Treatment of Adjunct Faulted at U. of New Haven

AAUP finds that university unfairly dismissed instructor as she was on the verge of obtaining job security.
May 15, 2008

For many faculty members who aren't on the tenure track, job security is elusive. At the University of New Haven, as at a growing number of institutions, procedures exist to give multi-year contracts to those who have performed well for set periods of time. But a report being released today by the American Association of University Professors finds that this system failed an instructor -- who found herself booted (unfairly, the AAUP believes) just as she was about to get a multi-year contract.

The report found that the university ignored key standards of fairness in terminating the employment of Marianna M. Vieira last year, after she worked in the English department at New Haven 14 years, six as a part-time instructor and eight on full-time, non-tenure-track appointments. Vierira was dismissed by a dean -- without full rights of a hearing or to contest evidence -- on the basis of a series of student complaints. An AAUP investigating committee found that only one complaint went to an issue of professional conduct, and that complaint was not something that had been demonstrated as factual. The others were typical of the sort of complaints many instructors receive -- in this case about her grading, policing of plagiarism and so forth.

Vieira was dismissed under standards for those with minimal job security -- not tenure or even the assurances that come with multi-year contracts. Under these standards, the AAUP found, her department's backing meant nothing and a dean could -- and did -- make a decision to get rid of her. AAUP officials noted that the case demonstrates the vulnerability of adjuncts to such treatment.

The irony in this case was that before the inquiry that led to her dismissal -- when Vieira was serving on the Faculty Senate -- she raised questions about the status and protections of non-tenure-track faculty members. Further, she was backed by a faculty grievance panel, and her department, which believed it was close to winning a multi-year contract for her.

The AAUP report noted that had Vieira won job security -- and certainly if she had tenure -- the university would have been unlikely to dismiss her as it did.

The university did not provide a response to the report on Wednesday. However, the report itself noted that New Haven's provost, David P. Dauwalder, responded to a draft of the report, and defended the university's conduct as reasonable. Dauwalder wrote that he viewed the student complaints as serious enough to merit attention.

In addition, Dauwalder charged that the AAUP was holding the university to higher standards than New Haven had ever agreed to uphold for those who are not tenured. The provost's response said that for tenured faculty members, the university's procedures for dismissal are consistent with AAUP guidelines. However, the university considers that there are "two distinct categories of faculty" -- and that those who are not on the tenure track do not have the same procedural rights.


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