Fired After 40 Years

AAUP finds that Pacific Lutheran violated an adjunct professor and advocate's rights in effectively dismissing her for offering private lessons to a student who asked for them.

January 21, 2020
Jane Harty
(Music Northwest)

Pacific Lutheran University violated a longtime instructor’s academic freedom and due process when it summarily dismissed her earlier this academic year, according to a new investigative report from the American Association of University Professors.

The instructor’s alleged offense was offering paid music lessons to a student, despite the department chair’s directive against doing so. Yet the AAUP found that the instructor had arranged lessons with the student prior to the chair’s directive, and that other faculty members had previously done the same thing without punishment.

The report means that the AAUP could vote to censure the university -- which has otherwise clashed with its adjunct faculty over employment conditions and rights -- at the association’s next national meeting.

This investigation is also significant because it’s about the rights of a faculty member without tenure. These kinds of reports are still few in number, as the AAUP has traditionally investigated academic freedom and other complaints concerning tenured professors. They're becoming more common, however, in a sign of the changing and increasingly part-time, untenured nature of the professoriate.

Jane Harty, the instructor at the center of the new report and well-known adjunct faculty advocate, said this week that Pacific Lutheran should be censured. Beyond her own case, she said, “What happened to my students is terrible, too.”

“This is about far more than part-time faculty rights," she added. "For one thing, why are a large number of faculty artificially kept at part-time for decades, without access to tenure, benefits, pension -- to say nothing of voting rights and the ability to contribute to governance?”

Harty said, "We mean nothing to the university, except to our students.”

Pacific Lutheran maintains that Harty’s dismissal followed the formal faculty governance process. “Many of the assertions and opinions expressed in the report are factually incorrect," it also said in a statement.

Because the matter pertains to personnel, Pacific Lutheran said, it’s university policy to decline to provide additional details.

Harty has long campaigned for the rights of Pacific Lutheran’s adjunct faculty members. She supported the unionization drive that resulted in a major 2014 National Labor Relations Board decision in their favor, for instance. And she said at a national organizing event that same year that she was making just $11,000 at Pacific Lutheran on a half-time appointment after decades of service.

Pacific Lutheran continues to fight the NLRB’s decision that adjunct faculty members who don’t have a religious function may unionize, saying that the university’s church affiliation puts it outside the labor board’s jurisdiction altogether. So it’s safe to say that Harty’s advocacy on this and other issues didn’t endear her to the institution. But did it turn the institution against her? That’s what the new AAUP report suggests.

Passed Over

“The manner in which the administration sought to dismiss her, the relatively minor nature of the misconduct in which she was alleged to have engaged, and the absence of any other evident basis for the action taken against her lend credibility,” the report reads, “to the notion that the administration’s action to dismiss her was based on considerations that violated her academic freedom.”

Speech “on any matter of institutional policy or action” is protected under principles of academic freedom, the report continues, citing the AAUP’s widely followed policy language on academic freedom. This speech “certainly includes speaking out on behalf of one’s colleagues or pursuing grievances related to potential instances of discrimination,” concludes the document.

Harty, a pianist with master’s of fine arts and doctor of musical arts degrees, began working at Pacific Lutheran, part-time, in 1978. She was appointed a senior lecturer on half-time appointment with benefits in 2001. In 2017, however, she and five other part-timers were appointed lecturers without benefits, as the department added a second tenured faculty line in piano.

The effective demotion added insult to injury, as Harty had previously applied for a tenure-track position at Pacific Lutheran three times, to see each appointment go to candidates with much less teaching experience. Harty -- echoing concerns by many adjuncts that hiring committees are ageist and biased against them -- says that she was once explicitly told that the university was looking for an “early career” hire. According to the AAUP, Harty twice filed complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and received right-to-sue notices. She did not pursue litigation, however. Harty says that’s because litigation would have been prohibitively costly. She was also by then involved in the unionization effort in affiliation with Service Employees International Union, after having co-authored a report on a survey of contingent professors on campus.

Private Lessons

Cut to 2018, when a student asked Harty for help studying collaborative piano, typically with vocal accompaniment. As this was not specifically represented among Pacific Lutheran’s course offerings, Harty says she told the student to ask the music department chair about enrolling in an independent study. The chair, Brian Galante, responded to the student that same day, saying via email that the university did not assign independent studies to contingent faculty members out of “fairness,” as these courses are not compensated. Galante also told the student that “there is no option for elective credit in this circumstance,” according to the report.

Understanding that there was little to no room to pursue collaborative piano within the university, the student arranged to study with Harty and a vocalist outside the university in the fall of 2018.

At the beginning of that semester, Galante sent an email to the department saying that he’d overheard students discussing the possibility of paid, outside lessons with faculty members. “While a faculty member may, with all good intentions, be tempted to enter into such an agreement, PLU faculty (full-time or contingent) may not take payment ‘under the table’ from, nor use PLU resources to teach, a current PLU student, even if that student is at the credit maximum,” Galante wrote. 

He added, “A student should not, for example, register for one-credit of a lesson, and then pay for the other half hour privately in order to avoid tuition expenses and course fees. Imagine a similar circumstance where a student requests to pay cash to an instructor to take a biology class off the record. It wouldn’t happen.”

It can’t appear that a student or teacher is “undercutting the university,” Galante also wrote, directing professors to decline students’ offers of lessons for cash. “That is not good for the health of our budgets and our ability to plan appropriately for teaching loads. It also wades into murky ethical, legal and tax waters.”

Around the same time, Harty emailed the student a $420 invoice for the private instruction. The student’s mother eventually contacted campus student services to ask about the bill, and that office, in turn, contacted the music department. Harty called the student’s mother to explain the arrangement, and the student’s mother sent Harty a check.

Even though she didn’t believe that Galante’s policy email applied to a situation in which the department did not offer an area of study -- here, collaborative piano -- Harty nevertheless sought to avoid possibly conflict and returned the check.

In October 2018, a human resources administrator wanted to meet with Harty to discuss the matter. Harty says she was told that she’d “undermined the university” and that her case was being referred to the provost and president. Harty also says that when she tried to explain what happened, the human resources officer accused her of returning the check only because she’d been “caught.”

The next month, Pacific Lutheran sent Harty a letter saying she would be placed on unpaid leave at the end of the semester, through the end of her one-year appointment. The letter also said that Harty’s appointment would not be renewed. The letter cited Galante’s email and “long-standing expectations of the university.”

Harty wrote back to the provost, saying that she had a long record of dedicated service and that there had been no clear policy against private lessons. In response, the provost said that the decision stood.

Due Process?

In December 2018, the AAUP wrote to Pacific Lutheran about Harty, saying that she’d been summarily dismissed without any of the due process protections recommended by the association. President Allan Belton wrote back to the AAUP that Harty hadn’t been dismissed because contingent faculty members “are not guaranteed reappointment in the same manner as tenure line faculty and the notice periods applicable to tenure line faculty do not apply to the non-renewal of a contingent appointment.” Belton also accused Harty of seeking personal gain and violating “the duty of loyalty she has as a PLU employee under Washington law.”

After additional communications with the AAUP -- and notification that the association was planning a site visit to investigate the matter -- Pacific Lutheran agreed to give Harty what it called a formal dismissal hearing committee process.

An AAUP observer at the hearing expressed concern that the dismissal hearing was something of a sham, designed to support a predetermined outcome. The Pacific Lutheran hearing committee expressed some reservations in own report on the case, saying that while Harty had violated a department directive, the university failed to provide “the level of faculty review and due process inherent in the [Pacific Lutheran] faculty handbook.”

The committee did not address whether the charges against Harty were sufficient to warrant dismissal for cause, however. President Belton underscored that fact in a subsequent letter to Harty, saying that university bylaws permitted him to make his own recommendation to the university’s governing board when the hearing committee has not recommended dismissal. He later formally recommended her dismissal to the board, citing the unsanctioned private lessons and some new charges: that “every faculty member is expected to be committed to the mission and objectives of the university” and conduct “not consistent with excellence in teaching.”

Pacific Lutheran’s board voted to accept Belton’s recommendation in October.

The AAUP never executed the planned site visit that was stalled after the university agreed to a hearing for Harty. But an investigating committee reviewed the case and found that the university acted in violation of the AAUP’s widely followed Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, as the “nature of the misconduct in which Dr. Harty engaged and the summary nature of the administrative action lead to the inference that the real reasons for her dismissal may have stemmed from long-standing displeasure with Dr. Harty’s activities in defending her rights and the rights of others.”

Quoting the report, Harty said speaking out on "any matter of institutional policy or action is protected under principles of academic freedom" and that such speech "certainly includes speaking out on behalf of one's colleagues or pursuing grievances related to potential instances of discrimination."

She added that "my academic freedom to try to organize a faculty union, to protest the demotion of the senior lecturers, to file two EEOC complaints" were likely the real reasons for the "displeasure" of administrators, and the subsequent termination. And while it's "very hard to prove that," she said, "why else would PLU risk censure over such a minor infraction by an untenured faculty member at the lowest rank?"


Share Article

Back to Top