Columbia University is challenging a recent vote by its graduate student employees to unionize, The New York Times reported. The complaint to the National Labor Relations Board says that "known union agents" were standing closer to polling places than allowed, and that voters should have been required to present identification. Graduate student leaders say the vote was valid and Columbia is trying to drag out the dispute so that a Trump administration NLRB, with new members, might remove the right of graduate students at private universities to unionize.
A New York State appellate court has reinstated two professors’ lawsuit against New York University, which alleges that the institution broke a de facto contract with them. The ruling, though preliminary, is significant in that it suggests that policies outlined in a faculty handbook can amount to a kind of contract.
The lawsuit in question involves two tenured professors in the School of Medicine, Marie Monaco and Herbert Samuels, who saw their salaries involuntary reduced for not meeting external funding requirements in ways that they argue violated the faculty handbook. Specifically, they say that tenure, as defined by the handbook, ensures academic freedom and economic security and so is incompatible with salary reductions related to external funding metrics. A lower court found that the lawsuit had no merit, as “no writing was submitted to demonstrate that the respondents agreed that its faculty handbook and policy documents could or should have a contractually binding effect.” Moreover, Justice Alexander W. Hunter Jr. wrote in his 2015 opinion, “even if the handbook were contractually binding, the handbook itself is devoid of any provision which guarantees tenured faculty a particular level of support as a condition of their tenure.”
The appellate court, however, ruled earlier this month that, for the purposes of reinstating the lawsuit, Monaco and Samuels “sufficiently alleged that the policies contained in [NYU’s] faculty handbook, which ‘form part of the essential employment understandings between a member of the faculty and the university,’ have the force of contract” and “that they had a mutual understanding with [NYU] that tenured faculty members' salaries may not be involuntarily reduced.”
Monaco said via email, “Since many tenured faculty members at NYU are without individual contracts and rely solely on the faculty handbook to define their tenure rights of academic freedom and economic security, it is essential that NYU recognize their obligation to respect the contractual nature of the handbook. Had the lower court ruling stood, many tenured faculty at NYU would have become at-will employees. … At a time when tenure across the country is under attack, it is nice to have this win.”
An NYU spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. William Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College of the City University of New York, said, “Oftentimes, New York courts reject the argument that an employment handbook is a binding implied contract.” The professors' case was supported by the American Association of University Professors.
Tenured and tenure-track faculty members at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville will be represented in collective bargaining by the National Education Association, the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board said late last week. A majority of faculty members signed a petition in support of such representation, with many thinking more about the ongoing, statewide budget crisis than campus-specific issues, according to information from the new union. “We organized to ensure a place at the table when hard decisions need to be made,” Kim Archer, professor of music, said in a news release.
A former junior professor at Stanford University says the institution retaliated against her for filing a sexual harassment complaint against a senior professor, which resulted in a finding that he had made an “unwanted sexual advance” but did not harass her, The Guardian reported. Michelle Karnes, who is now an associate professor of English at the University of Notre Dame, says Stephen Hinton, Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities at Stanford, told her he had a “crush” on her and that he was “tormented” by his feelings, once kissed her on the lips, and continually tried to talk to her at the gym even after she said she wanted no further contact.
Karnes says she confided in a fellow professor who was also the wife of her dean but was told to try to appease Hinton based on his position within the university. The dean’s office approved soon Karnes’s tenure but did not renew the position of her husband, Shane Duarte, a lecturer in philosophy for fall of this year. Karnes says that she and her husband had been hired as a “dual-career” academic couple, and the move to not rehire him after years of service and positive reviews was retaliatory. Instead of targeting her, she believes, administrators went after her husband because he was off the tenure track.
Hinton denied the allegations, saying the two had a “platonic, reciprocal relationship.”
Lisa Lapin, a university spokesperson, said the university conducted a “thorough and objective review” of Karnes’s allegations, but declined further comment on what she called personnel matters.
In the immediate aftermath of a highly charged 2016 presidential election, a number of college and university presidents issued public statements expressing their concerns over the unexpected result and vowing to protect students from a national resurgence of racism, sexism, xenophobia and misogyny that they believe to be implicit in Donald Trump’s victory.
Rather than helping to reduce tensions and assuage fears, these expressions of alarm, concern and support may have done more to create campus unrest than forestall it by reinforcing the notion that the academic community must erect barricades to protect its members -- instead of exploring what happened in the election and why.
In my dealings as a university president with donors, alumni, legislators, staff members, faculty members and students, I hear views that are every class of right, left and center. To most of those with whom I speak (and to most people in general), their views appear to them to be self-evident truth.
This normal human tendency is exacerbated by what pioneering online organizer Eli Pariser calls the “filter bubble,” in which the modern proliferation of news media allows us -- and, in fact, encourages us -- to surround ourselves only with views that match our own. That phenomenon is a problem not only intellectually and politically but also ethically.
To think within such bubbles is to put the person who is outside one’s bubble into a limiting category in which we believe we understand everything we need to know about that person. As the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas taught, this subjection of the other person to one’s own categories is precisely the definition of violence. Levinas, most of whose family was wiped out in the Holocaust, goes so far as to find in this limited categorization of “the other” an important source of the Nazis’ violence against Jews.
Presidential elections regularly practice this kind of violent categorization (think “lying Hillary” and “racist Trump”), though it was more extreme than usual in this one. Such hyperbolic characterizations of another’s position are themselves examples of the violence implicit in racism and the imposition of untruth. In that sense, violence knows no party, and neither violence nor its cure can be laid at the feet of the democratic process, since any person’s vote can be a gesture of violence or peace. I would go so far as to suggest that our either/or two-party system of national elections, in addition to our post-Enlightenment prioritization of the individual over the group, tends to promote -- or, at least, in no way combat -- the violence of categorization and exclusion of the other.
How do we get out of this violent cycle? As an alumnus said to me recently, those who are upset by the election results need to ask themselves, “Why did my views lose?” Donald Trump’s victory was not a coup but a free election in a democracy. That cannot be labeled populism gone awry, because he will very likely be chosen by the very system, the Electoral College, that was established in part to counter unbridled populism, and it is now pretty clear that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. Barring any major surprises (which virtually no one anticipates) in the various recounts now occurring, he is our president-elect, because we elected him. There is no “they” to blame here -- not even Russia.
The hacking of internal Democratic National Committee and other emails during the campaign, for which the CIA blames Russia, is a serious national security concern. However, to equate it to a foreign manipulation of the election is an illogical inference, even if that was their intent, and as much as it might fit into the bubble of a Cold War narrative. Russian operatives didn’t stuff ballot boxes, coerce voters or even spread fake news. If the CIA is correct, they simply released presumably authentic emails that DNC staff did not want released. (Of all people, given Clinton’s own email woes, those staffers should have known better than to write self-incriminating emails.)
The hacking itself may be evil, but that doesn’t translate into an evil effect on the election. If people’s votes were changed, they were freely changed on the basis of new information. Our own government’s reopening of the Clinton email case probably did as much to dissuade people from voting for Clinton as any action by a foreign power.
Apocalyptic hand-wringing, especially by those of us in the business of educating the electorate, is really not helpful. (Plenty of college-educated people voted for Trump, so it’s disingenuous to pin his victory on the poorly educated.) Even President Obama, whose personal and political legacy has more to lose than most in this election, said, as noted in David Remnick’s recent New Yorker piece, “This is not the apocalypse.”
The way forward is to find common ground, oppose violence and work toward the good -- as even Senator Bernie Sanders is doing in engaging Trump on a shared concern for the plight of the working class. Trump also has a distinctive opportunity, despite his own campaign rhetoric, to separate conservatism from bigotry by disavowing the openly racist “alt-right” groups that have stepped out of the shadows (where they were arguably more dangerous) since the election.
As institutions of higher education, we need to provide a diverse and inclusive environment that challenges students both to get out of their filter bubbles and to recognize the violence implicit in living inside a bubble. That requires us to protect them when necessary, including from the violence of others who would define them by race, gender, political beliefs or national origin.
But we also need to prepare them to live and work in a messy democracy in which, following Levinas, peace is achieved not through the voter’s assertion of the priority of individual choice, but rather by acknowledging the infinity of the other person -- someone who has an existence we should respect beyond the categories we are tempted to impose. I hope that can be an important part of our focus as citizens and educators going forward.
David P. Haney is president of Centenary University.
A federal judge last week dismissed a lawsuit against Florida Atlantic University brought by James Tracy, the former professor of communication there who repeatedly called the 2014 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre a hoax. Tracy was terminated over failing to complete a conflict of interest policy, but he alleged that he was really fired over the theories he promoted on his personal blog. Judge Robin Rosenberg based her decision in large part on what she called a “lack of clarity” in the lawsuit, which alleged First Amendment violations and other counts.
Tracy’s “narrative intertwines multiple constitutional theories and, as a result, both this court and defendants struggle to define the alleged constitutional injury in this case,” Rosenberg wrote. Regarding Tracy’s free speech violation claim, she said that while "the theoretical possibility exists that the [conflict of interest] form could be used by [the university] to restrict speech or otherwise restrict an outside activity, [Tracy] never reached that particular point as [he] refused to fill out the form.” Tracy will have a final opportunity to rework portions of his lawsuit and possibly resubmit it.