DEARBORN — John McDonald, president of Henry Ford College’s Federation of Teachers, was recently re-elected vice president of the American Federation of Teacher’s Executive Board at a national convention in Minneapolis. He said he is honored to continue to represent higher education professors across the country and is advocating for their interests.
McDonald, an involved member of the local community, said that among the top concerns of the AFT, which represents 1.6 million public employees, is state government’s disinvestment in higher education.
He said 20 years ago, about half the then-community college’s revenue came from the state, while only 20 percent came in the form of tuition.
Today, that ratio has reversed, with more than half of the revenue earned from tuition.
“That’s because the state has stepped away from its responsibility of funding higher ed,” he said.
McDonald said funding, schools with consideration to both universities and students’ interests is another pressing issue for the AFT, as colleges currently rely on increasing tuition.
As tuition increases, so does student debt, another undertaking of the AFT, he added.
However, students are not the only party at a disadvantage at colleges. In response to funding cuts, McDonald said most of the time, colleges employ part-time faculty. He said the colleges exploit many who work part time across different campuses to earn enough for a comfortable living.
More than 70 percent of college instructors work part time at their institutions, he said. At HFC, about half are part time.
“If anyone goes to a K-12 system and says, ‘How would you like part time faculty teaching in your elementary and secondary schools?’, rightly so, there would be an uproar,” McDonald said. “And it’s happened in higher ed for the last 20 years.”
Institutions have developed a corporate, top down mentality, rather than let educators determine what is most effective in the classroom, he added. That method forces the schools to adopt the latest “fad” when creating a curriculum.
Backed by state legislators, privatized K-12 schools face few staffing concerns, while state employees are losing jobs.
“People do not see public employees as public servants offering benefits to the public,” he said, pointing to right-wing legislators who often advocate for tax cuts.
McDonald said his peers view higher education not as common good for society, but more a commodity to be purchased, especially for its economy.
The AFT currently is engaged in the upcoming local and statewide elections, because the decisions of Lansing lawmakers would directly impact the careers of government employees like K-12 educators.
The foundation also advocates for politicians who tangibly improve school systems by putting adequate money behind education.