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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

September 20, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

Commentary: College’s action against contingent faculty impacts students

Students at IC are still seeing negative fallout as a result of the administration’s attempts to retaliate against contingent faculty who unionized and fought for better working conditions. Earlier this semester, in the midst of contract negotiations, contingent faculty members unexpectedly saw themselves removed from the class schedule for the fall. Where the names of beloved and long-serving professors could once be found in HomerConnect, students suddenly saw that their course would now be taught by the eminent scholar “To Be Determined.” The word from several department Chairs is that this change came from above, and that they were asked to implement it even though it goes against years of departmental practice. Like the recent firings of Shoshe Cole, David Kornreich, and Rachel Gunderson, this attempt by the administration to punish union members among the faculty has a high cost for students.

Although we are contingent, we are not temporary: our average tenure here is 7 years, and often we teach upper-level classes, mentor students, and have students who follow us from year to year. Like all good teachers, we develop strong relationships with our students, and as a result, both the students and the teacher want to build those relationships further.

Students will look for a section taught by their favorite professor, or will tell their friends about a professor they loved. Moreover, students have the right to research their professors before meeting them on the first day of class, to find professors whose research interests dovetail with their own and to find professors who they can connect with. Students from historically underrepresented groups need to be able to do this, as they are often in search of the crucial and all too rare opportunity to be taught by professors who might better understand their lived experiences.

We have already had multiple students confused and upset by this unnecessary and backwards step that the administration has taken to remove our names from the course schedule. We’re told that our names will not reappear on the schedule until after the college has sent us our official contracts — even though our departments already know which sections we’ll be teaching. This also keeps us from accessing workflow to consider override requests for our courses. When our names finally do appear, and students realize that they’ve signed up for the wrong section, it will inevitably lead to more scheduling conflicts down the road, to students not getting into the course they wanted with the professor they wanted, and to professors missing out on the opportunity to further develop their mentorship relationships with students they’ve had before.

This is another example of the systematic retaliation against union members that led to what we believe to be the illegal firings of Shoshe Cole, David Kornreich, and Rachel Gunderson. The “fired three” taught courses crucial to major and ICC requirements, were forced to turn away hundreds of override requests each semester due to the popularity of and need for their courses, and received great course evaluations from their students. By firing these three professors, the administration has communicated once again that it does not have the best interests of students in mind. Students who were going to take Personal Health, Sustainable Energy, or Stars, Galaxies and the Universe with these professors may not even be able to take them in the fall, as departments have had to scramble to replace people who have been teaching those subjects faithfully for years. Students who need those courses to graduate may even end up paying extra to take them in the summer.

Ithaca College should demonstrate its commitment to its students and to its professors by reinstating the names of contingent faculty on the course schedule and by agreeing to come back to the table to agree on a fair settlement with the faculty members who were fired without cause.

Sarah Grunberg, Instructor, Department of Sociology
Megan Graham, Assistant Professor, Department of Writing
Erin Francisco, Lecturer, Department of Writing