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Community College of Philadelphia accuses union of calling for 'partial strike'

Administrators and the union representing faculty at the Community College of Philadelphia are at odds over faculty's role in assessing whether courses are meeting their objectives in helping students learn.

The union, amid tense contract negotiations, has advised members that the work is optional and that they should refrain from all voluntary assignments until they get a new contract.

College officials say that the work is mandatory and that not performing it constitutes a "partial strike." The union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, which the college has answered.

The administration says that if the work is not performed, the college could land back on a warning list maintained by the organization that accredits colleges and universities.

"The college believes this is work that is part of their professional obligation as members of the faculty," said Kevin Feeley, who spoke on behalf of the administration. "It's work that is necessary and critical to the successful operation of the college."

Feeley and Lynette Brown-Sow, the college's vice president for marketing and government relations, said most faculty had continued to do the work, but that they were concerned the message from the union would begin to erode that effort.

Steve Jones, co-president of the 1,000-member union, which includes 400 full-time faculty, 400 part-time faculty, and about 200 support staff, disputed the administration's account.

He said the administration's assertion that the duty is mandatory and ordering the union to refrain from discouraging it constituted a change in working conditions, not allowed by the contract.

"It's like schoolyard stuff," he said.

Jones said the administration should focus on reaching a deal for a contract. The previous five-year pact expired in August. The union has complained about the college's proposals, including increased health costs and a move to have faculty teach five courses a semester instead of four for a $7,000 increase in base pay.

"The way out of this conflict is not for one side to give in," Jones said. "The way out of the conflict is for the administration to come to their senses and start talking to us about a solution that we both can live with."

The college has said it wants to keep tuition costs down while raising graduation rates. Philadelphia residents pay $2,581 per semester for a 13-credit course load. The minimum starting salary for a full-time faculty member is $50,529 and the average below $70,000.

In 2014, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education warned the college that its accreditation could be in jeopardy because it failed to document how it assesses student learning and inform staff of the results.

"It took us almost a year to get off the warning list," Brown-Sow said.

Jones acknowledged that lack of assessment work would pose a problem for the college.

"If they don't come to an agreement with us," he said, "a lot of dire things can happen."