall semester if they couldn’t find instructors.

“Hopefully, we will find faculty for the sections,” wrote Vincent Wiggins, dean of instruction at the college downtown, in an email. “If we do not have faculty for the sections, we will need to work with advising to relocate the students to different sections.”

But City College leaders are now walking back that email.

Questioned by WBEZ, City Colleges of Chicago officials called it a miscommunication that has been corrected internally. But they could not specifically say how many fall classes they still need to cover across the seven schools, as they say the number changes daily.

The email from Wiggins was forwarded to tutors on Monday by Director of Academic Support Services Celia Chávez, who pleaded with qualified tutors to teach if they could. She said classes would be canceled Friday if a teacher could not be found.

“Many of these courses are already filled with students and closing the sections due to not having a teacher would require schedule changes for students,” she wrote. “Please consider teaching a course this fall. It will put extra money in your pocket and will help us better serve our students.”

A spokesperson for the community college system said no classes would be canceled Friday, but if any were canceled it would be by Aug. 19. Provost Mark Potter said it’s very rare for the school to cancel classes because there is no instructor. Often, he said, it’s for low enrollment.

He could not explain why that deadline was sent to employees.

This miscommunication among college leaders comes a week after Harold Washington’s president was fired for failing to comply with City Colleges’ residency requirements for employees.

All seven City Colleges have seen large enrollment declines over the past decade. Some are concerned about the threat to cancel completely full classes when enrollment is already on the decline and many students are balancing other responsibilities besides school.

“Imagine you’re supporting a family, imagine you’re working your job and you only have certain windows within your week in order to be taking classes,” said Randy Miller, president of City Colleges of Chicago Contingent Labor Organizing Committee, which represents adjuncts. “So if a class in the morning gets canceled, you don’t have the afternoon to make that up. You can’t just switch into another class.”

Miller said the union should have been contacted if there was a need for instructors so they could help find adjuncts across the seven colleges who might still need classes to teach. The union said it was unaware teachers were needed until WBEZ contacted them.

“I’m shocked I had to learn about this issue through a reporter, no offense,” he said. “We’ve made several attempts through labor management to encourage outreach to the union when they’ve got classes that need to be filled, and expressed several times a desire to amplify course availability. So it’s really shocking to me that no one reach out to the union to let us know there’s a need.”

Harold Washington Interim President Peggy Korellis said the list of open courses sent to tutors “should have been cleaned up before it was sent.”

“Our list is nowhere near what you saw,” she said. “That email was sent with best of intentions to reach qualified sources for courses we do still want to hire.”

Korellis said they are not scrambling to fill these spots and it’s normal to have courses listed as “TBA” or “to be assigned” three weeks before classes begin. She said more than 50 adjuncts have been hired this summer to cover classes. She also said there are multiple reasons a class might be listed as a TBA. It could be the case that a contract with a teacher is not finalized.

Miller said all of this is another example of poor communication between City Colleges of Chicago leadership and its labor unions.

“[There’s] a long pattern of decisions that are being made by administrators without a whole lot of input or no input from the faculty, the staff, the unions,” he said. “It has led to just this continuation of a very top-down treatment of the decision-making process at City Colleges.”

In recent weeks, unions representing City Colleges’ full-time faculty, administrative staff, adult educators and adjuncts have protested district administration for changes they’ve made to adult education classes and 29 layoffs recently approved in next year’s budget.

The adjunct union met with City Colleges leaders Friday morning to discuss why they weren’t alerted of the need for teachers and how they could work together more efficiently in the future.

Miller said the union is thinking of creating a written agreement with City Colleges that they send them a list of courses that need instructors up to three weeks in advance so they can alert members.

Kate McGee covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @McGeeReports.