VANCOUVER, Wash. — The Southwest Washington Central Labor Council is using its clout to help classified staff and faculty at Clark College fend off departmental cuts. The community college’s administration announced recently that it wants 5% budget cuts across the board.
At the same time, the college has received $35 million from the federal government’s COVID relief CARES Act—the most CARES funding of any community college in the State of Washington. Additionally, the Washington Legislature provided adequate funding for higher education in its last session that ended April 25.
The Washington Public Employees Association (WPEA), an affiliate of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 365, said the new cuts are part of an ongoing pattern that is undermining Clark College’s ability to provide a quality education. The union represents 262 classified employees there. WPEA said the college has already cut more than 60 positions in the last two years. In addition, more than 50 part-time faculty have lost all of their classes.
“There is no sunlight on this issue in our community, so we’re going to help get the word out about these cuts,” said Labor Council President Shannon Myers during a labor-sponsored vaccine clinic at Clark College May 21 put on by WPEA volunteers, the labor council, the college’s faculty union, and Rite Aid.
Myers said labor council affiliates are sharing the issue with their union brothers and sisters, unionists are writing letters to their local newspapers in protest, the labor council is pressing the issue on its Facebook page, and union leaders are talking to the mayor of Vancouver and their state senators.
“They’re getting away with a lot because nobody’s on campus,” said Myers.
Enrollment has been on the decline for years at Clark College and COVID-19 hasn’t helped matters, with enrollment dropping 15 percent across fall and winter quarters — including 19 percent fewer first-year students.
“Yet at the same time faculty and staff are going down, administrative positions are going up,” said Sarah Thorsen, a former WPEA co-chief steward who took a buyout and recently retired as a program coordinator at the college.
Courtney Braddock, Thorsen’s successor as co-chief steward, pointed out that as the college seeks to cut positions that directly help students, it is hiring two new vice presidents and keeping a third VP working under contract in the president’s office. Braddock shared numbers from the State Board of Education showing the disparities. For example, in 2010-11, with an enrollment of 16,054 students, there were 73 admin-exempt positions; in 2020-21, with enrollment at 8,403, there are 105 admin-exempt positions. She said the cuts have led to decreased services for students and increased workloads for remaining staff.
“Those three VP positions are $200,000 a pop when you include benefits,” Thorsen said. “We can’t figure out the logic in that.”
WPEA said Clark College “must focus on revenue generation and attracting students. Budget cuts and layoffs do not equate to stronger enrollment. Yet, the college’s focus is almost exclusively on planning cuts and presenting arguments for cuts. We have seen little to no concrete plans or strategies for increasing enrollment, and there has been no effort to train faculty for teaching in different modalities and during a pandemic.”
Myers said “We need to remind the board of trustees and president Karin Edwards that our community stands with the people working at Clark College.” She asks the labor community to share the information with friends, family, and co-workers in Clark County.
Send “No Cuts” letters to: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.