Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) is one of the Midwest’s largest community-based technical colleges serving nearly 14,000 students with over 500 faculty and 700 support staff. It is the most diverse college in the state with more than half of the students identifying themselves as a minority. Additional campuses in Mequon, Oak Creek, and West Allis, serve students in the Milwaukee suburbs. MATC offers many services to help students at all learning levels reach their goals. These include academic support centers, computer labs, bilingual services and support for those with special needs. Several programs support the retention of minority students. 

Problem Addressed

MATC leadership and the Board learned through a professionally commissioned study that compensation for part-time faculty was out of line with comparable colleges. The Board concluded that MATC could not sustain current salary levels due to tightening budgets and public perception (tax-payer dollars pay a substantial portion of educational costs for technical colleges in WI). However, faculty members pointed out that they do much more than teach – they are counselors, advisors and the first line of help for students, many of which had previously unsuccessful or unfavorable educational experiences. They felt the study did not accurately account for these additional efforts. In addition, the part-time faculty association was skeptical of the methodology used in the study and therefore its outcomes. Instructors felt a sense of betrayal and disappointment. 

Left unaddressed, these concerns could impact employee morale leading to further unwanted outcomes such as absenteeism, insubordination, and low productivity, resulting in a diminished quality of service. 

A committee composed of faculty and the college’s leadership team was charged with making a recommendation on part-time faculty compensation to the Board. Previous conversations had stalled with each party becoming more entrenched in their own positions. This was understood to be the final effort by the college to solicit a collaborative and interest-based recommendation. The President made it clear that the status quo was no longer an option but was receptive to considering other recommendations produced by the group. It was also a given that no current faculty member would be subject to a pay cut.  

Solutions Used
  • Facilitated conversations. To avoid jumping to biased and misinformed conclusions, HueLife facilitated a series of conversations around what was driving committee members’ positions. What were the root causes of the tension? What hopes and concerns existed? What vision did people have? Where did interests and values overlap?
  • Collaborative problem-solving techniques. Facilitators used the ToP methods and principles of interest-based negotiation, to create a participatory environment, develop a shared awareness and appreciation for diverse perspectives, and find group agreement, all while energizing people toward a common goal.
  • Continuous assessment of consensus. To ensure that outcomes were acceptable to all members of the committee, facilitators assessed the level of consensus at every step, ensuring that members were aligned before proceeding.

The subcommittee forwarded two options to the Board and met their deadline. Each option reflected an appreciation for the interests of all while attempting to preserve ideals from each of the represented parties. The participants willingly and proactively participated which demonstrated their dedication to the heart of the college mission. Ultimately, the group found it had many interests in common and re-affirmed the larger goal of serving students as their driving force. Participants left with a renewed commitment and a unified vision that will guide them in the years to come.  

Lessons Learned

Organizations must be sensitive to their employees reaction to changes. There are effective methods and techniques to manage problems that may arise with these changes, and it is beneficial to collaborate with those impacted to see other approaches that are fit for the organization. 


“I appreciate all the work you did and greatly appreciate the documentation. The work the team has done shows we went through a defined process and that all constituents were included. It has been a great experience. I wish this had been suggested last year. We would have been in a much better situation.

– Cheryl Zima, Vice President of Human Resources

Who should consider this training?

Organizations who want to work as a team to drive change for the greater good using collaborative problem-solving techniques and consensus building; and organizations who need help handling  reactions to changes by their workforce. 

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