The press release announcing this important development and providing additional details is below. FRCC adjunct faculty had previously established a separate entity called Colorado Adjuncts that is intended to raise awareness of adjunct working conditions at FRCC. Colorado Adjuncts has a website and a blog to keep faculty across the state and nation apprised of their work. Great credit is due Colorado Conference Executive Committee member Caprice Lawless and her faculty colleagues at FRCC for their heroic organizing efforts.
Friday, March 8, 1-3 p.m. Virja Hall, Paramita Campus, Naropa University, Boulder, Colorado. Street Address 3285 30th St., Boulder, CO 80301 (just south of Iris and The Cork restaurant).
Speaker: Donna L. Potts, professor of English at Kansas State University, and the chair of the Assembly of State Conferences for the AAUP. As chair of ASC, Dr. Potts has traveled to over twenty states, speaking on university campuses about the AAUP’s central concerns: academic freedom, shared governance, and tenure. Dr. Potts was also a member of the subcommittee on sexual assault on campus, which recently wrote a statement on the issue. She has published on topics such as sexual assault, collaborative budgeting, shared governance, and, most recently, Service to the Academic Profession (Academe, Fall 2012). Refreshments will be served, courtesy of the Colorado Conference.
A recent story in Inside Higher Ed reported on how one college administration is cutting the number of hours taught by adjunct faculty as a way to avoid having to provide health insurance as mandated by the Affordable Care Act. It is likely that more administrations will follow suit.
The Colorado AAUP is very concerned about the variety of workplace issues faced by our state’s contingent faculty. We’ve had some success in addressing them, but they remain a top priority for the organization going forward. All Colorado faculty–tenured, tenure-track, and adjunct–should also be aware of a 1920 statute stating that employees can submit any workplace dispute to arbitration through the Department of Labor (DOL). The statute doesn’t explicitly grant rights to collectively bargain, but it does allow an employee group (not necessarily a union) to present a dispute to the DOL. The DOL can arbitrate the dispute or decline to act on it. If the problem remains unsolved, workers can strike. If unwilling to strike workers can, alternatively, establish a picket line (on a nonteaching day during “nonworking” hours) on public property near the entrance to the institution. This is legal, and protected by first amendment rights to engage in such activity.
As a way to provide additional resources for Colorado faculty we’ve posted, to the Documents page of this website as well as here, an article that Ray Hogler published in The Colorado Lawyer in January 1993 discussing public sector collective activity.
Update, November 30: Youngstown State joins the list of institutions cutting the number of hours taught by adjuncts.
Last week The University of Denver’s Provost responded to the DU Faculty Senate’s motion, previously reported on this blog, urging that the finding of sexual harassment against Professor Arthur Gilbert be vacated. The Provost said that he “could no more vacate the finding of sexual harassment than he could change the score of a hockey game.” He expressed surprise that the Faculty Senate would even vote on the matter, given the “complexities” of the case and the fact that the Senate had such “limited information” with which to work. At the same time, the Provost acknowledged that DU has some problems to remedy regarding its internal due process procedures, specifically the need for greater faculty involvement in cases where student complaints are about an instructor’s classroom speech.
Although Professor Gilbert doesn’t get the official name-clearing justice that he sought, by supporting Professor Gilbert DU’s AAUP chapter succeeded in throwing light on some serious procedural inadequacies as they relate to shared governance at DU. It also succeeded in demonstrating to the Faculty Senate that it was important to speak out on Professor Gilbert’s behalf. It’s regrettable that DU’s Provost would be so critical of the Senate taking a stand on a case that raised such fundamental issues of shared governance and academic freedom.
These other observations are also worth making by way of conclusion:
1. The original student complaints against Professor Gilbert that triggered and focused the proceedings against him did not specifically allege sexual harassment, and the evidence that was compiled in a subsequent investigation of Professor Gilbert’s classroom behavior did not establish it.
2. Despite an early assurance from DU’s administration, Professor Gilbert’s rights to due process were not respected on the run-up to his being pulled from his classroom and suspended from campus. Three internal DU faculty groups (the campus AAUP chapter, the all-campus Faculty Review Committee, and a decisive majority of the Faculty Senate) plus two National organizations (the AAUP and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE) agreed that there was enough information available to make this an easy call.
3. Although the Gilbert case is officially closed at DU, FIRE is likely to keep the pressure on. FIRE’s Greg Lukianoff, in his recently published Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, describes (page 51) the Gilbert case thusly:
In 2011 the University of Denver provided another example of how far the concept of harassment has morphed from its legal origins when Professor Arthur Gilbert was declared guilty of sexual harassment and sentenced to mandatory “sensitivity training” because the content of his class The Domestic and International Consequences of the Drug War was considered too racy. According to the syllabus, one of the themes in the course was “Drugs and Sin in American Life: From Masturbation and Prostitution to Alcohol and Drugs.” How precisely, you can have a meaningful discussion of these topics without offending anybody is beyond me.
4. As indicated above, the way that this case played out exposed more than just some problems with an institution’s internal policies and procedures. It also raised fundamental concerns about the state of academic freedom and shared governance at DU. It’s one thing for institutional leaders to profess commitments to these values. It’s another thing to consistently demonstrate that they’re respected.
Update November 6: The University of Denver’s student newspaper The Clarion has a story about the Gilbert case here.
[The following Guest Commentary by Don Eron—written with the support of the Executive Committee of the Colorado AAUP—was originally submitted to The Denver Post in response to the paper’s house editorial expressing thanks that the Colorado Supreme Court rejected Ward Churchill’s appeal of a lower court’s decision upholding his firing by the University of Colorado. The commentary wasn’t accepted by The Post because, as explained by the paper’s Barbara Ellis, "We don't typically accept full-length commentaries as rebuttals to published content, otherwise that's all we'd have room to run." Don was invited to distill the piece into a 150 word letter, or else rewrite the commentary without rebutting The Post. Neither option struck us as viable because 150 words isn't enough to convey the piece’s meaning and because the commentary refers to The Post in almost every sentence. Don Eron is a member of the Executive Committee of the Colorado AAUP. He is co-author of the Conference’s report on Ward Churchill. He was recently appointed to the National AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure.]
By Don Eron
The Denver Post’s September 12 editorial, “Churchill Saga Nears End,” offers a resounding “Thank Goodness” that the Colorado Supreme Court rejected Ward Churchill’s appeal. Instead, it affirmed a lower court decision that the University of Colorado’s Board of Regents is a “quasi-judicial authority” that enjoys legal immunity even when they fire a faculty member for espousing opinions that they don’t like.
While the Post has always despised Churchill’s opinions, the 9/12 editorial claims, “it was clear at the end of the day that Churchill wasn’t fired for his opinions” but because the “spotlight” focused on his opinions “exposed his academic deceit.” As the editorial states, a CU research misconduct panel, formed after the University decided that Churchill has a First Amendment right to his opinions, found him guilty of plagiarism, misappropriating the work of others, and misrepresenting sources.
The Post’s insistence that Churchill wasn’t fired for his opinions is an irresponsible distortion. The Colorado Conference of the American Association of University Professor’s comprehensive “Report on the Termination of Ward Churchill,” published in the current AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom, concludes that the research misconduct panel convicted Churchill of academic crimes that he did not commit. The panel declared a standard method of interpretation to be academic misconduct. It disregarded Churchill’s sources and then claimed he had no sources. It faulted him for citation practices that some on the panel use themselves. It contrived new charges against Churchill based on standards designed to protect scholars in his position. The AAUP report, based on careful study of over 17,000 pages of documentation, concludes that the CU investigation into Churchill’s scholarship was a sham. Many other scholars and experts in Churchill’s discipline have reached the same conclusion.
In contrast to the administrative review that convicted Churchill of academic misconduct, the jury in Churchill’s civil trial—in “an odd hitch,” according to the Post—found that Churchill was fired because of his opinions. The jury heard witnesses from both sides and vigorous cross-examination of these witnesses. Among them were every member of CU’s research misconduct committee, the dean, the chancellor, the president of the University, and some Regents. According to an affidavit from juror Bethany Newill, the consensus of the jury was that the majority of CU’s witnesses were “biased and dishonest” and that CU’s procedures were “unfair.”
The jury awarded Churchill one dollar in damages—the Post implies that this negates the jury verdict. However, according to Newill’s affidavit, as the Post should be aware, the jury awarded Churchill the minimal damages because Churchill insisted that the issue wasn’t money, but that he wanted his job back: “We [the jury] hoped the Judge would give Churchill his job back or offer some compensation.”
The University of Colorado and the Denver Post are not the only disingenuous actors in the Churchill affair. The opinion of the Colorado Supreme Court that the termination procedures at CU are the equivalent of judicial proceedings is an odd hitch. Based on the transcripts from CU’s Privilege and Tenure Committee hearing (the “trier of fact,” according to the courts) it is difficult to imagine that anyone in the room considered Churchill’s hearing to be a judicial one. Churchill himself delivered arguments, questioned witnesses, and made objections, often without his attorney present.
Presumably this wouldn’t have happened in a court of law. The chair of the P&T committee disallowed evidence on the basis of whimsy. There was no overview or appeal mechanism to judge whether the Chair’s decisions abused judicial discretion—a fundamental safeguard of our judicial system.
The Post refers to Churchill’s pursuit of justice as “grandstanding.” It hopes that the US Supreme Court will “decline to hear the case and Colorado can relegate the Churchill matter to the history books.” The Churchill case will indeed go down in history. The risk to academic freedom—the right of university faculty to pursue ideas without fear of reprisal—and the subsequent damage to the free exchange of ideas in our society stemming from the Colorado Supreme Court decision will long be examined. While history may never be kind to some of Churchill’s opinions, it will value his prodigious scholarship. CU’s prosecution of Churchill for his ideas, to the sideline cheering of the Denver Post, will be judged more harshly.
The Colorado AAUP’s effort to help create better job security for contingent faculty is bearing fruit. As reported in yesterday’s Boulder Daily Camera, beginning next year the University of Colorado will offer three year contracts to some Instructors who are now considered at-will employees with one year teaching assignments. Testimony by AAUP member Don Eron on behalf of the Colorado House bill allowing the contracts is quoted in the Camera article. The full story is here.
The Conference’s Annual Meeting will be held Saturday, October 13 on the University of Colorado-Boulder campus in the Aspen Room of the University Memorial Center. Time is 9:00-3:00. Guest speaker is Donna Potts, Chair of the Assembly of State Conferences. The meeting is open to all AAUP members, would-be members, and non-members.