April 2002 aaUPBEAT
Faculty Rights & UD Corporatization
Faculty Passes New AAUP-Administration Collective Bargaining Agreement
On Wednesday, March 20, the initial tally for the collective bargaining agreement vote was authenticated by AAUP representatives and one Administration official. However, we extended the final-count deadline by one and a half days to insure that all mailed ballots reached us prior to the final count. The final count was 386 (78.3 percent) in favor, 53 (10.8 percent) opposed, and 54 (10.9 percent) invalid for technical reasons. This was the highest faculty turnout for a contract vote in over a decade
The expanded faculty turnout was spurred by the elimination this year of centralized voting locations and their replacement by a mail-in ballot system. Ballots were mailed to all UD faculty on March 11 and had to be returned to the AAUP office by March 20.
The Dougherty Case: A Warning Sign for UD Faculty
Daniel "Dean" Dougherty has taught S-contract courses for the English Department for the past fourteen years. English Department professors describe him as "an honored member of our S-contract faculty" and as "a trusted and valued colleague." One professor, summing up Dougherty's qualities as a teacher, stated, "I have observed his interactions with students for many years and have seen nothing but dedication and respect."
Yet in spite of the high regard in which Dougherty is held, on February 4, 2002 he was summoned to a meeting with high-level University administrators and suspended from teaching. The reason given by the Administration for this disciplinary action was that a parent of one of Dougherty's students had registered a complaint with the Administration because Dougherty allegedly had sent a curt e-mail to the student in response to the student's request to be enrolled in one of Dougherty's classes. Dougherty responded to the allegation by challenging its merits.
Although Dougherty's suspension finally was lifted in the latter part of April with full back pay, his reinstatement did not "just happen." Active English Department intervention on his behalf, which included meetings with the relevant Administration officials, compelled the Administration to reexamine the case, as did the AAUP's indications that it considered Dougherty's predicament a violation of faculty rights and as such an issue of importance to all faculty. The AAUP also supplied Dougherty with counsel, in spite of the fact that his status as a part-time instructor prevents him from receiving the benefits of full union membership. Still, when the AAUP was informed about his case it was clear that there was a lot at stake in the Dougherty incident in terms of all faculty members' rights, particularly their right not to be terminated without just cause and not to be harassed under any circumstances. For these reasons, it is useful to take a detailed look at what happened.
The summary action taken by the Administration against Dougherty was deeply troubling. First, there is the issue of due process. Dougherty received no pre-notice that his attendance was to be required at a meeting to discuss his alleged rudeness to the student. Instead, he was informed of the meeting at the last minute, thereby denying him the opportunity to prepare for the meeting or to arrange for someone to accompany him as advisor or counsel. Consequently, when he showed up at the meeting he found himself in the position of having to answer, unprepared, a string of Administration queries concerning his e-mail to the student. Following this "interview," Administration members met in an adjacent room, decided to suspend Dougherty, then returned and informed him of their decision. By this point in the so-called fact-finding effort, it was clear that the allegation against Dougherty had taken on a life of its own, resulting in a sequence of events (e.g., the registering of the complaint by the student's parent, the Administration's initial response to the parent, and the Administration's decision to hold a special meeting with Dougherty) about which Dougherty had been kept in the dark. This problem of treating Dougherty as if he had no rights continued right through the interview meeting at which he was suspended. After the suspension was announced, the Administration officials in attendance didn't inform Dougherty of his appeal rights nor of any other of the procedures available to him for reviewing the validity of the claims against him and the severity of his punishment.
In addition to the due process issue, Dougherty also suffered as a result of an Administration penchant to micro-manage. In this case there were no claims of sexual harassment, inappropriate behavior, or other violations of student rights or University policy. Nonetheless, the Administration considered itself justified in intervening in the English Department's affairs and denying the Department the right to evaluate the complaint against Dougherty on its own. Yet surely a complaint about a curt or insensitive e-mail from an instructor to a student is something that a Department should be able to handle on its own. Departments should be sufficiently respected that they are allowed to deal with relatively small matters like this without high-level Administration intervention.
Another vexing aspect of the Dougherty case is its potential effect on campus climate. It is unsettling that a student or parent, in effect, can have an instructor dismissed because of the student's or parent's misinterpretation of an e-mail's tone. The Administration's instinctive acquiescence to the complaining parent's accusation is an example of how deeply the corporate model has taken root in higher education: the complainant, treated as if he or she is an unhappy consumer in a department store, is given "the customer is always right" treatment whether or not their complaint warrants such a response. Yet the truth of the matter is that universities are not department stores and students and students' parents aren't consumers (in terms of higher education) in any traditional sense. Students and parents must certainly have the right to be heard if they have a substantive complaint against a faculty member, but there is a big difference between students and parents having this right (a right which the AAUP defends one hundred percent) and the Administration choosing to ignore faculty rights simply because the Administration doesn't want to disappoint the so-called customer. From a faculty perspective, the problem in such a situation isn't the complainant, but rather the Administration which, whether intentionally or not, chooses good public relations over sound higher education policy and as a result undermines faculty freedom.
Academics are used to viewing free speech issues through the lens of the voluminous writings on First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment and academic freedom decisions. For instance, the 1957 U.S. Supreme Court decision Sweezy v. New Hampshire dealt with the issue of whether or not a state Attorney General could prosecute an individual for refusing to respond to queries about a lecture which that individual had given at a state university. The case arose after the New Hampshire Attorney General, as part pf his effort to uncover communist activities in the state, jailed a professor for refusing to answer questions about a lecture he'd given on a variety of topics including social justice and socialism. The Supreme Court overturned the lower court's decision because of what it perceived to be the lower court's violation of the academic freedom principle. As Justice Earl Warren wrote in the decision, the "essentiality of freedom in the community of American universities is almost self-evident. No one should underestimate the vital role in a democracy that is played by those who guide and train our youth. To impose any strait jacket upon the intellectual leaders in our colleges and universities would imperil the future of our nation."
These are powerful words, but it behooves faculty members today to recognize that often free expression impediments are designed not merely to block unpopular ideas, but also to create contexts in which the academic world in general is viewed as subservient to the marketplace and therefore obligated to accommodate itself to marketplace trends. Such accommodations can take the form of (1) administrative pressure on faculty to satisfy their students in the same way that salespeople satisfy their customers, (2) different academic departments commanding different salary levels on the basis of which subjects are perceived to be the most marketplace friendly, and (3) the relegation of more and more full-time faculty work to part-time and/or "gypsy teachers" who invariably receive lower salaries, less (if any) benefits, and less job security than do full-time faculty. Given this trend toward higher-education corporatization, incidents like the Dean Dougherty case can only alarm us to the fact that if we don't stay on our toes our rights will increasingly erode.
Throughout his case, Dougherty admitted that he probably could have written a more effective e-mail. However, he felt, and still feels, as do the more than twenty-five English Department faculty who either phoned or wrote the AAUP about this matter, that the Administration went way overboard in its response to the parent's complaint.
The AAUP does not officially represent Dean Dougherty since he is not a fulltime faculty member. However, we supplied legal counsel because we considered the case an important one that raised serious issues concerning faculty rights, academic freedom, due process, and unnecessary Administration micro-management. Inclusive University policies must be developed which guarantee that part-time instructors are protected against Administration mistreatment. All faculty members, regardless of their AAUP status or their workload status, should be protected by fair treatment provisions.
Michael E. Picollelli Wins 2002 AAUP Student Scholarship Award
The $1,500 AAUP Student Award recipient for 2002 is Michael E. Picollelli, Mathematics.
Mr Picollelli has established his outstanding academic skills in a number of ways. First, he attained a 3.92 cumulative GPA in an extremely rigorous area of study. Second, he completed his undergraduate program in three years and, while doing this, also took ten graduate courses, including two doctoral level courses. Third, he conducted impressive research in hypergraphics at the prestigious Rutgers summer program in 2001; he later presented his research outcomes at Charles University in Prague. Fourth, his recommending professors rate him as the "best undergraduate student" they have seen, a person whose ability is such that he "outperformed all other students, including all the graduate students." It was further stated by his recommenders that his "potential as a researcher is almost unlimited" given his expertise in his areas of interest.
Mr. Picollelli has been accepted to three of the top graduate programs in his field on the East Coast.
He looks forward to pursuing a promising academic career.