“Higher Educator of the Year” was born to teach–and lead

Loretta Ragsdell, an adjunct faculty member at the City Colleges of Chicago, likes to say she “was born with a textbook in one hand and a lesson plan in the other.” So it’s not surprising that she was recently honored as the first-ever National Council for Higher Education Higher Educator of the Year.

I’ve known Loretta, president of the part-time faculty union at CCC and a member of the NEA Board of Directors, for several years. When it comes to passion for students and public higher education, it’s hard to find someone as dedicated as she is. Throughout her career, Loretta has championed academic freedom and respect and fair wages for her colleagues.

She also adamantly and eloquently warned against applying the corporate model to higher education. Treating campuses like “Walmart U.” doesn’t do justice to either students or educators.

“Community colleges are supposed to provide a nurturing environment for students. But they’re changing the City Colleges into a corporate model for those who can afford to pay, and those who have the time to attend full-time,” Loretta told the NEA Higher Education Advocate last year. “And down here, you’ve got all the adjuncts holding it up. They’re really making a living off our backs.”

This year, after years of persistence, her union won a contract that provides retroactive bonuses ranging from 2 percent in 2012-13 to more than 10 percent in 2016-17. The contract provides for professional development as well.

Adjunct faculty across the nation are replicating Loretta’s never-give-up attitude. They teach the majority of postsecondary students in America and are committed educators who devote themselves to their craft and their students. They deserve much better treatment on colleges campuses than they get.

Loretta gave a powerful acceptance speech at the NEA Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly; click here to hear it.


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