Punishing a Whistle Blower?

Adjunct leader who spoke out about untruthful benefit forms found that after winning a battle, he lost his courses. But things turned around when he spoke out again.
August 25, 2009

A year ago, Gerald J. Davey, an adjunct at San Antonio College, was the whistle blower on a practice that angered fellow adjuncts nationwide.

The college, like many, has rules that provide benefits and higher base pay to those who teach 12 credits or more. But as a condition of receiving some courses that put them at the 12-credit threshold, some adjuncts were being required to agree in writing to pretend that they were only teaching 11 credits. So adjuncts who needed the base pay had to lie, and lose out on benefits, to get the courses they needed.

After the college abandoned the policy, some adjuncts told Davey that much as they appreciated what he had done, they worried that he would be out of work soon. And as of Monday morning, it looked like that was going to be the case.

In an interview, backed up by various e-mail documents, Davey said that his courses went from two to one after the incident, and that until last week, he thought he had one course lined up for the semester. Two days before the course was to start, he was told he wouldn't be teaching the course. Not only would he lose out on the pay, but by having a semester without teaching, Davey's benefits -- which he describes as his main financial incentive for teaching -- would be endangered.

Davey said he believed that he was being punished for speaking to Inside Higher Ed and others about the situation last year. (He never signed a benefits waiver, but spoke out on behalf of those who did.) He said that supervisors told him to "shut up" -- and that it was hard for him to believe any other reason could explain his sudden loss of the course, especially when he has a doctorate and a publishing record that his colleagues lack.

He said he was frustrated but not surprised by the action, and was working on a formal complaint to file with the college. "I knew there was risk when I spoke out, but the college was doing something that was absolutely wrong," he said.

His situation has been of concern to many adjuncts nationally. Maria Maisto, chair of the New Faculty Majority, a group promoting better working conditions for adjuncts, said that she considered Davey "truly inspiring" for what he did last year. "When he discovered fraud at his place of work, he protested against it fearlessly even though, as an adjunct teacher, he was not protected by tenure. We should all take courage from his example."

Maisto said that "retaliatory behavior has become increasingly common as a means of dealing with individuals who are willing to bring this social inequity to the world's attention."

In Davey's case, there was a twist on Monday. Inside Higher Ed posed a series of questions to his college about why his course suddenly disappeared and whether retaliation was at play. Late in the day, a spokeswoman e-mailed back and while she did not address the retaliation charge, she said that "adjunct instructors are never guaranteed classes," but are hired "as needed." She added, however, that "a section that was not expected to open, did open, and there is a need for Gerald Davey to teach. He has been offered the class."

Davey confirmed that an offer had come in late in the day. He said he still believed he had been retaliated against (and would maintain his complaint with the college) and that the course offering came through only because the college did not want to again be embarrassed by its treatment of adjuncts.

He will accept the course assignment, Davey said, as long as he doesn't have to sign any false statements about his hours to do so.


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