Almost half of Grand Rapids Community College’s Language Art Lab staff have quit their positions in protest after their supervisor was not offered a long-term contract at GRCC.
The mass exit was coordinated after an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the departure of their supervisor, Maria McKee. The staff had threatened to leave in March with a letter sent to administrators detailing a list of demands and officially since then, six of the 14 staff members have resigned.
Two professional tutors who quit due to McKee’s departure include Grace Bruursema and Laura Dykstra who explained that the letter prompted a response from administration and a subsequent meeting with Eric Mullen, Dean of Student Success and Retention and Ann Isackson, the associate Dean of Student Success and Retention on April 5. Mullen and Isackson did not respond to requests for comment.
“I think it was like five or six of us in the meeting… We basically just followed up with questions like how contractually can this work. because they were contradicting what was in the faculty contract,” said Bruursema.
The 2022-2025 Faculty Association Contract published on GRCC’s website states, “A faculty member with a full-time temporary contract for four (4) consecutive (academic year) semesters shall be offered a regular full-time contract beginning the following semester.” McKee, however, had not been offered a position after her contract as interim Language Arts Tutorial Lab Coordinator ended despite working at the college for three years.
“They told us it was what’s called a memorandum of understanding… Apparently it’s pretty common and can overwrite the terms of a contract and then all parties will have to agree to it,” said Bruursema.
Despite the college’s lack of contractual obligations to McKee, Bruursema and Dykstra believe McKee should have been offered a position.
“In light of all of this pushback against Maria leaving, all of the staff that have supported her, why do they not keep her in her position that she excels at? Or, at the very least give her a comparable one with benefits and a salary,” said Bruursema. “To me, the meeting was not to listen to us and address our concerns. It was to placate us and to silence us.”
Another issue brought up in the meeting was a pay increase for the tutorial lab staff.
“If you can’t keep Maria, if you can’t give her a permanent position elsewhere in the college, at least could you raise our pay,” said Bruursema. “So we asked for a raise, a pay raise of at least $5.”
Bruursema claimed that the faculty in attendance denied that raise and were not interested in negotiating.
“GRCC relies heavily on its tutoring… and at the same time, they’re not paying us a livable wage,” said Dykstra. “Honestly, it hurts my heart to leave because I care about those students, but I cannot sacrifice my own care in order to provide for them”
According to Bruusema, non-degree professionals and students start at $12 an hour, tutors with a bachelor’s degree start at $14 and those with a master’s start at $16 an hour.
Although Dykstra and Bruursema have left the tutorial lab, they hope their efforts will cause GRCC administrators to reconsider their approach.
“I would love for them to surprise me and to actually make some sort of tangible change to what’s been going on. I would love that. But my expectations are low,” said Bruursema.
McKee’s last day as interim Tutorial Coordinator was May 5. Replacing her is Dan Sullivan, who left the tutoring lab temporarily to serve as GRCC’s interim associate dean of Health Services. GRCC Communications Director Dave Murray, explained the change in an email to The Collegiate. “With the new person hired to fill that position, Dan was assigned to transition back to his role with the tutorial program later this month.”
The Collegiate reached out to Sullivan who declined to comment.