Annually contracted faculty members still waiting on contract renewal status amidst budget uncertainty

Cassie Buchman, Staff Reporter

A majority of Unit B Annually Contracted Faculty members are still waiting to see if their contracts will be renewed and they will still be able to teach at Eastern this upcoming year.

Provost Blair Lord said academic affairs has not issued contracts except to a “small number” of ACFs.

When it comes to the rest of them, he said, they have not  made a decision yet.

“We’re waiting for the budget situation to resolve, waiting for the enrollment number to be more fixed,” he said.

These contracts have routinely gone out before the end of May in past years.

“That was when enrollment was steady, the budget was fixed and everything was sailing smoothly and we could make commitments early,” Lord said.

However, he said in recent years, the administration has proceeded more cautiously.

During the previous summer, contracts were not issued until June, July or even August.

Lord said he has talked to Eastern President David Glassman about his desire to resolve the staffing situation for faculty before he retires in June and the president understands, but uncertainty because of the political gridlock makes this hard.

“Right now Springfield is continuing to be unresolved on whether we’ll get a stopgap, whether we’ll get a full budget,” Lord said. “We’re at this point holding our breath trying to get clarity from Springfield.”

The decision to renew or not renew a Unit B faculty member’s contract is dependent on whether or not the academic department is going to “absolutely have to have them” to deliver the curriculum, Lord said.

While there are a handful of academic units where the administration knows they have to have these ACFs, he said they are still considering information on many others.

The deans of colleges have been working with department chairs on managing schedules and eliminating classes with low enrollment.

“Deans have made very thoughtful and careful choices on staffing for next fall so I have the list of people they believe they need,” Lord said.

Every academic department has a seniority list for Unit B faculty, Jon Blitz, president of Eastern’s chapter of the University Professionals of Illinois, said.

He said the person highest on this list is the first one to be offered a contract in that department, though this is also dependent on program need.

If there is a course or set of courses that need to be taught but the person with the most seniority cannot teach them, then they might still offer a contract to somebody who can teach the course, Blitz said.

Lord said the administration is waiting for information regarding the budget situation before making these decisions.

“We would like a little bit of information on what ability to honor these contracts will be,” he said. “We’re only trying to be prudent.”

Blitz said most ACFs are just waiting to see if their contracts are renewed or not, leaving them essentially “strung out on a line.”

“Imagine you’ve got this job and you don’t know whether you’re going to have a job next year,” he said.

What’s causing a majority of the anxiety, he said, is the fact that people do not know if their contract is being renewed.

“As long as you don’t know you just sit there and worry about it,” Blitz said. “It’s really highly unusual; (we’ve) never had to deal with this before.”

In the past, he said, ACFs would know earlier if their contract would not be renewed, but it was also rare for contracts to not be renewed as well.

Lord said a letter was sent out last week from Human Resources to let people know that even if they do not get their contract renewed, they can still protect their retirement benefits.

“It was just information, not a statement about whether they had a contract or not,” he said. “We’re merely  trying to keep them fully informed about what their opportunities would look like.”

Linda Holloway, interim director of business services, said they decided to send this letter out this year, but she plans to do so in coming years as well.

“This particular year we just happened to send out letters to people with some retirement information in case they didn’t get a contract or wanted to reevaluate their situation and see if they were retirement ready,” Holloway said.

In the letter was a list of options people could take when retiring, such as opting for an annuity check or a lump sum of their contributions and phone numbers to contact if they are ready to retire.

Letters went out to ACF members deemed eligible for retirement. Part of the letter stated that if they do not get a contract renewed, they could reevaluate a retirement date as long as they were not working.

This date would have to be after their last contract ended in May.

There is some advantage to people saying their retirement date is June 1 or July 1, Holloway said, as they have 60 days within their separation to use unused sick leave for service credit.

She said lots of aspects can determine if people are eligible to retire.

Those with 30 years of service can retire at any age, while those with eight years of service can when they are 55.

Blitz sent out an email about a week ago, expressing the fact that the UPI is sorry about what is happening, but there is really nothing it can do.

“The contract is what gives us our leverage and there’s nothing in the contract that says (the administration) can’t do this,” he said.

However, Blitz did say there are provisions in the contract that state that if the need arises for the next two or three years, these people could be offered a position back.