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Illinois Community Colleges Cannot Replace Laid Off Tenured Faculty with Adjuncts

Higher Education Publications

On December 17, 2020, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that a community college violated the Illinois Public Community College Act when it replaced laid off tenured faculty members  with adjunct faculty. The case addressed Section 3B-5 of the Act, which addresses “bumping rights” and prohibits community colleges from employing “other employees with less seniority” for services a laid off tenured faculty member is competent to render.

Barrell v. Board of Trustees of John A. Logan Community College (insert link) involved the layoff of 27 full-time, tenured faculty members at an Illinois community college. The college subsequently hired adjunct instructors to teach the courses previously taught by the tenured faculty members, who filed a lawsuit claiming that this action violated Section 3B-5 of the Act. A trial court initially dismissed the complaint, but the Illinois Appellate Court reversed, finding that Section 3B-5 confers bumping rights onto tenured faculty based on seniority, and that hiring adjuncts to teach classes the more senior tenured faculty were capable of teaching violated the Act.

On review, the Illinois Supreme Court agreed. Although Section 3B-5 does not refer to adjunct faculty, it prohibits the employment of a “non-tenure faculty member or other employee with less seniority” to render a service that a tenured faculty member is competent to render. Using dictionary definitions of “employee” and “seniority,” the Court found that adjunct faculty, who do not accrue seniority, fell into the category of “other employees with less seniority” than tenured faculty. Accordingly, the college violated the Act by hiring adjunct faculty to perform work that the laid off tenured faculty members were capable of performing.

The decision could have serious consequences for community colleges across the state. As Chief Justice Burke explained in a dissenting opinion, the majority’s broad interpretation of the Act eliminates the ability of community colleges to navigate a budget crisis through the hiring of adjuncts rather than rehiring laid off tenured faculty at full pay and benefits As Chief Justice Burke noted, this interpretation essentially defeats the purpose of the layoff, preventing the college from managing its budget.

Community colleges should consider this decision and its implications when planning future layoffs. Contact the authors of this post or any other Franczek attorney for assistance with the impact of this decision.