Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ask the Administrator: Mandatory Workshops

An annoyed correspondent writes:

I'm an adjunct at a community college. My community college recently instituted a requirement that everyone who teaches an online class take an eight hour workshop, which is quite burdensome. I understand you cannot offer any specific legal advice, but by requiring a specific workshop taught only by the college, isn't the college asking me to act as an employee, rather than as contractor? It seems like there's a blog post in here about what colleges can and cannot require adjuncts to do.

In my specific case, I don't want to do it both because the workshop conflicts with my other job (so I have to burn eight hours of vacation time) but also because the workshop is probably worthless....

I’ll open by saying I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t address the finer points of employment law.

That said, it’s pretty common practice among colleges to require training on the web platform used for online classes. That becomes particularly important when a college “migrates” from one platform to another, as we’re doing this year.

I’ll discuss how we do it where I am, and then open up the comments to see if others have found good ways to handle it.

Both the adjuncts and the full-time faculty here are unionized, so questions like these are collectively bargained. The union has agreed that adjuncts can be “required” to attend one meeting per semester as a condition of employment; we don’t typically enforce that beyond the first semester, but the option is there. For something like this, where a one-hour meeting is unlikely to address the issue, we pay a stipend.

Even with that, of course, there are issues. Some people need all the training they can get, while others already know quite well what they’re doing. In the case of something like a web platform, some of our adjuncts have already learned that platform at the other places they teach, and they may have already been using it for years. The most elegant solution I’ve seen to that is to find an online training with a certificate of completion at the end; if you’re already fluent enough that you can blast through a six hour program in thirty minutes, more power to you. Present certificate, receive check, end of discussion.

Theoretically, one could simply leave the training up to the initiative of the instructor. Ten years from now, online education will probably by commonplace enough -- and the platforms streamlined enough -- that that may be a realistic option. But for the moment, the issues of quality control are serious enough that I wouldn’t recommend it. The problem is that newbies don’t know what they don’t know, until a mob of angry students storms the dean’s office. At that point, the damage is done.

In terms of the legal issue, I don’t know of any legal prohibition against paying adjuncts for workshops. Yes, there are issues to address around uniformity, but we address those as a matter of course. The legal issue I’m concerned with is a “permatemp” claim, not a complaint about a one-day workshop.

That’s how it works here, anyway. Wise and worldly readers, how does your campus handle workshops for adjuncts?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.