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Supreme Court Limits Community Colleges’ Ability to Replace Tenured Faculty with Adjuncts

Dec 21, 2020

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Can a community college hire an adjunct to teach classes which a tenured faculty member who was recently subjected to a reduction in force (“RIF”) is competent to teach? Not anymore according to the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision in Barrall v. John A. Logan Community College.

In Barrall, tenured faculty members were subject to a RIF by the college’s board of trustees (“Board”). During the following academic year, the Board employed adjunct instructors to teach courses previously taught by those faculty members. The dismissed faculty members challenged their dismissal based on a provision in Section 3B-5 of the Illinois Public Community College Act (“IPCCA”) which states:

For the period of 24 months from the beginning of the school year for which the faculty member was dismissed, any faculty member shall have the preferred right to reappointment to a position entailing services he is competent to render prior to the appointment of any new faculty member; provided that no non-tenure faculty member or other employee with less seniority shall be employed to render a service which a tenured faculty member is competent to render.

110 ILCS 805/3B-5.

The Illinois Supreme Court determined that adjunct instructors are, “other employees with less seniority,” since adjuncts do not accrue seniority under IPCCA, and, therefore, have “less seniority” than tenured faculty members. The Court concluded that hiring adjunct instructors to teach dismissed faculty members’ former courses qualifies as, “employ[ing] them to render a service which a tenured faculty member is competent to render.” This decision overturns a longstanding IPCCA interpretation permitting community colleges to hire adjunct instructors to teach a former course of tenured faculty on an ad hoc basis during the twenty-four (24) month recall period. The Court noted this ruling is consistent with the legislature’s goal in creating tenure, namely, “to ensure a degree of job security for teachers with experience and ability.”

The Illinois Supreme Court’s opinion in Barrell will not only impact community colleges’ decisions to employ adjunct instructors following a reduction in force of tenured faculty members, it will also impact colleges’ decisions to dismiss tenured faculty members in the first place, since Section 3B-5 of the IPCCA provides that, “no tenured faculty member may be terminated under the provisions of this Section while any probationary faculty member, or any other employee with less seniority, is retained to render a service which the tenured employee is competent to render.” For assistance in interpreting this decision as it applies to your institution, please contact any Robbins Schwartz attorney.