Longform

Teacher's Fret

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Hart recalls that he wasn't particularly conciliatory. "I told Larry Carter that if he attempted to revoke Clark's [tenure] the union was going to come down on him in a big way...I challenged the administration constantly."

Hart didn't confine his criticism to his bosses, though. He soon found himself stepping on the toes of some of the full-time teachers. One of the perks traditionally enjoyed by full-timers is that they can select the courses they will teach in the coming semester. In mid-April, however, Hart proposed that part-timers with similar academic credentials be given equal standing in course assignments.

The specter of adjunct faculty exercising real control frightened the full-timers. "I withdrew that proposal in the face of massive resistance from full-time faculty," says Hart. "You'd have thought I was trying to take away their jobs. What I was trying to do, of course, was take away their privileges."

Hart also began attacking some faculty members personally and became caught up in a delicate debate over credentials--whether CCA's full-time faculty members were academically qualified to teach their courses. In late 1995 he took up the cause of Kathy Mills.

Mills, who has a master's degree in anthropology and is a veteran of archaeological digs in Israel, had been appointed lead instructor of the anthropology department in 1991, even though she remained, technically, a part-time teacher. In 1993, she claims, she was booted from the post and replaced by George Bruner, an administrator who'd been working on a temporary grant at CCA.

Mills says Bruner exercised an off-the-books policy at CCA known as "the right to retreat," which allows administrators to slip back into a full-time teaching job. He chose anthropology. Mills was furious.

"George Bruner, who has a degree in vocational education, who has never taken a course in anthropology, started campaigning for my job," she fumes. She also claims that what he touted as field experience--trips to Mexico and East Africa--were nothing more than extended vacations. "I called him on it," she says. "But no one would listen to what I had to say."

Hart did. He launched a personal investigation of Bruner and reported his findings to CCA's president: Bruner was unqualified, Hart said. Carter dismissed his concerns, Hart recalls, replying that Bruner's background was adequate to teach the courses. (Bruner still teaches anthropology at CCA.)

Although he had made genuine progress for part-timers, Hart's caustic style began to catch up with him this past spring. In April, his tiff with Bruner broke into the open when Bruner and about eighteen other full-timers defected from the recently formed faculty senate. "The full-time instructors felt that we needed better representation," explains Michele Amon, a foreign language teacher who joined the new senate.

Like CCA's president and the dean of instruction, Bruner declines to comment on Hart. He refers questions to his attorney, Gregory Parham, who says he has advised his client not to talk in case Bruner is named in any future legal action brought by Hart.

As the spring semester drew to a close, the atmosphere on CCA's campus became increasingly thick with tension. When Stephanie Lynn, a reporter for the student newspaper, the Highline Chronicle, began collecting information for a story about the full-time/part-time fracas, she quickly ran into trouble.

First her faculty adviser admonished her to be very cautious. Then Lynn began receiving anonymous phone calls at her home. She says that in half of them--there were about ten in all--a male voice would warn her to be careful, and then hang up. Lynn decided to postpone writing the story. "I got scared off," she admits. "There was so much tension I thought maybe I should just back off." She never wrote a story, and the phone calls stopped.

In early July, Hart says, he received a call from Van Etten requesting a meeting. When the dean refused to disclose the reason, Hart declined to attend--which, Hart says, is when Van Etten told him the purpose of the meeting: Hart was being fired. He received notification of his termination from CCA on July 15.

Late last month an attorney for the American Federation of Teachers, of which Hart is a member, wrote a letter to Carter demanding a justification for Hart's firing and threatening a lawsuit. Hart has yet to receive an official explanation of his dismissal.

Pascoe, for one, thinks Hart has a good case. "I think they're in deep trouble firing John," she says. "That's a political speech issue."

Still, as a part-time instructor, Hart is the first to admit he doesn't have much recourse. As Mills points out, because part-timers work only on temporary contracts--if any contracts at all--they have little claim to job security. Says Mills, "The administration says that since they don't hire us, they can't fire us.

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Eric Dexheimer
Contact: Eric Dexheimer