Parsons faculty fight dismissals

By Blair Ellis

NEW YORK--Some 150 people, most of them teachers, rallied on April 23 in front of the New School administration building to demand the reinstatement of 12 adjunct faculty.

Dozens of students also turned out to support teachers in the Fine Arts department in the School of Art, Media and Technology at Parsons the New School for Design--the teachers were laid off just before spring break began.

What you can do

Find out more about the struggle of Parsons Fine Art faculty and how you can support them at the ACT-UAW Web site.

New School, which Parsons has been a part of since 1970, essentially has a faculty of part-timers. Parsons faculty is made up of 127 full-time faculty members and 1,056 part-time faculty members. Part-timers make up an overall 89 percent of the New School's faculty.

Bob Kerrey, who is known for his support of the war in Iraq and his opposition to the university's traditionally left-wing faculty, has been the president of the school since 2000. A poll taken on December 15, 2008, showed that 98 percent of the university's full-time faculty voted no "confidence" for Kerrey. Kerrey was also the target of two recent occupations--one in April and another in December--that called for his resignation.

In March, Kerrey appointed Tim Marshall, the dean of Parsons, to be interim provost through June 2010. The New School's Web site claims that Marshall's goal is to create "enrollment, faculty hiring, curriculum development and emphasizes a stronger faculty culture."

But Marshall's first major plan for the art department, with the help of Kerrey, is "restructuring." Part of Marshall's plan is reducing the credits required for graduation--from 134 to 120--and in turn cutting the number of classes offered, starting with the fall semester. So this spring, teachers--some of whom have taught at the school for more than 20 years--who expected, as usual, to receive their fall curriculum instead received letters that they would not be re-assigned to classes for next year. No explanation, just a letter in the mail.

This is taking place not only in the Fine Arts department but also in other programs throughout the school.

The New School's full-time faculty has no union protection. Joe Haske, who has been an adjunct drawing professor since 1981, said that the staff fought for years to unionize with no luck. But in 2003, adjunct faculty in several divisions of the New School began to form a union chapter under the auspices of the United Auto Workers (UAW).

It was not until July 2005, after several rulings against it by regional and national panels of the National Labor Relations Board, that the university agreed to recognize the local chapter, ACT-UAW Local 7902, as the bargaining agent for the part-time faculty.

With the 2005 contract set to expire September 1, 2009, Kerrey and Marshall have taken it upon themselves to not re-assign courses for 39 part-time teachers who are part of ACT-UAW. Although the contract should protect all ACT-UAW teachers who have worked there for 11 semesters or more, roughly half of the teachers not re-assigned are over this semester limit.

In their announcement for the rally, the New School faculty who are fighting these attacks said:

It is also a terrible management decision, one that plays havoc with students' need for a stable, experienced faculty and a robust curriculum in subjects such as painting and drawing. It has set alarm bells ringing in the wider arts community, generating numerous statements of support for the Fine Art faculty and condemnation of the administration's actions from cultural institutions in New York and beyond.

Teachers and their supporters are calling on Parsons Fine Art Department Chair Coco Fusco to make a course correction and re-appoint the affected faculty. They are also calling on Marshall and the deans:

to embrace a model of change that includes substantive involvement of all sectors of the faculty, part-time and full-time, in the planning process.

We also call on Kerrey to honor his recent commitment to accord part-time faculty a meaningful voice in decisions affecting curriculum. By drawing on the creativity and capacity for innovation of proven faculty, the university can--and must--break exciting new ground while preserving successful programs' existing strengths so as not to short-change our students.