Many of you have now heard about the controversy surrounding Texas A&M-San Antonio. The administration has withdrawn its fall semester teaching offer to an adjunct based on her decision to speak up about a religious injustice on campus. If you haven’t yet, you can read about the story at Inside Higher Ed.
Seth Kahn, a tenured professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, has taken it upon himself to respond to the A&M administration. It’s great to see our tenured colleagues standing up for what is right. Kahn sent the following letter today.
May 29, 2012
Dear President Maria Ferrier; Dr. Brent Snow, Provost; and William S. Bush, interim head of the School of Arts and Sciences:
In this morning’s Inside Higher Education, I read with great distress about Sissy Bradford, an adjunct professor of Criminology, from whom you’ve taken a teaching assignment already in place for next fall.
I currently serve as the Grievance Officer for my faculty union local at West Chester University of PA, and I understand the official position that Texas A&M-San Antonio is taking: you don’t have to explain why you’re not renewing somebody, and there’s no expectation of continued employment.
While that position may (and I stress may because I don’t know Texas labor law) be legally correct, it’s reprehensible that your institution would remove a faculty member whose job performance has been outstanding, and for whom there’s a demonstrable need (you’re still hiring new people for that position), because of her legal activities outside the classroom. Even worse, based on the IHE story, it doesn’t seem like her stance against religious displays on campus was even the heart of the problem so much as your institution’s failure to respond publicly to threats made against her, and her willingness to tell that story in the local press. That is, rather than being embarrassed about her politics, you seem embarrassed that she went public with a story that doesn’t make the university look very good, and decided that the best way to solve that problem was simply to disappear her from your community.
I am also an advocate for contingent academic workers, and this story represents a side of adjunct faculty exploitation and abuse that we don’t often talk about. The primary discourse is about pay, benefits, and job security, which is what it should be about. But a story like this one reminds us, in no uncertain terms, that adjunct faculty are simply disposable–if you’re the kind of people and the kind of institution that chooses to treat them as such. As higher education leaders, you have a clear opportunity to do the right thing: stand up on behalf of a faculty member on your campus who’s been done wrong, and fix it. Or you can endorse a system that enables abuse and dehumanization of your colleagues.
I’m calling on you as administrators and on your university to restore Professor Bradford’s teaching schedule; to issue a public statement explaining the decisions both to fire her and to rehire her; and to make a public statement that you will stand behind your faculty’s right to invoke their free speech and academic freedom without fearing for their lives and jobs when they do.
Please confirm that you’ve received this message; I’ll look forward to hearing from you.
Seth Kahn, PhD
Associate Professor of English, West Chester University of PA